I wanted to visit someplace other than temples in Chennai; maybe a heritage place or some ruins but not temples !! Gingee fort sprang up, but it was pretty far for me. And the other two were Sadras fort and Alamparai fort, which were just a few kilometres apart. Thankfully Sadras fort was along the East Coast Road, and hence my friend and I planned for a drive down the ECR, Chennai coast, and explore the Sadras fort.
I had neither heard of it before nor seen its pictures or any mentioned anywhere. Due to this, 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. I had some remnants of Dutch and Portuguese settlements along the west coast in my memory. I also knew of Tranquebar. But a Dutch settlement at Chennai on the east coast was surprising.
So we started early in the morning to check out the Sadras fort and the Alamparai fort. Sadras fort was then called Sadurangapattinam.
History of Sadras Fort
Sadras has a legacy dating back to the 14th century. The place had undergone many colloquial name changes before it finalised into Sadras. The original name seems to have been Rajanarayanan Pattinam, basically named after a chieftain. After the chieftain times, they called it Sadiravasagan Pattinam after the Sadras Perumal temple (Vishnu temple) found in this part.
That was a difficult word to pronounce that 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, brick kilns were spotted around the area. The Dutch set up their fort when they arrived at the east coast and established their 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, as it was 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, it became Sadras fort.
Battle of Sadras
The Dutch were enthusiastic about setting up a fort on 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 the British and the French.
After the British took over the Dutch fort, the first of the many wars fought with the French was the Battle of Sadras. Though the British suffered significant damage, they still managed to recuperate from land instead of the French, who had docked their ships and had to repair their ships post-war.
At a later point, the British 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, I counted the pine trees along the coast, felt the sea breeze, and the car turned into Kalpakkam. The roads were neatly raided, and the campus came as a surprise. Not long, the tiny fishing hamlet emerged, and the tall boundary wall indicated 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 despite 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 the other a kitchen or a horse stable.
The fort walls on the side facing the sea were ruined and uneven. The beach is just 100 meters away from the fort. Walking down showed plain platforms, which could have been resting halls or the dancing halls.
Warehouse or Kitchen of the fort
As I walked out, the word must have passed on, and an ASI guide had turned up promptly as 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 had intricate carvings of swords and flowers. And everything is written in Dutch that we cannot understand. The guide handed out a paper that had details about the fort and the cemetery.
It read, "The inscriptions on the tombstones tell tragic tales of the dead. They refer to Hire Rusten Mejoff 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 it probably could be even a storeroom for gunpowder and ammunition. A snake slithered past, and we ran out of it.
I have been to Sadras fort twice, and the first time I went, it was super deserted that I wondered 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 times. And I had read on the news that it is not safe to go there as a solo traveler or with 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 happened at the fort and 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 plan to take a bus, buses that head to Pondicherry will stop at Kalpakkam, get down there, and take an auto.