Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 3, May 16-31, 2019

Cycling your way to Mamallapuram

– Karthik Bhatt

– Karthik Bhatt

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The OMR (Rajiv Gandhi IT Expressway, to give its official name) and the ECR are two of the most important thoroughfares in the city today. While the former is home to several companies in the information technology sector, one of the city’s chief identities, the latter which runs up to Kanyakumari serves as an important link for traffic going down the coast. Their development as formal roads is a recent one, for even until fifteen years ago, they were a collection of sleepy villages that made up the fringes of the city.

Despite their commercialisation, there are several vignettes of the past which remain untouched by modernity and serve as a link to the bygone era. OMR ECR Bicycle Trails by Cycling Yogis, a non-profit initiative founded in 2012 and which seeks to promote an eco-friendly way of learning more about our city’s heritage by cycling to heritage spots, is a collection of trails around these thoroughfares. This booklet, dedicated to the memory of S. Muthiah, is the initiative’s fourth publication, the earlier ones being Cycling in Madras, Madras by Cycle and George Town Bicycle Trails.

The booklet comprises fifteen trails such as the Colonial Trail, Harmony Trail, Industrial Trail, the Saints Trail and the Buckingham Canal Trail. A short description accompanies each of the spots covered in the trail, with a few interesting snippets from history adding value to their significance. For instance, it is interesting to read of the vehicular traffic on the Buckingham Canal, which in its heyday functioned as a vital link in the transportation of goods and people between Madras and Andhra Pradesh. As late as 1960-61, the booklet notes that the Canal carried nearly 190,000 tonnes of goods worth around Rs 18.5 million between the two States. The massive cyclone of 1965-66 sounded a death knell for transportation through the Canal. The locks at Sadras, Muttukadu Boat Jetty, Thiruvidandhai and Edaiyur backwaters are silent spectators today to the total neglect and sorry state of the canal.

While many well-known landmarks in the region are covered in the trails, the booklet also documents several lesser-known ones such as the Nemmeli Sri Alavandar temple and the Covelong Salt Factory. The first is dedicated to a wealthy trader and champion helmsman of his times who left his significant landholdings to charity. The Covelong Salt Factory dates to 1893 and was opened by RM Thurley, Salt Inspector according to a plaque at the premises, notes the booklet.
One of the most noteworthy trails is the Nature Trail, covering the natural heritage of the region. The region is home to several reserve forests (Pallikaranai, Karanai, Sonnallur, Thaiyur and Illalur) and wetlands (the Pallikaranai wetland, Sholinganallur marshland and the Kovalam-Kelambakkam wetland), each of which is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. The documentation serves as a reminder of the natural wealth of the region which faces constant challenges in the form of rapid commercialisation. Yet another interesting trail is Pre-History Trail, which covers the Megalithic Burial sites situated at Ponmar/Ottiyambakkam, Thiruporur and Siruthavoor. Reading about these ASI protected sites, one can only wonder about their immense tourism potential which could be harnessed by creation of basic infrastructure.

The QR Codes that have been provided for many of the spots for easy identification of their locations are a worthy value add to this booklet, which is a handy guide for any heritage enthusiast wishing to explore the region.

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