An account of yesteryears and the present-day
In the early eighteenth century, the French annexed the Karaikal town, the fort of Karakalcheri and eight nearby villages, to their empire. And till 1st November, 1954, it remained the French empire's favourite stomping grounds. Today, Karaikal is a commixture of a pulsating temple-town and a desolate port city. A part of beloved Pondicherry, the sleepy town belongs to the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu and is cradled by Tiruvarur district on the west and the Bay of Bengal, on the east.
In and around the abode of Gods
Enveloped in a seventh century fable, starring celestial mangoes and a pious wife, Karaikal Ammai is one of the town's most cherished temples. The story goes like this. Punithavanthi (the wife) served the mangoes meant for her husband to a famished sadhu. The husband was quite obviously, enraged. Aghast, she beseeched to Lord Shiva, and lo and behold, was granted a basketful of mangoes. Henceforth, the 23 Nayannar (saints) of the Tamil pantheon includes Punithavanthi.
Darbaranyeswarar Temple of Thirunallaru, is sworn to Lord Saturn and ergo, every Saturday, the temple is pure pandemonium. Regardless, the silver effigy of the lord is worth a visit.
The Jadaayupureeswar Temple, five kilometres away from Karaikal serves up a plateful of the bizarre. Devoted to Jatayu, the mythical bird from the Ramayana epic, the temple is home to a small statue of the gallant feathered character who is believed to have fallen on that very spot, in the midst of its struggle to extricate Sita, from Ravana.
A little less than a thirty kilometres from Karaikal, lies Velankanni. The stark white Church of Our Lady is the first structure that comes to view as soon as you start approaching the beach. Nestled between cashew groves, the church was initially dedicated to the goddess of sailors, Our Lady Star of the Sea. Before you leave Velankanni, be sure to drop in at the adjoining museum, the neighbouring bazaar festooned with seashell handicrafts and toys moulded out of clay and the pristine beach.
Nagore, 10km from Karaikal, is a vital Muslim pilgrimage destination and can be visited either on your way to or back from Velankanni. The Andavar Dargah of Nagore, is decked with huge shipping masts adorning its minarets, embodying many a story from its past.
A summer of festivals
Kandoori Festival, held at the Mastan Syed Dawood Dargah of Karaikal, is one of the most loved Muslim festivals of Pondicherry. In honour of Syed Dawood, it's celebrated every year by locals, with great joy and fervour. Legend has it that Syed Dawood aka sufi saint Halareth Syed Ahamed Kalkhel Diwan Oliulla came to India for spiritual guidance and ended up living his last years in Karaikal.
Mangani Festival, usually takes place twice a year in April and July, and lasts for the entire month. Devoted to Karaikal Ammaiyar, it's celebrated by locals and huge crowds of travellers from across the globe.
Karaikal's bustling thoroughfare, Bharathiyar Road, is brimming with tiffin-rooms and the other eateries. Sample the plethora of Chinese dishes that come with a Tamilian twist at the makeshift stalls. Head to Market Street, where Mathura Restaurant serves up a purely south Indian fare and boasts of the most scrumptious pepper dosa. The Karaikal Tourism Department's Garden Restaurant, sitting inside a colonial bungalow on Beach Road, is to be visited for their Chicken 65 with a side of chilled beer.
December and January are considered as the coolest months of the port city, when temperatures go as high as 28 degree celsius and as low as 23 degree celsius, making it the perfect time to visit Karaikal.
By air: The nearest airport is located in Trichy. There are a number of airlines which offer direct services from major cities like Chennai, and New Delhi. Local taxis from Trichy ply to Karaikal regularly.
By rail: The nearest railway station to Karaikal is located 15km away in Nagore. From there, you can take a taxi or bus to reach Karaikal.
One of the best and most affordable ways to explore Karaikal is by hiring a bicycle. The other modes of transport you will find in the town are that of the state transport buses and local taxis.