Friday, November 5, 2010

My next stop - Tranquebar!

Many times, the very sound of some places intrigue you even before you have experienced them. And one name which has been on my mind for over two years now is this little serene village called Tranquebar, near Pondicherry.

Not sure what is it - the name, the culture, the history - but there is a mystic charm about this place in my mind ever since I heard/ read about it. And I am hoping to plan this trip real soon.

Here's my small introduction to Tranquebar based on the facts I have found and recommendations from friends who have been there. Hope it comes handy to anyone planning a trip that side -

Tranquebar (or Tharangambadi in Tamil), located in Nagapattinam district, about 100 km south of Pondicherry, is a serene village on the Coromandel Coast of India popularly recognised for the centuries-old cultural concoction that it so powerfully exudes – the traditional Tamil architecture entwined with elaborate medieval European designs and sensibility.

A Historical Kaleidoscope at the Seashore

A one of its kind of a Danish colony in India that was later taken over by the British, you know you are at Tranquebar when you witness a heavenly beach with magnificent specimens of Danish architecture adorning the shore including a church where the first Bible was printed in Tamil language, the 400 year old Fort Dansborg, an ancient Hindu temple and the remains of a printing press where the first book in English was printed in Asia.

If you are a beach bum and want to relax in a tranquil environment laden with an interesting history, Tranquebar – “the land of the singing waves” is an exotic holiday worth considering. A highly prosperous and one of the most actively popular trading posts of the Danish in the early 17th century, the charm of this little hamlet around the sea shore offers a beautiful mix of languages, cultures, races and religions that is carrying on in its relaxed, unhurried manner.

An Architectural Wonderland at Coromandel

To enjoy the quintessential allure of Tranquebar, you can either walk around or consider a pedal biking option to traverse through the historical remains spread across the town. Pedal bikes are easily available on rent, it seems.

Sight-seeing options are plenty but a great way to begin would be to take a leisurely walk on King’s street - the main street of Tranquebar. You will find a memorial at the spot where the Danes landed first in 1620, from where you can see part of the ramparts that were built around the Town Gate of Tranquebar.

A little further and you can enjoy the combination of colonial and Indian architectural facets adorning the series of churches on the street that include – The Zion Church (the oldest protestant Church in India), The New Jerusalem Church set up by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg - the first protestant missionary from Denmark whose most prominent work was his translation of The New Testament into Tamil in 1715. The Ziegenbalg Museum Complex marks the very first printing press in India at Tranquebar - the Tamil Bible printed here was incidentally the very first publication in India.

You can wander around the grand bungalows of the Danish Governors' and the British Collector's residence and head towards the Masilamani Nathar Temple on the beach dating back to the Pandian era, before settling down at Fort Dansborg which is considered to be one of the most strikingly beautiful structures at Tranquebar and the only surviving imperial fort on the Coromandel Coast. The 400-year old, two storeyed -fort’s archeological museum has an interesting Danish saga to tell which apparently has also been an inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

And finally comes the most gorgeous part - the Tranquebar beach, considered to be one of the best at this scenic coastal stretch across the Bay of Bengal. To take a break from your fast paced city life, here is another fantastic experience that you shouldn’t miss for anything - watch the waves, sit on the ramparts of the fort and thank God that there are no hordes of tourists and diesel spewing buses, clogging the little lanes and the shore.

You can finally end your day with a beer at The Bungalow on the Beach at King’s Street, one of the most plush hotels emanating the mystic old world charm of the British Collector’s house. While Neemrana group offers luxury accommodation through this hotel along with The Gate House and The Nayak House, budget travellers need not worry since the Tamil Nadu House has affordably priced-accommodation. While there are small, local restaurants serving meals, The Bungalow on the Beach is the only one to offer a dining option amongst the hotels based here.

A recent development

There is a stark revelation these days which is apparent in this quaint fishy village which used to be the hub for Danish dignitaries, Muslim traders, German theologians, Moravian entrepreneurs, and sea merchants from all corners of the globe during the pre-British Raj days. The glorious architecture which was so synonymous with the local flavour of Tranquebar was washed down by the 2004 Tsunami. Currently, all the damaged-historical monuments are being restored. You could also visit the Arts and Craft Centre which is being developed for presenting the traditional arts and crafts of this region.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kerala calling!

Kerala is called God's Own Country. Is there any truth in this metaphor or has it only been a well-sold promotional campaign - is what I always wondered, considering mountains (read - especially Himalayas) is where I thought they preferred living in. Atleast that's what I understood from the myriad Indian mythological tales that I loved reading as a kid.

I used to see pictures, videos, people talking about their experiences of Kerala and to add more drama to the images that used to constantly conjure up in my imagination, there were snapshots of the backwaters shown in songs like 'Jiya Jale' from Dil Se. Cant help it - have always been a little filmy, if not much ;)

I knew my chance will come soon as well but had never imagined that a friend's hen party will take me to Kerala for the first time. And to say the least, WHAT A TRIP!!!

A tropical land gifted with nature’s bounty that makes living a dream by offering the vast amount of spectacular landscapes; a food paradise (especially for non-vegetarians like me); lush green and bright blue colours; quaint and exotic cluster of small islands on the Vembanad backwaters replete with meandering lagoons, coconut trees, endless rows of paddy fields lining the horizons; cruising along the backwaters watching the sunset, umpteen rejuvenation therapies to choose from - these are just a few of my best memories from my trip to Kumarakom - the backwater hub of India - my first in Kerala, of course.

While there are umpteen homestays, resorts and hotels to choose from, we simply loved our experience at the Backwater Ripples Resort. To add a little more fun to our short weekend trip, we ventured out looking around for spa resorts and couldn't help but settle at The Zuri (regarded as one of the best spa destinations in the world). Though the original Kerala Ayurvedic message is what I wanted to try out, a personal recommendation is - don't hesitate to go for the Thai spa treatments - they are divine as well :)

I always love getting a sneak peek into the local way of living in all my trips and as a rule, was happy that we managed it here as well. Considering it was a 3-day trip, the fastest way to discover the local culture was to explore the food. Gastronomically, Kerala offers a delightful spread of delicacies influenced by the Syrian Christian taste buds.While we tried the Malabari cuisine much early in the trip across restaurants in the big hotels but our bestmeal was at this small restaurant called Ashadom which served us the most authentic local cuisine we could have asked for. I knew I was at the right place - because as I stepped in, the signboards shouting "Appam - Duck Roast", "Crab Roast", "Prawns - Fry/Roast" left me drooling. That's it, there was no looking back. We hogged, slurped, clicked pictures of everything in that restaurant like Chinese tourists, got big smiles from the uncles in mundus running the restaurants. Basically, we embarassed ourselves, all in the name of food but we didn't mind it. It was that moment which just gave a new meaning to this trip - where even a vegetarian got officially converted into a fishetarian. Oh wait - you know what we finally ate - here is the list - Beef Olathu, Prawn Roast, Karimeen Fry, Mussels fry, Naadan fish curry, Sambar, Mor curry and endless servings of rice..Burp!!!

Going back to Kerala is definitely on the cards and this time, I want a relaxed trip - something on the lines of cycling through the inner roads under the shadow of tall graceful coconut palms, sipping tender coconut or fresh madhura kallu (sweet toddy extracted from the coconut palm) with exotic karimeen pollichathu (baked fresh water fish), spicy pickles or kappa (cassava) and furthermore, explore the coastal stretch of Kerala (till Kanyakumari).

But till then, couldn't wait to share my first memories of this enormously gorgeous "country" that mesmerised me with its charm.

A must do on every traveller's list!