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 user 2005-03-21 at 9:49:00 am Views: 61
  • #10960

    Tsunami gives a little back to one Indian town
    Newly revealed ancient ruins draw in tourists — and
     March  2005

    India – For a few minutes, after the water had receded far from the shore and
    before it came raging back as a tsunami, the fishermen stood along the beach and
    stared at the reality of generations of legends.

    Or so they say.
    Spread across nearly a mile, the site was encrusted with barnacles and covered
    in mud. But the fishermen insist they saw the remains of ancient temples and
    hundreds of refrigerator-sized blocks, all briefly exposed before the sea
    swallowed them up again.

    “You could see the
    destroyed walls covered in coral, and the broken-down temple in the middle,”
    said Durai, a sinewy fisherman who, like many south Indians, uses only one name.
    “My grandfathers said there was a port here once and a temple, but suddenly we
    could see it was real, we could see that something was out there.”

    Whatever they saw
    is back under water and out of sight. But a few hundred yards away, something
    else came to the surface. The tsunami scrubbed away six feet of sand from a
    section of beach, uncovering a small cluster of long-buried boulders carved with
    animals, gods and servant girls.

    The Dec. 26 tsunami
    savaged hundreds of miles of shoreline across Asia. It killed at least 126,000
    people in Indonesia and at least 31,000 in Sri Lanka. In India, 10,700 people
    are confirmed dead, with more than 5,600 missing.

    capital of an ancient kingdom and famous for its elaborate Hindu temples,
    escaped mostly unscathed, with only three dead and limited damage.

    And there’s
    something else the tsunami gave back — tourists, drawn by heated headlines in
    the Indian media about a rediscovered Atlantis.

    “People are coming
    to see what the tsunami dug up,” said Timothy, who sells sea shells and plastic
    palm trees at a beachside souvenir stand. “Only because of these new things are
    people coming.”

    Tourism is a major
    employer here, a reflection of a spreading Indian middle class, and the coast
    road is lined with mom-and-pop resorts and cheap restaurants. If the tsunami
    scared most tourists away, in Mahabalipuram it also brought some

    On sunny weekend
    days hundreds of people now come to take a look at the carvings and splash their
    feet in the ocean.

    “Business is good
    these days,” Timothy said, smiling.

    But what did those
    fisherman see? Archaeologists laugh at the tales of Atlantis and say it may take
    years of undersea exploration to uncover the truth.

    But nearly everyone
    around here knows the stories — cocktails of history and mythology that tell of
    the great port city that traded with China and Southeast Asia some 1,300 years

    This is a town made
    for legend. It is home to dozens of Hindu temples, baroque stone structures
    often covered with carvings. But legend speaks of its most famous temples: the
    Seven Pagodas, named for the vaguely pagoda-like style of Hindu temples in this
    part of India.

    Those temples,
    which according to myth are said to have once lined the shore, were so beautiful
    that the gods destroyed all but one — the so-called Shore Temple, a
    magnificently carved complex that is now considered a national

    Some fishermen
    insist they saw more than the six vanished temples when the waters fell back.
    “There must have been at least 20,” said Sunderasan, a young man, gesturing
    toward the sea. “We had no idea there were so many out there.”

    Archaeologists say
    excavations on shore and at sea were already under way before the tsunami
    struck, and that divers made promising finds of barnacle-encrusted blocks that
    appear man-made.

    So officially,
    researchers express little surprise at what was exposed.

    “The tsunami didn’t
    do very much at all,” said Alok Tripathi, who runs the excavations for the
    Archaeological Survey of India. He dismisses the talk of 20 temples offshore,
    saying the fisherman believe “every stone is a temple.”

    But anonymously,
    fearing they’d be seen as callous, some researchers quietly acknowledge the
    tsunami revealed more than expected.

    “From an
    archaeological perspective, maybe the tsunami was good. We found some new
    things,” said one, pointing to the exposed boulders.

    “But from a human
    perspective …” he said, his words drifting into silence. Finally he added:
    “There was a lot of deaths, a lot of damage, a lot of