Thangassery… a Gem on the Seashore
After visiting my friend Dilly at Thangassery, I had this question that I could not find an answer to… why hadn’t I visited the place earlier? Dilly and I have been friends for donkey’s years, I knew of the beauty and historical importance of the place… maybe it is true that there is a right time for everything!
Located near Kollam in the south western state of Kerala in India, Thangassery is a beautiful seashore town with a unique cultural heritage. Established as home to the Anglo-Indian community (which includes all people of European descent), its contributions to the cultural milieu of the region are invaluable.
The word ‘thangassery’ means gold town or gold village, referring to the distant past when spice trade was conducted here using gold coins. It was also known as ‘Dutch Quilon’ till the 20th century.
Thangassery has a long history, going back to the colonial times when European powers jostled for domination in the Eastern territories. The first European power to appear in Thangassery were the Portuguese, who leased the area of Thangassery from the queen of Quilon (currently called Kollam) in the year 1502, to be used as a trading post. The dilapidated remains of Forte de São Tomé (Fort St. Thomas), built by the Portuguese in 1518 to protect their enclave, can still be seen in Thangassery.
The fort that rose up to a height of 20 feet, is under the care of Archaeological Survey of India and is currently being restored.
After almost a century and half, the decline in the Portuguese power in Europe and the colonial territories led to a Dutch victory at Quilon. In 1661, Fort St. Thomas and Thangassery passed into the hands of the Dutch, who developed the area further. After another century, the fortunes of the British were on the ascendant and the Dutch had to surrender Thangassery to the English East India Company in 1795.
Many of the Portuguese and Dutch soldiers and traders had married locally and settled in Thangassery. This cultural mixing has always enriched the life of Thangassery in many ways. The grid pattern of the roads existing in Thangassery town even today was established by the Dutch. The only other place where I have seen such a perfect grid of roads is my own town, NYC! 🙂
There are several food items that have come out of this mixing of cultures, where local ingredients available in the tropical climate of Kerala find a place in traditional Portuguese and Dutch recipes and get reborn as amazing items. And I thought I had tasted them all. Imagine my surprise when I discovered ‘orappam’, a kind of white halva with a definite coconut flavour, that belongs right at the top with the best of them!
Thangassery lighthouse, established in 1902 and still functional, is one the attractions of the place. The view from the top of the lighthouse is worth every one of the 193 steps you have to climb to get there.
Starting with the tranquil basin of Kollam port protected by the Thangassery breakwater, extending 1.1 mile into the sea…
your eyes will sweep over the vista of the Arabian Sea in a 270 degree arc to land again on a rocky shoreline studded with graceful coconut palms.
Moving further, your gaze will settle on the green landscape dominated by the church steeple…
to end up back at the colouful fishing boats pulled on the shores along the Thangassery Beach Road.
A view that you will never tire of, I can guarantee!
The circular wooden staircase of the lighthouse itself is a work of art.
Standing at a height of 144 feet, the lighthouse has a luminous range of 26 nautical miles. The lighthouse has been in continuous use since its inception.
One of the oldest printing presses in India from where the first book in Kerala was published in1578; Mount Carmel Anglo Indian Girls School, the first convent schools for girls established in 1885; the Infant Jesus Church, a Portuguese-built church that goes back centuries… Thangassery’s claim to fame are many. Still, old timers here are quick to point out the changed circumstances in the town. Large scale migration of the younger generations seeking better fortunes has taken its toll on the local community. Old life styles are disappearing with the influx of outsiders into a hitherto close-knit community.
Though many believe that the golden years of Thangassery are long gone, I found the place charming and delightful. My only regret is that I did not make this trip a long time ago!