Awesome Alambara Fort

Discovering Heritage

The surf breaking on endless coastline, interspersed with stretches of casuarinas groves, was a welcome relief from the amusement park and food courts along the road. Just 50 km before Puducherry, a green signboard beckoned us to the unobtrusive fishing hamlet of Kadapakkam. From the main road, we took a 3 km detour and stumbled upon Alambara Fort, an unknown treasure bequeathed by the Mughals along the Coromandel Coast.

As we reached the portals of the fort, an eerie silence greeted us for there was not a soul in sight. Images and sounds of gunshots, artillery and soldiers of a bygone era flashed across our minds, filling us with a sense of fear and wonder. The splash of the sea added to the mystery and awe of the crumbling edifice. Overlooking the breathtaking backdrop of the sea and the backwaters of many beaches that run through Mahabalipuram, the ruins of the brick and lime mortar fort are splendid to behold, with their earthy colour. The intricate steps and watch-towers conjured visions of intriguing battles fought for the supremacy of trade.

The place resonates with history and abounds in several scattered ruins of the imposing historical monuments that transport one to the glorious past, to a time when Alambara was a busy outpost for the Arcot Nawabs, before they shifted their operations to Puducherry. It was an important trading centre on the Coromandel Coast for the spice trade, enticing enterprising voyagers, seafarers, and traders from the world. It also finds a mention in Tamil literary works. We could visualise how the waterfront would have been. During 1760, the English had destroyed the 100-metre-long dockyard in front of the fort, where silk, salt, ghee and condiments were exported.

An Archeological Survey of India (ASI) board mentions that the Alambara Fort was built by the Mughals in the 18th century and served as a port in ancient Tamil Nadu. The Nawab of Carnatic, Dost Ali Khan, had commissioned its construction. The Mughals subsequently bequeathed the fort to the French, who were under the commandership of Dupleix, the Governor General of the French establishment in India during the 18th century. In 1760, the British destroyed a major portion of the fort. The tsunami of 2004 further ravaged the fort. Now, a few cannons still survive.

As I clambered the intricate steps leading to the watchtower of the fort, I thought of how majestic it appeared, with its red bricks and limestone coating, typical aspects of Mughal architecture. The view from the top of the watchtower was stunning. We could see the backwaters, fishing boats, palm trees, and other little beaches in the distance, on our left. The remnants of the fort looked like laterite cliffs with deep fissures in some, protruding into the sea. Gnarled trunks and roots of trees clung to the fort’s crumbling walls.

The vast expanse encircling the fort was beguiling and spectacular. This picturesque place is also a popular filming location. We hopped onto a fishing boat and the boatman ferried us to a shallow stretch of water where we tried our hand at some net fishing. Soon, we approached a small stretch of sand in the middle of the waters. The men docked the boat on its shores. At low tide, one can dally in knee-deep waters for hours on end and wade across to this stretch of land. We returned after spending blissful hours watching the waves playing hide-and-seek with the shore. I was tempted to run along the glistening white beach, which is uncontaminated by madding crowds. There are no shops or vendors to hassle us and the absolute solitude it guarantees is the beach’s main charm.

We watched the fishermen heading out on their boats and turning into tiny silhouettes on the horizon, their nets flying over the water. On the way back, we stopped by the fish market to buy some prawns and crabs which are sold very cheap.

The nearest airport and railway station are at Chennai  to reach Alambara Fort. But the best bet is by road, 100 km from Chennai, and 50 km from Pudducherry, near Kadapakkam. One can take the East Coast Road from Chennai after driving past Mahabalipuram and look for a small green sign for ‘Kadapakkam’ on the left. From Kadapakkam, take a narrow road to the left and keep going straight till you reach the Alambara Fort.

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