Restored to peace



You'll fall for the beach, says SOMA BASU

Here, the only sounds you hear are that of the waves lashing against rocks and that of the strong wind that almost throws you off balance. This is an abandoned beach which once bustled with activity, having housed a ship-breaking yard, a thriving prawn hatchery farm and salt pans.

Valinokkam in Ramanathapuram district today has been restored to peace and cleanliness. It is best to describe it as a quaint seaside resort untouched by consumerism and tourism. There are two ways of approaching the place. From Rameswaram, it is about 90 km up north. I am on the second route from Madurai via Aruppukkottai and Sayalgudi. I drive down a 110 km road in about two-and-a-half hours. En route, vignettes of rural India unfurl — men sitting outside thatched huts in a drunken stupor; women squatting in groups stitching fishing nets and children singing from schools nearby.

As I get closer to the sea, the breeze gets cooler. I have to park the vehicle at the entrance of the Valinokkam village and walk almost a kilometre to reach the wide beach, where you can spot elevated dunes pastel brown in colour. The walk through the village is fascinating though my feet get burnt on the hot bed of sand. The sandy stretch curves into narrow lanes separating the small huts on either side. These huts are mostly standing on either broken or fallen TNEB pillars and have roofs made of dry grass. Shy women curiously peep out from behind closed doors, surprised to see a woman walking through their area towards the beach.

I keep walking as I am still not able to see the sea. The dunes are really high and undulating. Few of them have mazars (dargahs). A word of caution for first time travellers. The local guardians simply gherao you and force you inside to pay obeisance at the dargah with the idea of possibly leaving you poorer by a few rupees.

I had no option but to step inside one of these at the insistence of an old caretaker. But almost immediately, I came out when he started chanting some mantra and tried to sprinkle some liquid from a bottle. But for this minor hitch, the time was well spent at the sun-soaked beach. The beach surprisingly has a well-maintained children's playground complete with swings, slides and other equipment but is hardly used. There is an abandoned view tower made of wood, and somewhat rickety. Go up the tower for a beautiful view of the blue expanse. There is a wave-carved cliff against which the water rises to a milky white height before receding again. The sand is streaked red, brown and black. Valinokkam is considered ideal for swimming but tsunami fears now keep the locals off the coastline.

The ideal thing to do here is to just relax on a hammock perhaps with your favourite book in hand. There is ample place for sun bathing or safe bathing in the blue waters on which a handful of boats that appear like tiny dots on the sun-kissed canvas.

The snaking coastline stretches to the next point called Mukkaiyar, which is equally deserted and beautiful. So take this "get-away-from-it-all" break and head for Valinokkam. That you will fall for the place is a guarantee.

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