Laterite!

Laterite!

Recently we went to Kannur on an extended weekend. It was quite interesting to see how this locally abundant material - laterite - made it into the character of this place. Everything from forts to homes to temples to roads to memorials are made of laterite. I could even see dustbins made of laterite blocks that merges (rather camouflages!) well with the architecture of the St. Angelo Fort.

The freshly cut laterite blocks looks reddish with a collage of white, orange and yellow streaks. It's relatively soft to work in comparison to other types of rocks.That is probably due to the high moisture and chalk content within the freshly quarried laterite blocks.

On the other hand the seasoned ones has a wrought iron like feel to it. That rusty texture is not without any reason. Laterite is rich in iron oxides. The exposure to atmosphere over the years slowly erode the softer chalky part and dries up the moisture. At the same time the oxidation makes the rest of it harder too. The coffee colored laterite blocks on older masonry works now look porous at the same time hard and rugged. Who says nothing improves with age!?

One can make a guess on the antiquity of a building by looking at the color of the laterite masonry. A 100 ( or even 500 ) years old laterite masonry looks a lot darker than brownish relatively newer constructions.

I could see old homes - many two storied and even three stored ones - made out of laterite masonry. According to some accounts using laterite in masonry was first practiced in India. If that is the case it should be somewhere in the north Malabar coast!

In any case the word Laterite was first coined in 1807 in India by a Scotist surgeon known as Francis Buchanan-Hamilton. He was doing an economical survey of the region for the British East India Company.

A first look at the freshly cut laterite brick gives an impression that it will just melt away in the next monsoon. But not true. You can even see the laterite cliffs and outgrowths on the on the sea fronts in Kannur.

The only thing I did not felt enthusiastic about the whole laterite thing was those intimidating trucks operating from the quarries! The 'Tipper lorries', as they are fearfully called in this state, were constantly blaring their horn to scare us away from the road. Many times they succeed. That was quite a thing to deal with on the narrow roads zigzags thru the hilly areas of north malabar.

Some photographs of laterite structures from Kerala & Konkan coast.

Laterite Blocks

Freshly quarried and dressed laterite blocks in Goa

Meera

This laterite sculpture of Hindu saint Meera, is said to be the largest of its kind in India. Located inside Ancestral Goa Museum in Loutolim, South Goa.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus

This laterite built church in Goa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. The church is located in Old Goa, which was the capital of Goa in the early days of Portuguese rules.

Chandragiri Fort Arch

Arch carved out of in situ laterite hill, atop the Chandragiri Fort

Bekal Fort

The salty atmosphere or the ever lapping salty seawater could do no damage to this sea projecting fortification. That speaks of the endurance of laterite as a building material

Basilica of Bom Jesus Window

Laterite build widow of the church.

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Beach driving at Muzhappilangad

Beach driving at Muzhappilangad

It sounded a bit crazy when I heard it first, and looked even more crazier when we drove to the seaside. This is the only beach I've seen where one can take a car or bike all the way up to the water.

We were told to visit the beach as early as possible in the morning. That proved to be good suggestion. We were staying at the state run Tamarind in Kannur town. Muzhappilangad is a good 20km south on the NH17. We almost missed the deviation to the beach, though there was a signpost.

It's already 7 in the morning. A few catamarans where offloading the day's catch - Mussels locally called Kallummakaya. A little away on the beach wholly ball game in progress. Otherwise it was pretty empty for kilometers.

We thought of getting into the water first before that much anticipated drive along the coastline. The waves in Muzhappilangad is a lot gentler, and quite shallow. It was hardly strong enough to topple our 2 years old daughter, though she was standing at knee-deep in the water. I could even see people walking quite a distance into the sea, where the rocky outcrops protrudes through the surface. These rock formations soften the waves.

Its safer to drive much close to the sea, almost touching the water, than the further away from the water. That was another surprising revelation. Close to the sea the sand is wet and no way the wheels would sink. It felt as if driving on any road. On the other hand driving was wobbly on the dry loose sand, I felt the wheels could get stuck anytime.

Oh yes. I said we found two types of drivers (not divers!) on the beach. The first ones, the learner drivers. What a safe (and great!) place to learn driving! Even my wife clocked her best, a whooping 90kmph, and I never felt nervous though siting inside that car!

The second lot is of course the curious drivers like us who brought their cars and bikes to try some beach driving.

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