Earth Sublime

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Alambara Sea shore and Pondi

Give time a break went the advertisements inviting revellers and tourists to come and take a look at Pondicherry. So, this time, when my father-in-law came avisiting Chennai, we decided to follow the advertisement’s well meaning advice.
So, around 7 am off we went to discover the charms of the union territory. We told our driver to take us on the much touted ECR road which boasts of one of the most scenic sights. An hour or so and we were leaving the city of Chennai behind to behold the East Coast Roadway. It proved to be a disappointment though we did get some tantalizing glimpses of the sea as we drove along the road but I thought the sea was a little too far away. Nevertheless, thanks to some action in the Bay of Bengal, we were in for a good heavy shower and the result was that it looked lush and green and very very wet. The greenery everywhere more than made up for the initial disappointment.
Half way through the journey, our hunger pangs made us stop for breakfast. My husband casually enquired whether there were any places nearby that were worth seeing and we were told that there was a fort nearby that might interest us. So, making enquiries we soon came across a bold sign that read Alambara fort and back waters.

It was the sort of place which is off the beaten track and not on the regular tourist’s trajectory. And we were in for a pleasant surprise. The green fields were a joy to behold, a sort of rich emerald carpet. Soon we saw an expanse of water and there were motor boats on it. Actually, they were the backwaters and the boats had fishermen with some goods on it. As we crossed the bridge, I wished I could hitch a ride on the boats.
We saw rows and rows of newly built houses of exactly the same dimensions and style. We later found out that they were houses for the people affected by the Tsunami. A little more further and we came across what looked like the sea! The first sight of the sea always fills me with awe – the surging waves, sometimes calm, sometimes ferocious filled with secrets of their own and perhaps wanting to make our acquaintance……
We could see the outline of the fort from here and decided to explore it. A plaque near the fort gave us its history. Originally built by the Mughals, it was given to Duplex by Subedhar Muzzaffarjung in recognition of the latter’s services. After the French were defeated by the English, the fort was reclaimed by the English. Though in ruins now, it had probably seen better days. One has to just imagine the fort, within a stone’s throw from the sea with ships coming in laden with all sorts of goods…….
A few locals who happened to be there came to us with an offer to do a bit of boating in the backwaters, the waves of which lap against the now dilapitated fort walls. I am glad we took up the offer as it was one of the most beautiful experiences. It had begun to rain a bit and the locals were considerate in supplying us with umbrellas! The motorboat went slowly and we began to take in the beautiful surroundings. After about 15 minutes or so, we came to a kind of doab (if it could be called such) as it separated the backwaters from the sea and the first thought that crossed my mind was that perhaps this is how Darwin felt when he was about to land on the Galpagos islands.
Soon we were on our way to our intended destination and we were pleased to see that it was sunny here whereas it had rained heavily on our journey. But we had perhaps rejoiced too fast. The rain came down in torrents moments later. Zeroing in on an eating place, we decided to have lunch. After that, we headed to the hugely popular Auroville intenational village which is a must see on every visitor’s itinerary while in Pondicherry. The Matri Mandir is a big draw with visitors and we just about made it before the counter closed for the tickets. A board read "It will take you 10-15 minutes to reach Matri Mandir." Perhaps, they were optimistic about our walking speed as it took much more than that to reach the place. On an earlier visit, we were able to go inside the Matri Mandir. But this time round, we could only see the dome-like structure from outside. We trudged back completely drenched in the rain which had not relented a bit. We checked out the boutiques there which was a shoppers delight. The place was teeming with foreigners who perhaps feel at home here.
The Auro beach, so called because of its proximity to Auroville was deserted. Coming back to the city, we were glad that it had stopped raining. My father-in-law was interested to see the remnants of French architecture and we toured the place on foot. We saw some beautiful villas, a few monuments here and there and the stamp of French architecture is evident. Even the names of roads have been retained – Rue Dumas, Rue Saffron …..
After that, we bid goodbyes to Pondicherry, oops Puducherry and made our way back to familiar surroundings – the noise and the unruly traffic of Chennai.


Friday, March 09, 2007

A tete-a-tete with Dr Jane Goodall.

As I made my way to the British Council Library in Chennai, I was pretty excited. After all, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, who was in India to participate in the Wildscreen festival, where wild life film makers would be airing their films.

Dr. Jane looked prim and propah and as the interview commenced, I told her that my husband was a big fan of hers. This was her first visit to Chennai, her first visit to India being when she came to Bangalore, 4 years ago.

She was accompanied by a Mr H, who has visited 57 countrries in 10 years and has made the acquaintance of 3 million people; he is in fact a stuffed monkey toy and was gifted to her by a visually impaired magician called Gary Haun.

As a young girl, Jane read books about animals and about Africa and was 11 years old when she read about Tarzan. In fact, she was rather jealous of Jane and thought that she would make a better mate for Tarzan!

A school friend invited her to Nairobi and it was there that she met Loius Leker, Curator of the National Museum who was impressed by her intelligence. Along with her mother, Loius was the one person who inspired her to realise her dreams.

Recalling the memories of her first visit to the Gombe National Park, Jane says, “I remember rowing in a boat with my mother on lake Tanganyika, which is situated at the edge of the park. On one side, were the thickly forrested mountain slopes and as we put up our old army tent, it seemed so surreal. I wondered how I was going to find the chimpanzees.”

Ask her to name her five favourite chimps and out tumble these names – David, Old Flo, Safina, Freud and Fifi. Of these, only Safina and Freud are alive.

Many have asked the primatologist whether she had chalked out a strategy for the kind of success she has been able to achieve. She is quick to retort that things just happened and she did not plan anything.

Dr Jane would have been content to spend her remaining life giving lectures had she not seen the inhuman treatment meted out to animals in a film documentary in 1986 in America. After that, she turned animal activist and conservationist.

She feels that Indians are now realising the need to look after and conserve the environment. As she puts it, there is a new concern that is emerging for the environement. In fact, she even plans to start a Jane Goodall institute in India.

Her message to the people is that we should strive to make the world a better place to live in.
As the interview concluded, I could only applaud the courage of this remarkable women and came back rather awe-struck.