Tranquebar (or Tharangambadi) is a city of 23,000 people (2011) in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tranquebar was established on 19 November 1620 as the first Danish trading post in India.
The place dates back to the 14th century. Masilamani nathar (Shiva) temple was built in 1306, in a land given by Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I. Until 1620, when the Danes came, the place was part of the Thanjavur Nayak kingdom. Danish admiral Ove Gjedde felt the place would be a potential trading centre, made a deal with Raghunatha Nayak, and built a fort, which is known as Fort Dansborg.
A Jesuit Catholic congregation in Tranquebar predated the arrival of the Danes by several decades. This congregation descended from Tamil fishermen converted by Portuguese missionaries from Goa. There was also a sizable population of Indo-Portuguese due to their presence nearby in Nagapattinam. This Danish fort was the residence and headquarters of the governor and other officials for about 150 years. It is now a museum hosting a collection of artefacts from the colonial era.
Tranquebar was occupied by the British in February 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars but was restored to Denmark following the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. Along with the Danish settlement of Serampore in Bengal, it was sold to the British in 1845. Tranquebar was then still a busy port, but it later lost its importance after a railway was opened to Nagapattinam
The best way of getting to Tranquebar is by bus. Bus route 324 runs all the way from CMBT (Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal) in Madras along the coast to Nagapattinam south of Tranquebar. The bus will make stops in Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Tranquebar and Karaikal on the way to Nagapattinam, so it is perfect if you already are in one of these cities. From Madras the trip will take around 7-8 hours, from Pondicherry around 4 hours, from Karikal around 30 minutes and from Nagapattinam around one hour. The busses come in three different classes: Regular, UD (ultra deluxe) and AC (Air Conditioning). Regular busses are bad even by Indian standards, Ultra deluxe busses are bad by western standards (no A/C or reclining seats) while AC busses (blue and white with closed windows) are really good. A trip from Madras to Nagapattinam on AC bus is less than ₹300, so unless you are on a really tight budget AC is the way to go.
Tranquebar is better known with its local name, Tharangambadi, so ask for bus/taxi for the same.
Tranquebar is small enough for you to easily be able to walk around and the entire area can be covered in 3-4 hours. If you are a true history buff and want to see all the sites like the remains of Peter Anker's country house and gardens or the Governor's Mansion in nearby Porayar, it may make sense to hire a pedal bike. If you're starting from Pondicherry, its possible to start and return from Tranquebar the same day.
- 1 Fort Dansborg. Open 10:30AM to 5PM. A Danish 17th-century fort facing the coast. The construction of the fort began immediately after the arrival of the first Danish trading expedition and the establishment of a treaty regulating trading rights between the Nayak Raghunatha in Thanjavur and the Danish East India Company in 1620. Until the end of the 17th century the fort was used for residential and storage purposes; subsequent increase in population forced the Danes to move out and occupy surrounding areas as well. While it was previously crumbling away, the Fort has been renovated by Indian volunteers and Danish non-profit organisations. It houses a small museum inside that has some artifacts and a history of the Danish Settlement. Entry fee is ₹5 per person.
- The Masilamani Nathar Temple, On the beach (Near the Bungalow on the Beach). Dating back to the Pandian era, this temple was erected in 1306. An inscription to this effect is exhibited in the Dansborg Museum. The temple was dilapidated and heavily eroded by the sea but thanks to restoration undertaken by INTACH, the temple is now as good as new and is worth a visit.
- The New Jerusalem Church, King Street. Built in 1718 after the arrival of German missionaries, when the existing church proved too small for the growing Christian population.
- The Old Danish Cemetery, Kavalamettu Street. Small cemetery that holds the whitewashed graves of several Danish colonial officials and tradesmen. Don't expect a Danish style cemetery as found in Copenhagen. It is a small compound with a locked gate and several headstones standing forlornly in a barren patch of land.
- The Town Gate, King's Street. 'Landporten' as the Town Gate is called in Danish forms part of the fortifications that were built around Tranquebar in the 1660s. In 1791 the original gate was destroyed and the existing one constructed in its place.
- The Ziegenbalg Museum Complex, Admiral Street. Interesting to see a building here marked the "First Printing Press" though the first printing press in India was originally housed in the Mission House on King's Street. Bibliophiles would know that the first book to be published in India was the Bible in Tamil.
- The Zion Church, King Street. Consecrated in 1701, it is the oldest protestant Church in India. Prominent with its combination of colonial and Indian architectural features, its construction together with the fortification of the town marked the moving out and spreading of the Danish population into the surrounding settlement. The structure went through many reconstructions before it reached its present form.
- Arts and Craft Centre. This centre is being developed for presenting the traditional arts and crafts of this region. The centre is located in a set of restored Tamil houses that were taken up by some NGOs after the tsunami.
- Take a Walking Tour. A good place to start is the Bungalow on the Beach on King's Street. Ask for a map there and set out to see the sights. At a comfortable pace the tour should not take more than a couple of hours. You can end the tour with a beer at the Bungalow!
- The Bungalow on the Beach, King's Street. The only dining option in Tranquebar. They serve a fairly decent continental fare with main course at the range of ₹200.
- The Bungalow on the Beach. You can order a beer here, just that it comes marked as fruit juice in your bill. ₹150 for a bottle of Kingfisher.
- The Bungalow on the Beach, King's Street. The most upmarket place here, it is housed in the renovated British Collector's house. Run by the Neemrana group it has about eight rooms ranging from ₹500 to ₹5000 per night (Oct 2009). No internet.
- The Gate House, King's Street. The annex of The Bungalow, it is next to the Town Gate and has six rooms ranging from ₹000 to ₹3500 per night (Oct 2009). No internet. No restaurant: you must walk 5 minutes to the Bungalow for meals.
- The Nayak House, Post Office Street (walk along the Post Office Street till you hit the beach and go on till where Goldsmith Street meets the beach). Another place run by Neemrana with three rooms ranging from ₹1000 to ₹2000 per night (Oct 2009). No internet.
- The Tamil Nadu House, Post Office Street. The budget accommodation option also run by the Neemrana people has non air conditioned rooms available from ₹600. They serve breakfast and lunch but for dinner one has to go to the Bungalow.