An unexplained force draws you to abandoned ruins and discarded spaces. You find them beguiling. The old walls tell you things no else can hear. Crumbling structures sing tunes that never even have been written. Others see damage, you see delicateness. Where others notice ramshackles, you spot unfinished stories. Others feel pity, you feel a humbling sense of inevitable mortality. Why do you feel that way? Is it because you are a sucker for nostalgia? Is it because you associate these shunned places with jilted lovers experiencing the painful pangs of unrequited love? Is it because you find mysterious beauty in a certain kind of sadness, a delicious melancholy in emptiness, perhaps? You don’t know why and you never will. But you will continue to tread on forsaken grounds, not even knowing what you are truly looking for.
You remember seeing a haunting picture of the abandoned ruins of the Alamparai Fort at dusk — indigo skies, dark shadows and alluring silhouettes against the Bay of Bengal. But when you drive 50 kilometres from Mamallapuram in search of the fort that lies forgotten somewhere along the beautiful East Coast Road, it is a bright and sunny afternoon, all blue skies and azure waters. After a smooth drive on the highway along the sea, a signboard asks you to turn left, into a non-descript road near a seaside village called Kadappakkam. You drive on a small, sandy road hugging the sea, past scattered huts with asbestos tops, hungry strays and upturned fishing boats.
You reach the Alamparai Fort. The sight that greets you is so desolate and yet so beautiful.
You take a minute to imagine how the ramparts of the brick and limestone fort would have battled everything from the vagaries of time, wars, relentless battering of the sea and sheer neglect. You notice a mausoleum in the centre and wonder whose mortal remains it houses. You look for the story of this fort and find it in a fading and rusty signboard, which tells you that the fort was constructed in the late 17th century by the Carnatic Nawab of Arcot, Dost Ali Khan, during the Mughal rule between 1736 and 1740 CE. It was then known as the Alampara Fort, a Mughal name that is now Tamilicized to Alamparai. You learn that the fort was once a port (referred to as Idaikazhinadu in historical texts) with a 100-metre long dockyard stretching into the sea, from which precious commodities like zari cloth, salt, and ghee were exported. The fort was later gifted to the French under Lord Dupleix, but after the Carnatic wars, when the French lost to the British, the fort came under the direct control of the British and was partially demolished in 1760. You read that the ramparts were further damaged during the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. Today, you are witness to what remains of it.
You walk in through the broken down walls and see that the inside of the fort has given way to a wild world. You admire the tenacity of the weeds that have unabashedly taken over the walls and watch the tall palmyra trees that strike a pretty pose against the blue, blue skies. You observe in silence, the magnificence of the calm sea, exposing another strip of beach at the horizon, making for a surreal sight. You see colourful boats bobbing gently on its surface. You feel as still as this serene picture.
All this beauty and no one to lay your eyes on it. And then a thought hits you. Maybe, this is why you love forgotten places. To let them know that at least you will never forget.
Photos by Lovell D’souza. Check out the Alamparai Fort album on Flickr.