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Sadras Dutch Fortress
Travel

The picturesque ruins of the Sadras Dutch fort

A not-so-well-known fact about Tamil Nadu is that there were three major (and some smaller ones) Dutch settlements along its coast in the 17th-19th centuries. One in Pulicat, straddling the state’s border with Andhra Pradesh, one in Nagapattinam, and one just about 80km south of Chennai, in Sadras, short for Sadurangapattinam.
 
If you are driving to Mahabalipuram from Chennai, Sadurangapattinam, anglicized to Sadras, is just about half an hour further. The erstwhile settlement, adjacent to the Kalpakkam (of nuclear plant fame) township, has the ruins of a picturesque seaside brick fortress built by the Dutch after their arrival in the mid 17th century. Sadras was famous for muslin, that was woven (or spun?) in its looms. During the Carnatic wars, the warring parties would often conduct their negotiations in the fort, because while the British and the French picked sides and got involved, this Dutch settlement was neutral territory. Back then, the Sadras fort was referred to as Fort Orange, because orange is the colour of Dutch royalty. The British captured it from the Dutch in 1781, but returned it to them in about 40 years. Later, in the 19th century, the Dutch once and for all ceded all of their Indian settlements to the British. Greenery In Sadras
The fort is mostly in ruins, but has some intact structures like a granary, stables and a Dutch cemetery. I don’t know if it is always so beautifully lush, but I went right after the colossal rains of December 2015, so maybe that was it.
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Sadras Dutch Fort
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Apparently, this structure was to help people climb onto elephants:
Sadras Dutch Fort
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Sadras Dutch Fort
If you go to the back of the fortress and climb up the steps there, you can see a lovely blue sliver of the sea!
View of the Sea from the Dutch Fortress of Sadras
The next one is a blurry iphone photo, sorry about that, but I had to include it because it shows a part of the roof in one of the structures of the fort, that has caved in, leaving a gaping hole!
Sadras Fortress Caved In Roof
The ornate tombs in the cemetery date back to the 17th century. It is usually kept under lock and key, but the details on the graves are really beautiful, so make sure you find the caretaker and request him to open it for you. The double decker tomb in the following picture, apparently belongs to two brothers.
Sadras Dutch cemetery
Sadras Dutch cemetery Sadras Dutch cemetery
And finally, a little bit of greenery 🙂
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Greenery In Sadras
Greenery In Sadras
Greenery In Sadras
Armenian Church, Chennai
Travel

From Armenia To Madras

In the 7th and 8th centuries, groups of merchants from a small land far beyond the Hindu Kush mountains started coming to India to sell silk, muslin, spices, timber and precious stones. Starting with the Malabar coast, over the next many centuries, they formed small settlements in different parts of the country from Kerala to Kolkata, and from Agra to Madras. By the 17th century, there was a sizable population of their people in Madras, and the street where most of them lived, came to be known as the Armenian Street.

 

These merchants were Armenians. Armenia is an ancient mountainous country in Eurasia, surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is said that Noah’s Ark came to rest on the Ararat mountains in Armenia after the flood waters receded. It is one of the oldest Christian civilizations, and in the 4th century AD, it became the first officially Christian state in the world.
Armenian Church, Chennai
The Armenian street is home to the Church of St. Mary, India’s oldest Armenian Church. At this point, I’m beginning to count the number of times I use the word ‘Armenian’ in each sentence! The church was first built in 1712, but after getting destroyed in a French siege in 1772, it was rebuilt in its present location – the grounds of what was an Armenian cemetery.
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, ChennaiSince it is built on a cemetery, hundreds of flat graves with inscriptions in the Armenian script are scattered all around the church and in some places it is difficult to move without walking on them. 
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
While all the other graves are flat and at ground level, a raised one in the garden adjoining the church is clearly special. Buried here is Rev Harutiun Shmavonian, who printed the first Armenian newspaper in the world, sitting in this church! And hence, the open stone book on his grave 🙂
Armenian Church, Chennai
There are no Armenians in Chennai anymore, and the church is maintained by the Armenian Church Committee in Kolkata, which still has a small population of Armenian Christians. Regular service is not held here, but the church is open to visitors from 9 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. Here’s more about the church if you are interested.

 

After we spent a while at the church, Ashwin’s father took us to a cafe called Hotel Zum Zum (yes, seriously) where he’d hang out sometimes when he was young 🙂
Hotel Zum Zum
For lunch, we went to an old restaurant called Menaka in Hotel Palm Grove. Coincidentally (it wasn’t father’s day or anything 😛my dad regularly ate at this restaurant when he was young (he went to college in Chennai). I had the ‘Madras Meal’, a traditional thaali – simple and very yummy.
Hotel Palm Grove
My birthday was earlier this month, and Ashwin gave me a Fujifilm X-Pro 1. I love the camera so much – it is small and unobtrusive, the colours are gorgeous, the lens (I’m using an 18-55 at the moment) is brilliant and the shutter sounds beeeeautiful ! I used it to shoot the pictures in this post.
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Travel

Afghan Church, Mumbai

The first time I heard about the Afghan Church was when I saw this picture on Ashwin’s Flickr stream, and on my recent visit to Mumbai, I went to check it out. The beautiful basalt and limestone church in Colaba is actually the Church of St John the Evangelist, but it is locally called the Afghan Church, because it was built in the memory of the soldiers of the British army, including members of many Indian regiments, who died in the First Afghan War fought against Afghanistan from 1839 to 1842. The church has a spire that is almost 200 feet high, because the government granted land for its construction on the condition that it must be the tallest structure in the area, and the spire must be visible clearly even to the ships at sea. The exquisite stained glass work on the windows depicting scenes from the Bible came all the way from England, and the tall pillars and imposing arches came from Iran.

 

The highlight of the church would definitely have to be the gorgeous shafts of light streaming in through the stained glass panels! I first went to the church on a weekday, but it was closed. They did let me walk around the grounds and take photos of the exterior, but I had to visit again on a Sunday to go inside.
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai - Gothic details
Afghan Church, Colaba, MumbaiAfghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai Grooves for soldiers to rest their riflesAfghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai