Tranquebar, Trankebar, Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu, Danish Colony, Colonial Heritage, History, East Coast, Coromandel Coast

Exploring Tranquebar

There are two ways to explore the former Danish colony of Tranquebar (or Trankebar as the Danes spell it) or Tharangambadi (as it is known officially). The first is as a day trip from Pondicherry or Nagapattinam or any of the nearby temple towns and the second is to base yourself at Tranquebar, like I did, and then explore the town at leisure.

Tranquebar, Trankebar, Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu, Danish Colony, Colonial Heritage, History, East Coast, Coromandel Coast

This coastal town is on the east coast of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, about a 100 km south of Pondicherry. Either way, you will soon discover that the sea and the citadel of Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar are its best known sights.

In fact, the first thing a visitor to Tranquebar will see is the Dansborg citadel — to me, it looked like a giant slice of commercial kesar ice cream shimmering (or melting) in the heat.

And if you stay at The Bungalow on the Beach, like I did, then a view of the sea and the Dansborg Fort, is a constant (see the header and the photo on the left).

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A holiday at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor

My first night at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor was a memorable one. I had arrived earlier that evening and was shown to my room immediately by Geetha, the manager. “You must be so tired — first the flight from Mumbai to Coimbatore, and then the drive to Coonoor ! Since you’re a writer and will appreciate some quiet, we have put you in Camphor.” Writer? Me? I was so chuffed at being called a writer that the rest of Geetha’s words about the room and its amenities didn’t register as I was mentally preening. Till she mentioned the word “room heater”. I snapped out my self-absorbed reverie to see her pointing towards the said contraption and showing me how it worked. “Surely, I won’t need this, right? I asked. I may also have giggled nervously. “I’m afraid you will for it gets very cold after sunset. Besides, there are extra blankets and quilts in the cupboard should you need them,” Geetha said seriously. “You did read the mail we sent about the weather and appropriate clothing for Coonoor, didn’t you?” I hadn’t read the mail, but wasn’t going to tell her that. “Of course, of course,” I said airily, ushering her out of the room.”I’ll be fine and will manage”. That night I needed two blankets + one quilt + the room heater to “manage”. I don’t know when I stopped shivering and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning to the most awful racket; it took me a few seconds to figure out that the sky wasn’t about to come crashing down on my head and that it was a family of monkeys partying on the roof. And that’s how my holiday at Neemrana’s Wallwood Garden began ! Continue reading “A holiday at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor”

A holiday at The Bungalow on the Beach in Tranquebar

When I arrived at The Bungalow on the Beach in the sleepy coastal town of Tranquebar — or Tharangambadi as it is locally known — around 11 am on that humid and muggy August day last year, I was in a bit of a funk.

My train to Karaikal (the nearest railway station) from Chennai had arrived nearly 4 hours late, which meant that I had missed breakfast (my most important meal of the day) and also a morning’s worth of exploring Tranquebar. Not only was I hungry, I also had the beginnings of a migraine which, I knew from past experience, had the potential to ruin my holiday.

My mood did not improve over the peaceful drive from Karaikal to Tranquebar or the first sight of the blue-green waters of the Bay of Bengal or the beautiful heritage Bungalow that was going to be my home. The warm welcome at the Bungalow did make me feel a little better, but by that time all I wanted to do was to do was to sleep off my migraine.

But when I was ushered into Princess Louise, which is what my room was called, all thoughts of sleep vanished. 🙂

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Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks

Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?

Stories in Stone is all about sculptures — either standalone or entire narrative panels. Each post in this series will showcase one such sculpture, look beyond its iconography and deconstruct the details in an attempt to understand the idea and/or the story it conveys.


The UNESCO world heritage site of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is extraordinary for the sheer number and variety of monuments, as well as their scale and design. Rock-cut temples, structural temples, relief panels and more vie for attention, each one more captivating than the rest. Though a fair number of the monuments are incomplete or unfinished and weathered, their beauty is not diminished.

The monuments at Mahabalipuram have been the subject of many a study, but none more so than a large relief panel carved on a granite cliff. It is a panel that has led to debates and divisions among art historians over what it depicts or denotes or refers to — Arjuna’s Penance or the Descent of Ganga [1]

Before I narrate their stories and discuss why the panel could be one or both or maybe neither, let us take a close look at the various elements that make up this panel. A real close look beginning with photograph below (please click on the picture to see a full size version).

Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks Continue reading “Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?”

Tyagaraja’s tambura

When I entered the Sri Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Kovil in Madurai on that January evening in 2016, I had no idea of what I was about to see. I don’t think other members of the group I was travelling with did either.

The only clue that there was something important in the temple came from Sriram’s (our group leader) rather enigmatic statement that there was a surprise waiting for us there. He wouldn’t say what it was though, and went off in search of the priest.

I looked around trying to guess what the ‘surprise’ could be. Was it the 12 ft tall Hanuman idol? Was it the Perumal idol in the sanctum? Or was it something else? As I looked around trying to figure out the ‘surprise’ in the temple, Sriram beckoned to our group to gather around a small shrine on one side. It was a simple shrine with two framed pictures — one of which I recognised as that of Tyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the greatest composers of Carnatic classical music — and two old tanpuras or tamburas.

Tyagaraja, Tanpura, Tambura, Musical Instrument, Saint Thyagaraja, Prasanna Venkatsa Perumal Temple, Madurai, Musical Heritage
Tygaraja’s framed portrait and tambura is on the left, while Venkataramana Bhagavathar’s tambura and framed portrait are on the right.

As the priest bustled around getting the shrine opened, Sriram casually announced that the tambura on the left used to belong to Tyagaraja. You could have heard a pin drop at the silence that followed. Continue reading “Tyagaraja’s tambura”

The underrated wonder that is Mahabalipuram

I first heard about Mahabalipuram in a chapter of my Class 8 or 9 Hindi textbook. While I don’t remember who the author of that piece was, I do remember that it was about the ruminations of a sculptor who wondered about the glorious temple ruins by the sea-shore and how they came to be.

Though the chapter didn’t mention Mahabalipuram as the place the sculptor was talking about, my Hindi teacher said that is where the story was based. He also elaborated a bit on the history of Mahabalipuram and that had me hooked. My young and impressionable teenaged mind found the description of a bygone era and the desolation of temple ruins by the sea-shore very romantic.

The visual stayed with me through school, college, university… till I actually visited Mahabalipuram in 1996. This was in the summer of that year and the heat and tourist hordes dispelled any romantic notion I had about Mahabalipuram. But the monuments left an impression on me — enough to make me want to re-visit it.

It took me almost 20 years visit Mahabalipuram again.

Mahabalipuram, Mamallapuram, Pallavas, Shore Temple, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tamil Nadu, Heritage

Continue reading “The underrated wonder that is Mahabalipuram”