Before we come upon a vast span of golden sands and the deep blue waters of the Bay of Bengal at the Bheemili Beach, we find our eyes straying towards a high red brick wall compound to the right. A large display board indicates that we are at the tourist attraction spot of Bheemunipatnam – the landmark 16th century Dutch cemetery. We walk through large, wrought iron-wrought gates (the squeaky variety) and see various tombs – some in a state of disrepair and some still gleaming from their weather-worn marble beds – leading towards a set of tall obelisk-structures at the end. A sense of somber quiet pervades, true to the feeling that a cemetery invokes.
The Dutch Cemetery at Bheemili Beach, is a major attraction for tourists and locals alike, as here the bleakness of the departed and the color of colonial history go hand in hand. Built in the 16th century, at the time when Bheemili was known as a Dutch trading post, the cemetery is also known as Hollanders Green and contains graves and memorial tombstones of the Dutch and the English. An old caretaker takes us on a guided tour through some 53 tombs, speaking in broken Hindi and sharing vignettes of the tombs’ occupants (a little eerie). The intriguing ones here are those of a Dutch family that hold an overhead obelisk-like conical tower and have the engraving of a skull-and-bones crossed pirate symbol, with inscriptions in Dutch. A majority of these grass-patched tombs are in white marble (built in Calcutta in the late 16th century) and still carry traces of intricate craftsmanship. Although parts of the cemetery show signs of neglect, efforts are being made by the local municipal authorities to maintain this heritage site. Entry is free.
The Dutch Cemetery does have its share of curious tourists. Some of the tombs even get an admiring glance for the intricate craftsmanship that has endured many a storm. MetroMela is fascinated with the fact that the Dutch Cemetery is intrinsically linked to the past and to the history of Bheemunipatnam. But the faint-hearted need to be prepared before they enter the cemetery, as it does leave you a lingering sense of despair. Parking space is available across the road, by the beach promenade.