Chennai and Pulicat revisited

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Jan 09, 2014

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Where I stayed
Hotel Atithi Pondicherry
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of India  , Union Territory of Pondicherry,
Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting back from Murshidabad to the Kolkata airport to fly to Chennai was again an ordeal on the bad road. To enlarge and improve the road huge trees are being cut with lots of manpower, and they cause occasional traffic jams, as we found out. But they provided good photo opportunities. From where our car got stranded we see a tiny man with an axe on top of the root of a big tree. On the other side of the traffic jam we see one tree still standing. In the fields the yellow of the mustard crop dominates.

We get to the new Subesh Chandra Bose airport in time for our flight to Chennai. Subash Chandra Bose was a Bengali freedom fighter who joined the Japanese army during the second world war and is considered a national hero. He is believed to have been killed in a plane accident, the wreck of the plane was never found. One of the ladies of the LWSIT is there to give Chris a farewell present, an orange shirt. This is a very typical Indian way of saying farewell.

When we arrive in Chennai the travel agent TSI is visible among tens of other Indians holding up white signs for visitors they need to pick up. From now on we are "Mr. Christiaan Minderhoud and party". The name of our driver is Baidu, he hails from Kerala and will be with us all the way to Cochin (Kochi). The guides will change occasionally.

Indian address finding

The next day we have a small colourful dressed lady called Suguna Naidu as a guide. She thinks that we want a touristic tour of Chennai. Also the driver does not know our programme. When we make clear that we are going to Pulicat and need to get in touch with the Art & Architecture Research Development Education Foundation (AARDE Foundation) of Xavier Benedict, she has to first make a deal with the travel agency. They hire he for the day.

The first address I have of AARDE recently changed. Finding the new one is an amazing example of Indian miscommunication through mobile telephones in a language from which we only understand the street name and the words "church". None of the callers mention the name of the church in the about 20 phone calls they exchange. So we stopped at four different churches until after 40 minutes we are back at the main street in front of the St. Thomas church. This was the first church we passed after we left the hotel and a secretary of AARDE comes out.

The gentleman who is going to receive us in Pulicat at 14:00 is still having a meeting and  it is highly unlikely that he will make it on time. We take off for a 55 km drive, starting on a four-lane highway. Already then we notice many large trucks that carry containers.  There are a lot of factories in the area along the road. The traffic intensifies when we are back on the narrow road. There are container terminals all over the place. The ride takes longer than expected.  The road has been widened, but is still mainly under construction.

Not white washed this time

After nearly two ours we reach. I revisited Pulicat, for Chris it is the first time. I was there in 1989 when all the tombs at the Dutch cemetery had been white washed

From a distance we can already see that this time there was no paint visible. It was good to see that the tombstones had been cleaned and the inscriptions have been made better readable. The gate is spectacular in the details.

But we start at the harbour of Pulicat and are appalled by the garbage there.  We see the newly constructed family houses from after the 2004 tsunami. Some of them seem not to be occupied. The typical India fishermen boats are all in the harbour. After that we go to the old church of Portuguese origin. We are shocked that it is not there anymore. Instead, new construction is going on, including a big dome. It is the "Our Lady of Glory Shrine" church, says the priest's secretary who guides us around. On the premises near the ocean is the skeleton of an old Dutch house where a few builders are at work.

We visited Pulicat to see four Indian - Dutch heritage places:

      the new Dutch cemetery;
      the old Dutch cemetery;
      the remainders of the fort Gelria; and
      the Dutch tax house.

The old cemetery is now in ruins with thorny bushes growing every where and it is used as an open toilet. In the wall is a sign: From Holland with love. Van der Linden bouwbedrijf from St. Michelsgestel supposedly financed the renovation of the old Dutch cemetery in Pulicat. In the bushes we could detect only three new graves and still two old Dutch ones.  

The sign with Fort Geldria (it is Gelria) is opposite the old cemetery. The fort's foundation are also covered with thorny bushes.

Xavier Benedict told me later in the hotel that the government's plan was to demolish the foundation of the fort and built a new bus station there.  With the help of the Archeological Survey of India AARDE Foundation has been able to get this plan off the table. They have proposed to clear the bushes and create a heritage park. The Tamil Nadu government has accepted the proposal. Mr. Benedict hopes that by the end of next year this will be there.

On my question about the status of the archives in the Central Madras Archives he said that all the old papers of the VOC have now been scanned and that they are well preserved.  He also mentions that the old Dutch tax office building that was threatened to be demolished earlier this year will be spared. So that is good news for the Indian - Dutch heritage. Unfortunately we missed this building in our tour.

Xavier wrote a book "Pulicat and Sadras" that is available online.
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Najma Haque on

Very interesting account. I wonder why W.Bengal govt. is also making the same mistake of felling these huge trees to widen the road. I believe that they are in a row, so I suppose thay could be preserved as a road divider and the road widened on the other side. We have felled a lot of these trees planted by benevolent Zamindars few hundred years ago. This is really sad.
Subhash Bose was the popular president of the Indian Congress and Nehru felt threatened by his popularity and asked for Gandhi's help. Then Nehru became the president. Netaji led the uprising to oust the British and once when under house arrest, fled the country from right under the british intelligence surveillance in a disguise. This was a great story. He then formed the INA (Indian National Army) ad joined hands with the Japanese to oust the British. He was in Burma and the South East Asia, where finally his plane crashed, but his body was never found and many believe that he faked his death. For many years Nehru didn't allow him to be honoured or remembered. Only people of W Bengal and Kerala celebrated his memory. Gradually after Nehru and Indira's death Indians began to honour him again and now in a big way. He was married to a German lady and thay had a daughter. But we don't know much about her.
Do Dutch people still live in Pondicherry and Pulicat today? Found your 'from Holland with love' open toilet very funny. Bravo to you guys for trying to find the church in a place where their English needs to be translated to English!!! Are you driving to Kochi? Wow that is a long drive but should be very interesting. I went to those places when I was in Kerala for about a year. Kochi is near Calicut where Vasco de Gama first landed in India. I was there at the spot and there is a fisherman's village there. They have some beautiful lakes there high up on the mountain. Would you be going to kanyakumari too? Glad you guys are having so much fun away from snow in Europe. Najma

Martine on

Fijn om goede informatie te lezen. Enig idee wie in Pulicat met het restaureren van VOC-panden bezig is? Ziet er goed uit.

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