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A port with a past

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For a slice of history, says SOMA BASU

Beaches always beckon and so does anything `ancient.' This time a friend in the Police Department posted in Ramanathapuram district, recommends some neglected but beautiful places there."They are deserving RLT spots," he assures. So, I get into my car and head to Thondi, an ancient port city in Ramnad. The drive from Madurai takes a little over three hours. But be prepared for a stomach-churning stretch from Thiruvadanai to Thondi as there is no proper road and also leave your olfactory senses behind or else don't embark on this journey.But if you are driven by an adventurous spirit, just hit the track. You just can't always have the best on every RLT trip, I remind myself as my eyes scan the setting on either side of the road. From Madurai to Thiruvadanai, the road is good and the drive, pretty smooth. Nature doesn't have much to offer during this season except for patches of tamarind arches on the highway. Paddy has been harvested and much of the landscape around is brown. But the worse is yet to begin when the vehicle suddenly slips with a thud from a tar track on to a muddy and pebbled tract. Suddenly, there's activity all around. Bulldozers and road rollers, mounds of sand and beds of crushed stones line the narrow and kucha, almost unmotorable road. The car grudgingly makes its way through the brown haze raised by passing vehicles. Through the dusty veil, I spot a brightly painted temple gopuram, a moss layered school building, thatched huts and some dilapidated structures. The paint on a handful of signposts and milestones on the way has faded. The muddy road branches off from what was supposed to be the main road and curves down bringing into sight some hamlets and a church on the right.On the left one can see the Bay of Bengal shimmering under the fiery sun. As I reach there post-noon, it's hot and what makes the initial moments worse is the smell of fish. The best option is to cover your nose and drive on. It is the first lap of about 750 m that stinks.

Unique experience

Drive along the coastline till the road reaches a dead end at the gate of the Thondi branch of the Karaikudi-based Alagappa University. Just before this beautiful campus by the seaside is the office of the Naval Detachment Unit. Opposite the naval base, a half-a-km long cemented pier takes you right into the sea. It is a unique experience to walk on it with a strong wind blowing on your face. But don't go too close to the edge as there is no safety railing to hold on to. It is a naked land jetty and used only for fishing. The water, however, is still. The Palk Strait at Thondi is supposed to be shallow and is considered much safer than other areas around the Strait and the Gulf of Mannar. Thondi could have qualified as an ideal place for swimming, surfing and sun bathing. But then due to lack of road and rail connectivity and inadequate hinterland development, the place has lost its importance and is used only for fishing now. But its historical importance cannot be undermined. Thondi is recorded as a heritage place of the great Kings of the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas, who all nurtured this port city. Even the British used the Thondi Port to import and export goods from Sri Lanka and Burma, among other countries. There have been demands to revive the port for the past several decades but only now under the Sethu Samudram Project implementation, some work has begun in laying a road to Thondi. If the smell doesn't bother you much, then you can enjoy the serenity of the place. You see nothing but water here in three directions. In the foreground, it looks mossy green but follow the receding horizon and you find a lovely combination of blue and shining silver. The sea is gentle and fishermen's boats appear in the distance like tiny specks on the aqua canvas. If you turn your back to the sea, the fourth side reveals the secular nature of the place. The coastline is dotted with a church, a temple and a mosque.Truly, Thondi hides a charming delight. If only the authorities take care to clean up the area, can it be developed into a more inviting destination.

How to get there

Thondi is 40 km from Ramanathapuram and 145 km from Madurai. While coming from Madurai, take the Sivagangai road and on to Kalaiyarkoil and Thiruvadanai before reaching Thondi.

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