Travelling to a heritage site always makes me happy the reason being that I get to transform myself back centuries and feel the grandeur amongst the ruins. When I was traveling to Pondicherry and was researching the various interesting places in and around Pondicherry then I chanced upon the name of Arikamedu. Searching online revealed that this is an archaeological site currently under ASI (Archaeological Survey of India).
Interestingly Arikamedu has a history that not many are aware of and the significance of the place is not only important for India but ancient Rome (Europe) also. Arikamedu was one of the most important and prominent trading ports of India with the Roman Empire dated as early as 2 BC. This place also finds a mention in Periplus Maris Erythrian which is basically the trade route map of the Roman Empire.
For some reason, this trading port was lost in history and only finds being mentioned centuries later in the year 1734 when the French East India Company informed their reporting station that they have stumbled upon an ancient site. During its excavation in 1765, it was reported that some brick structures were present. However, the major excavation on this site was carried on during 1937 by Gabriel Jouveau Dubreuil where he found gemstones, engraved stones and some beads which were one of the most important trading items from this port of Arikamedu.
The first major work by ASI on this site was undertaken by Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler in the year 1945. It is to be noted that Sir Wheeler was the then Director General of ASI. The excavation which was done in phases led to the discovery of jars, wine making jars, beads, gemstones, roman cutlery etc.
Interestingly Sir Wheeler had used the grid method for this excavation which was similar to other excavations that he would further conduct around the world. The excavation at Arikamedu was also important in dating the finds as the various objects could be classified and the exact date of its existence be narrowed upon.
Apart from the Roman traded items, some artifacts were also found to be of Chinese origin belonging to the Song-Yuvan dynasty and coins from the Chola dynasty.
However the significant this site may be to the Indian trading history with the Roman world this site was never highlighted and was not on the tourist map for several decades. It is only recently that this place is being mentioned as one of the tourist stopovers around Pondicherry.
This being not on a popular tourist trail was felt when I wanted to visit it, the driver of our car had never heard of it, neither did the hotel staff. I had to completely depend on GPS on my mobile where I had pre-fed the information so that I could direct the driver to drive on the laid-out route. What followed was a comedy of errors, being a less visited site the GPS often plotted the route taking us to narrow lanes where even a bicycle would find it difficult to pass. Somehow we managed to reach the spot after speaking to few locals for alternate roads.
After reaching the spot we were in a fix as only a plaque of ASI told the visitors of the spot which was surrounded by barbed wires. The fenced area was quite large and quite dense with trees and shrubs. What was more alarming was that a group consisting of mostly drunk youths were having a party under a tent with loud music. Since this was an unguarded spot without any ASI officials thus the locals were using it as a common picnic spot which considering the history and significance of the place should be avoided.
Ironically it’s this group that ultimately came to my rescue, on seeing me approaching with a huge camera slung across and a big sun hat the locals immediately stopped the music assuming me as an ASI employee. One of the boys even ran up to me to enquire and on finding out that I was just a tourist who had come with a family the group of boys directed me to the exact spot which was a minutes’ walk from the gate.
This being a trading post was quite near to the river when seen on a map and the only remains visible are the ruins of an old brick structure which is assumed to be that of a warehouse. Extensive excavation was once carried out all over the locality but these are not visible now and uneven surfaces are the only evidence that this place was once excavated.
The brick structure was almost crumbling to the ground and if these are not urgently restored then very soon there will not be any visible structures left.
With the sea and river nearby this place can be heavily promoted as a tourist spot and the ticket money collected can be used to redevelop the site and helping the crumbling structures some much-needed restoration thus providing some decades more for surviving.
If you are traveling to Pondicherry then Arikamedu can be a good half a day trip and I would definitely recommend you not to travel alone and to travel with a group during daytime as this place is completely isolated.
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