High on history

Written by Neha Kohli | Updated: Jan 4 2010, 01:18am hrs
I first read about Tranquebar while working on a school project on tourism over a decade ago. The name caught my attention, as did the fact that it was the first Danish mission and settlement in India.

Tranquebar popped back into my thoughts recently when I was in Chennai, staying with friends for a weekend. Pondicherry was definitely on the agenda, but we wanted to go beyond the beaten tourist track. Thats when Tranquebar entered the conversation. Soon, we set off for Pondicherry and further on to Tranquebar. Known locally as Tharangambadi, it is about 150 km ahead of Pondicherry, further down the coast towards Nagapattinam. It is a scenic drive for most part through Cuddalore, Chidambaram and Sirkali and the open fields and the vast sky are a sight for a city dwellers sore eyes.

The first view of Tranquebar is of a large church on the road. A little further is an old Danish gate leading to the town. Another 500 metres and you literally hit the sea. On one side is the lovely little fort of Danesborg, built by Ove Gedde, Commander in the Royal Danish Navy in 1620. The fort offers a wonderful view of the sea and boasts of a tiny museum.

On the other side is the beautiful Bungalow on the Beach. Originally the bungalow of the British administrator of the settlement (the British eventually bought the settlement from the Danes), it is now a Neemrana heritage property. It has six rooms on offer, and the average cost per night is Rs 6,000 per room. There are two more Neemrana heritage properties in Tranquebarthe Gate House, so named since it is just next to the old gate into town; and Nayak House. The rooms at Gate House cost around Rs 3,000-4,000, while those at the Nayak House are in the range of Rs 1,000-2,000. If youre on a budget vacation, as we were, you can stay at the Tamil Nadu Guest House, located just behind Bungalow on the Beach, where a room costs Rs 600 a night.

Eating options are limited, as is the menu. Bungalow on the Beach is the main kitchen and restaurant. But the fresh seafood, the sound of the sea and the view more than make up for it. The town has a couple of lovely old churches that are definitely worth a visit. A little before Danesborg is located the New Jerusalem church, built in 1718. Probably one of the oldest churches in the country, it houses the grave of Bartholomew Zigenbalg, the protestant Lutheran missionary from Germany who set up the first protestant mission in India. The site of the mission was Tharangambadi, but unable to pronounce the Tamil name, the Danes called it Tranquebar.

Diagonally opposite the New Jerusalem church is the New Zion Church, also worth a visit. Down the road and just opposite the gate of the New Zion Church is a monument to commemorate the tercentenary of the Tranquebar mission, complete with a golden statue of Zigenbalg. Zigenbalgs house, next in line, is currently being restored with a grant from the Danish government and will be turned into a museum. Apart from this, there is a small, ancient temple just off the Bungalow on the Beach. Then there is the beach in front of Danesborg. A walk along the breakers on the seaside is a wonderful way to explore the small town. Sunrise offers some spectacular views of both the sea and the town. Tranquebar is a small place and you will not find much by the way of entertainment there. But what it does offer is history, spectacular views and an opportunity to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean. I would recommend the monsoon to visit since the entire countryside from Pondicherry to Tranquebar is lush. We stayed there for just half a day, exploring as much as we could, and it only whetted my appetite for more. I am planning to go back to the town and spend more time there, exploring it at its own pace. It is, for me, the perfect getaway.