Mahe: Waiting to be discovered

Weekend Getaways

We Are Here: The board announcing ‘Mahe’ at the railway station. “There are no beggars in Mahe,” a gleeful Tayil Sadanandan erupts amidst the noise of the rain on my already weather-assaulted umbrella. Struggling to have someone speak to me in detail, Sadanandan made my second attempt at Mahe absolutely worthwhile.

Recently retired as the superintendent of education, he is currently working for the inception of a Mahe Tourism Assistance Cell. In November 2004, he published a book, The origins of Mahe of Malabar, a translation of the works of French writer Alfred Martineau, that gives a detailed account of the history of Mahe from 1720 till date. He will be happy to direct you to the right places in Mahe and has a sumptuous fill of stories for a walk around the streets. Mahe — One of the four fragments of Pondicherry on the western coast of India may appear to be a hostile little town at 5.30 am on a dark rainy morning.

You can expect a dash of skeptism if you are a single female traveller but that’s only if it’s an odd hour to arrive. A languorous exploration through the streets will lead you to some beautiful French houses, government buildings and a vast variety of flora and fauna. Embedded between Thelassery and Vadakara in Kerala, you can step in and out of Mahe and Kerala as there is no clear demarcation between the two.

This nine-kilometre square town is further fragmented by the Mahe River, which houses a small boat harbour. The only way to explore this languid place is preferably on foot or you can take an auto rickshaw at a very reasonable cost, and if you are lucky Tayil can find the time to fill you in with anecdotes and legends that are more re-corroborated facts rather than just myths.

A French settlement for a number of years, Mahe is, astonishingly, struggling to find an eminent spot on the travel map of India. Interestingly, there are close to 16 petrol pumps on a stretch of about eight kms. Popularly known as a stop for cheap alcohol and fuel, it is an obvious stop for trucks and other vehicles on this westcoast highway. Though this is the only mention about Mahe on websites and travel books, the place has a lot more to offer.

The Puthalam temple, believed to have been built thousands of years ago, was visited by Mahatma Gandhi, the occasion marked by a marble stone at the entrance. A simplistic temple built for three Gods,  it houses a holy grove behind. This feature, specific and prevalent to all Malabar temples, signifies the respect for nature. By not putting an axe to any plant, the grove is free to grow wildly behind the temple premises without any human intervention.

The other places to drop by are the only French School remaining in the town, St Theresa’s church, old houses built with typical French architectural features and a walk to the beaches if the weather permits.

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