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Visakhapatnam may be the fastest growing city in India; it may even be among the 10 fastest growing cities in the world. Yet it was not always like that, as late as even the turn of this century. Vizag, as it is also called, had a population of just 20,000 at the turn of this century, it now has well over a million. Contrasting with this is Bhimilipatnam, situated 20 km northwards along the coast; a figure corresponding to half that of Vizag's in the late 1800's, it has until recently registered a declining population growth.
The city stretches, south to north, along the eastern coast of India, midway between Calcutta and Chennai. The sea coast is punctuated by hills and hillocks that protect the coast. The most prominent, the most visible, and the most strategic of all, which gives Visakhapatnam its challenge to fame, is a slim hill range that has been christened 'Dolphin's Nose.' It stands sentinel at the mouth of Visakhapatnam port. Dolphin's nose, the erstwhile Blackmore's hill in profile, can with a little imagination resemble a dolphin, if not its nose. To an outsider it may even appear like a whale. But Dolphin's Nose it was, and Dolphin's Nose it is.
For it is the channel of communication, the Visakhapatnam port that hurtled the city towards megapolis-hood. Other factors may have contributed, the Great War, the salubrious climate, the greater space for growth, and a number of other nebulous factors. But probably the one overwhelming reason is the Visakhapatnam Port.
The Dolphin's nose, well over 1,000 feet above sea level, acted as 'groins to protect the land against the constant encroachments of the waves and current,' in contrast to the monotonous coastline further south. Early in the 18th century, the Dolphin's nose was home to army batteries. These army batteries situated both on the hill, and the nearby sand-hill were witness to dramatic encounters with the East India Company.
Down the century, in 1801, Captain Thomas Blackmore of the Vizagapatam Artillery, was granted 44 acres of land on the hill, and permission to 'occupy, enclose and embellish the declivity of the hill next the sea.' There was evidence of a battery with an old cannon, used to anchor the guy-ropes of the flagstaff. The hill was also supposed to have had a light-house atop, one which was blown away in the cyclone of 1876.
The cyclone, one of the worst ever recorded, battered the coast in October 1876. Lasting 19 hours from the evening of the 7th until the next morning, 15 inches of rain drenched the town, with intermittent savage winds. Such was the violence of the gale, that a French ship, berthed there, was tossed across the reef and her bottom torn out. The wave flooded the town, razed 600 houses and killed 30; invaluable records in the Collector's office were destroyed, and a corrugated iron structure twelve feet in diameter, yet to be riveted, was blown a distance of over 30 feet.
Cyclones are common to this port city. Low pressures over the Bay of Bengal direct cyclones to this city with a long sea-coast. Flooding is not as common in the city as it once was. The rain here comes in sheets, in waves. Not a steady downpour, the rain gives you a chance to beat it before the next wave. These changes alter the sea, the waves, the port and the Dolphins nose in ways one couldn't think is possible, until the clouds clear and the first shafts of sunlight hit them the morning after.
Most of what had been are now just that; there is little visual evidence of the past. The Vizagapatam district gazette, first published in 1907, and now reprinted in 1992, gives fine, graphic descriptions of all these events.
What exists now is a light house, a cyclone warning centre, reachable by a tar-topped road winding steeply uphill. The light house, over 350 meters above the sea, can be visible 64 km into the sea, from its 70 lakh candle watt light source. As is true of the city, the hill of today is no more what it was even a couple of decades earlier.
Yet, the sea-breeze, which sweeps the city, now as ever, and the temperature of the city, a couple of degrees lower, owes to the Dolphin's nose, which deflects the wind and turns it into a sea-breeze. The breeze is one of the most invigorating experiences in the city; it scampers, whimpers, stops and swishes through doors, windows, hair and clothes; a true relief for the city dwellers when it draws you into it during the winter months,
In the early 1930's, when the Visakhapatnam boom was far down the line, the entrance channel to the port, adjacent to the Dolphins's Nose was dredged. Two old ships were sunk outside the channel as a breakwater. Thus established, the Visakhapatnam port, host to its first ship, Jala Durga in 1933, has never looked back. Visakhapatnam port is reputed to be one of the finest natural harbours in the world. The hills appear to rise sheerly from the water.
A unique feature near the mouth of the port is the existence of a Hindu temple, Christian church and a Muslim mosque, close to one another. All three are ancient, by Visakhapatnam's standards. The mosque is named after Fakir Sayyad Madina. The St. Johns church was built in 1844 by Sir. Arthur Cotton, well known as the architect of the Godavari barrage near Rajahmundry.
Standing as it does at the mouth of Visakhapatnam, the Dolphin's Nose presents a
variety of faces to different parts of the city. On clear nights, which have now become a
rarity, the powerful beam from the lighthouse pierces far out into the sea. The former
Municipal Corporation office, the Town Hall, the Dabagardens main road, the Medical
college hostel, the Andhra University, the Circuit House, the Visakha museum, and way
beyond, the Kailasa hill, all offer myriad views of the affectionate mascot of India's
fastest growing city.
The Dolphin's Nose has been spectator to the city's modest recorded history. The operative word is recorded; for the city seems to have had a varied and colourful history, certainly longer than what written records say. Prof. E. Gangadharam, Director of Centre for Marine Archaeology, Andhra University, presently reconstructing the history of Visakhapatnam, has initiated a process that should see the giant jigsaw puzzle solved.
There are many stories about how Visakhapatnam got its name. The most plausible of all seems to be a temple named Vaisakha existed adjacent to the shore. Time and the sea washed it away, and there is no evidence of it now. Old timers recollect there were stones near the present Naval coast battery that were called 'Theerthapu rallu'. Stones, black, majestic and glistening can still be seen.
An intriguing observation from a totally unexpected quarter suggests that the so called
Vaisakha temple could indeed have existed here. Satellite pictures of the Visakhapatnam
coast show a disturbance near the 'Theerthapu rallu'. Prof. Gangadharam believes this
disturbance and the 'Theerthapu rallu' could be the submerged temple that gave
Visakhapatnam its name. He feels that further studies by scientific marine archaeological
methods would uncover a treasure rivalled only by the Mathura excavation.
Dolphin's Nose may only be an appendage of the Eastern Ghats as they splinter at the sea. It may not match the grandeur or the majesty of mountains more mountainous. Yet one who has grown up in Visakhapatnam, invariably looks downward along any beach, anywhere in the world, expecting to find the dear old Dolphin's Nose, that makes a beach the beach.
I do not think of myself as being sentimental. Certainly not of the mushy kind. I was reassured therefore, when I told my son, 30 years my junior, who feeds on a dozen television channels from around the world, that I was writing an article on the Dolphin's Nose. 'The Dolphin's Nose,' he responded, 'the biggest and the greatest mountain range in the whole world!'
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