I was looking for some heritage place or ruins around Chennai to visit apart from temples and three things popped up. One was Gingee fort but it was quite a distance for me. And the other two were Sadras fort and Alamparai fort just a few kilometres apart. Thankfully Sadras fort was along the East Coast Road and hence I and my friend planned for a drive down the ECR, Chennai coast and explore Sadras fort. I had never heard of it before nor have I seen its pictures mentioned anywhere. And reading about it got me more excited, as it is a Dutch fort. For a moment I was wondering if I remember any history at all. Dutch and Portuguese settlement along the west coast I knew. Tranquebar also I knew of. But a Dutch settlement at Chennai on the east coast was surprising. So we started early morning to check out Sadras fort and Alamparai fort. Sadras fort was then called as Sadurangapattinam.
History of Sadras
Sadras seems to have a mention right from the 14th century. The place has undergone many colloquial name changes before it adopted to Sadras. The original name seems to have been Rajanarayanan Pattinam, basically named after a chieftain. And after the times of the chieftain, they named it to Sadiravasagan Pattinam after the Sadras Perumal temple (Vishnu temple) found in this part. That was a difficult word to pronounce that it turned into Sadurangapattinam and Sadirai. And then once the British took over they conveniently changed it to Sadras. Just like how Madarasapattinam turned into Madras :)
Sadras is now a fishing hamlet. But earlier Sadras was known for manufacturing high-quality muslin cloths. Also spotted were brick kilns around the area. The Dutch when they arrived around the east coast, initially set up their fort and base up North of Madras at Pulicat. And when they were looking to expand their presence, they came across Sadurangapattinam. The humble weaver's colony weaving muslin clothes looked like a lucrative business opportunity. The Dutch settled around Sadras, convenient to dock their ships along the coast and started exporting muslin clothes from here. However, soon they decided to make this their place, built a factory and then a fort around Sadras and thus it became Sadras fort.
Battle of Sadras
The Dutch were happy to set up a fort in the coromandel coast only because there was no political unrest in this part of India. That until the British figured out an opportunity. It started as a business rivalry and soon turned into a war for power over the place. It further irked when the Dutch refused to trade with the British and the French. So the fight for power was joined by French forces too. The fort could no longer stand the bombardment coming in from the sea by British and the French. After the British took over the Dutch fort, the first of the many wars fought with French was Battle of Sadras. Though the British suffered major damage, they still managed to recuperate from land as opposed to French who had docked their ships and had to repair their ships post-war. The British at a later point handed over the fort to Dutch but then again took it over when the majority of India came under the British. It is indeed surprising to see that some of the rooms in the fort have withstood these wars.
Tour of Sadras Fort
Driving past the ECR, counting the pine trees along the coast, feeling the sea breeze, the car turns into Kalpakkam. The neatly laid roads and the campus comes as a surprise. Not long the tiny fishing hamlet emerges and the tall boundary wall indicates the fort walls. We circled the fort wall and came in front of the gates. A neatly maintained lawn led to the entrance of the fort. The fort entrance was flanked on either side by canons which seemed to hold in spite of Chennai's harsh weather. Inside the fort walls are brick walls in ruins suggesting that these could have possibly been rooms. Towards the far end of the fort are two warehouses. Or one is said to be a warehouse and other a kitchen or a horse stable. The fort walls on the side facing the sea were ruined and uneven. The beach is just a 100 meters away from the fort. Walking down, showed plain platforms which could have been resting halls or the dancing halls.
As I walked out, the word must have passed on, an ASI guide had turned up promptly. Good, he came for he had the keys to the cemetery. Surprisingly the cemetery seems to be the only thing not ruined or vandalized. Rows of Dutch dignitaries lay there. Some of them have intricate carvings of swords and flowers. And everything is written in Dutch that we cannot understand. The guide handed out a paper which had details about the fort and the cemetery. It read, "The inscriptions on the tombstones tell tragic tales of the dead. They refer to Hier Rusten Mejuff Anna Cornelia Bonk.." The year on the tombstones was anywhere between 1620 to 1769 AD. Behind the cemetery is a secret passage leading to another room. The room must have served as a dungeon or a hiding place. The room is right below a bastion so probably could be even a storeroom for gun powder and ammunition. A snake slithered past and we ran out of it.
I have been twice to Sadras fort and the first time it was super deserted that I was wondering if it is safe at all. But now Sadras fort has gathered some attention. The last time I visited the place, a group tour interested in history entered as I left the place. Alamparai fort was a disappointment both the times. And I had read it on news that it is not safe to go as a solo traveler or as a family, and should go only as a group of folks. I was drooling over the sunrise pictures at Alamparai fort. But the first time we hesitated after reading about the fort and finding the famed Sadras fort itself to be deserted. The second time we decided to pay a visit but the police turned us away citing that a murder has happened at the fort and they are looking into it. So the dream of Alamparai fort was done and dusted.
How To Reach Sadras Fort
To reach Sadras Dutch Fort from Chennai, follow the East Coast Road and cross Mahabalipuram. After about 15 km from Mahabalipuram turn towards Kalpakkam and follow the road you will reach Sadras beach and from there the fort wall will be visible and you can trace the route to it. The google map route is pretty clear. If you are planning to take a bus, buses that head to Pondicherry will stop at Kalpakkam, get down there and take an auto.