Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Meandering in Pulicat, a heritage tour on wheels

Despite being one of the oldest port towns in South India, Pulicat or Pazhaverkadu which is situated at about 55 kilometers to the north of Chennai and is soaked in multi-racial history has never garnered the kind of attention that Mahabalipuram or even Kancheepuram as has attracted among tourists. For most city folks, Pulicat is just a lagoon where thousands of flamingoes arrive every year between October to March to the delight of bird watchers.

But, there is so much more to Pulicat than just the flamingoes, swears Ramanujar Moulana, a city-based heritage lover and fitness enthusiast. In his modest efforts to set the records straight in favour of Pulicat, Ramanujar organized a cycle rally to Pulicat on Saturday which was also celebrated locally as Pulicat Day (January 25). 
17th century Dutch cemetery at Pulicat

At the crack of dawn, around 40 bicycle enthusiasts from across the city belonging to Cycling Yogis, a group floated by Ramanujar and his friends, start their heritage ride from the Madras Christian College in Chetpet to Pulicat.

Members of Cycling Yogis on way to Pulicat
The group ride all the way from Chetpet through Moolakadai to Madhavaram from where they cruise along the Calcutta Highway to Thatchoor Junction and take a detour towards Ponneri to reached Pulicat by around 10.30 am. The visit to heritage sites begin soon after.
For the first time visitor, Pulicat is just another coastal town with its stinking fish market, narrow streets with piles of garbage accumulated on either side populated by noisy village folk who labour their way through life.

But a little closer look at this ancient town reveals a history that is as fascinating as its famed pink-winged avian visitors. 

One of the oldest mosques in this part of the state, the Peria Jamia Pallivasal, is unique for the absence of a dome at its top. Historians point out that while most mosques built in India have a Mughal influence, the Peria Jamia Pallivasal has a direct Arab connection indicating trade relations between the two regions.

Besides the Arab influence, the coastal town was also a major Dutch colony during the 1600s. The new Dutch Cemetery, which is three centuries old, is located in the south west corner of the fort and still houses 77 graves.  Among them, five have intricate structures built surrounding the graves. While three of the graves have arched pavilions, two of them are covered with obelisk on the top with detailed rectangular offsets at the bottom.

While most locals give a pass to the heritage monuments at Pulicat, the Dutch cemetery and the surrounding areas still attract a sizable number of foreign tourists looking for heritage. 

The heritage bicycle tour ends at the cemetery where Ramanujar discourses on the history and architecture of the monument. Later in the evening, local NGOs organize cataraman ride competitons among locals in as part of Pulicat Day celebrations.

 “We organize heritage rides several times a year to heritage monuments where we share our knowledge of the history of the sites we visit with the fellow riders. It is an effort to spread awareness on fitness as well as heritage,” Ramanujar says.

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