Time was when Alamparai boasted a fortress so daunting that it was coveted and skirmished over by warring colonial powers. Today, the ruins tell a sobering story. One hundred kilometres down the East Coast Road from Chennai is Kadapakkam. From here a series of signboards half-heartedly point you toward Alamparai Fort. The road is confusing; a succession of ruts and potholes, skirted by the squalor of scum-green saline ponds and abandoned villages. Rows of asbestos-roofed houses, rangy dogs and tsunami rehabilitation shelters, paint a depressing picture.
We reached Alamparai as the light of day receded behind us, leaving us to gaze at the crumbling ramparts of what must have once been a majestic fort. Much of it has been gnawed away by the sea, which laps hungrily at the walls.
A rusty Archaeological Survey of India signboard, which had itself seen better days, informed us that this was the site of Idaikazhunadu, the ancient port referred to in the epic poem Siruppanatruppadai. The fort was built in the 17th century by the Carnatic Nawab Dost Ali Khan, a feudatory of the weakened Mughal Emperor. An entrepôt for the trade of salt, zari cloth and ghee, Alamparai assumed great importance. Coins, particularly the eponymous Alamparai Kasu or Varahan, were also minted here. In 1750, the fort was gifted to the French under Lord Dupleix. Within a decade, Alamparai fell into British hands and was destroyed.
Clearly, it could not be completely razed but the elements are taking care of that. The 2004 tsunami destroyed a significant part of the sea-facing ramparts. Its innards are a wilderness of dark-limbed palmyra palms and the brick-red walls are overgrown with weeds. A shallow beachhead lies exposed at low tide, strung with crab-fishing lines and littered with gaudily painted boats. The wind whistles a low dirge. It is palpable: history's curtains are coming down on Alamparai.
Enjoy more photo-galleries and posts from The Great East Coast Road Drive, Yahoo India Travel's original drive down the picturesque coastal highway in Tamil Nadu.
Text: BIJOY VENUGOPAL
Photos: AZHAR MOHAMED ALI