Built in the mid-18th century on the site of a seaport active since ancient times, Alamparai Fort (also known as “Alampara”) has witnessed wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the ever-turning tides of imperial power. Now, this old fort off a forgotten road along the Bay of Bengal is a favorite spot for photographers and off-the-beaten-track explorers of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India.
The impressive 15-acre structure was originally built by the Mughal rulers of India and was gifted to the French in 1750 for “services rendered” on behalf of local authorities. Ten years later, during the Anglo-French Carnatic Wars, the fort was captured and subsequently demolished by British forces. Since that time the site has received only limited attention from archaeologists, who nevertheless have discovered coins minted on site, as well as various weapons and artifacts from its mercantile and military past. In 2004 the site suffered additional damage due to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Thanks to the violence of warfare between competing colonial interests, the ravages of nature, and the neglect of local government, this fort has certainly seen better times.
Now empty of people and decaying, old Alamparai Fort stands tall even as its bricks slowly dissolve into the sea. It’s a wonder that the structure has held up as much as it has; little to no conservation effort has been made. Even the few metal signs explaining the site’s significance are corroding in the sun-drenched, salty air of the Coromandel Coast.
On the beachfront, several sections of the fort’s walls have tumbled away from the main structure and are now submerged in the sand of the ocean’s tidal backwaters. As gentle waves lap against the brick and mortar, hermit crabs, barnacles and other sea creatures have made their homes amid chunks of shattered brickwork. Along the water’s edge, fishermen park their boats and shepherds graze their goats on vines that sprout and twist through the cracked fortifications.
Over two hundred years since being abandoned, Alamparai Fort stands as a testimony to the transient nature of humanity’s quarrelsome empires. Or, as Paul Simon put it in “All Around the World Or the Myth of Fingerprints”:
“Out in the Indian Ocean somewhere / There’s a former army post / Abandoned now just like the war /And there’s no doubt about it /It was the myth of fingerprints /That’s what that old army post was for.”
Know Before You Go
Located on the ECR (East Coast Road) between Chennai and Pondicherry, approximately 50km south of Mahabalipuram. Turn off the main road at Kadappakkam, following the faded green signs for Alamparai Fort. Once you reach the beach, turn right and follow the dirt road to a small parking area. The site is free and open at all hours. No admission fee, although locals may attempt to collect a "tourist fee" from unsuspecting visitors. Watch out for wildlife (including snakes) amid the brush. Best to travel with a companion.