So here I am back from the UK tour , sitting on my bed and typing this post. Another three months for the year to end , but then winters are great time to travel. Be it birding or wildlife, heritage or festivities, India or abroad , this is the travel season. I am off to Madras for a day and then Corbett next week with Club Mahindra and then my travel diary looks rather empty.
I have hardly planned any trip so far, but my head is swimming with ideas and I need to just sit still for a while and wait for the clarity to emerge.Almost all the trips that I have done this year have been unplanned and sudden ;
Wishfully thinking, I would like to add a bit of North East into my plans; or maybe Kutch or probably Madhya Pradesh. I would love to do a bit of Tamil Nadu too .And a few weekend getaways as well.What are your plans for winter ? Do share your wishlist and recommendations as well.
I also have a few writing assignments to complete and so just caught up in this mad rush called life. So, while I collect my thoughts together and plan for the last few trips of 2011, I am leaving you with a couple of images of the estuary in Poompuhar where the Cauvery joins the Bay of Bengal. Ive just finished writing my column , Inside Story on this historic yet forgotten ancient port town of the Cholas – most of it lies submerged somewhere in the oceans . The column was published today in The Hindu Metro Plus
It is a hot and a humid afternoon and I am hardly surprised with the weather . I have been driving down coastal Tamil Nadu over the last few days and the sun has been rather merciless, with an occasional breeze attempting to lower the temperatures. Fishing hamlets, forgotten ports, erstwhile colonies and temple towns fill my travel diary as I head towards a sea side town, that was believed to have been swallowed by a tsunami several centuries ago.
.My destination is a port that finds mention in the ancient Tamil and Buddhist literature and in the works of international travelers and historians like Ptolemy and Pliny. Mystery shrouds this old forgotten port as it is surrounded by legends .Discovering its history is like putting together the pieces of a jig saw puzzle together .The clues are largely the hyperbolic descriptions of the town from ancient poems like Pattinappalai and epics like Silappadikaram , inscriptions from temples and from excavations held under water and on land.
I am referring to the port capital of the Cholas – Puhar or Kaveripoompattinam, known today as Poompuhar, associated largely with the reign of Karaikal Chola and which comes alive in the verses of Pattinappalai , a literary work of the Sangam Age. Images of huge ships docking in the sea bringing in merchandise from distant shores to mansions built by foreign merchants are painted vividly in this poem. The epic, Silappadikaram recreates the ancient town with its markets , mansions, gardens and palaces. The port was called Maruvurpakkam , inhabited by traders, fishermen and foreign merchants while Pattinapakkam , with its palaces and gardens was the home of the royalty.
And yet as you drive through the chaos and clutter of the new town Poompuhar, you can hardly see any trace of the ancient capital We cross the excavations of Pallaveshwaram, where we are told that the ruins of an old Buddhist monastery was said to have been unearthed. The Buddhist literary work, Manimekalai speaks of the Buddhist influence in the town, while records its destruction by a tsunami.
“There is nothing really here, can we go back ? “ asks my hungry driver as I tell him to head towards the sea. There is one site that still remains till date . Puhar am told refers to the mouth of the river and the ancient town was apparently located at the estuary of the River Cauvery where it joins the Bay of Bengal. I walk in the heat to see the magical moment.
An old lighthouse watches over the sea . Running parallel to the sea and separated by a patch of black sands is the river Cauvery curving towards the sea . A small stream that gets narrower as it meanders its way to its destination. A couple of fishermen are washing their boats. The sands meanwhile dramatically changes colour from black to almost white as the waves of the sea welcomes the river into its folds . It is a surreal setting . The sea curves and the river arches and they embrace as the waters flow . A small temple overlooks the estuary. An old lady walks away, as a lone fisherman wades through the estuary and crosses over to the shore. “ Super stills madam “he says and smiles at me as I photograph the confluence .
It is hard to imagine that the tame sea would have ruthlessly devoured a town centuries ago. It is even harder to imagine the busy port painted by the literary works with merchants, weavers, jewelers ,potters all hosting day and night markets lies somewhere in the ocean depths. As I leave, I take a last look at the river and sea merging quietly, wondering if they have written a watery .epitaph for Puhar.