On 1st November 1864, a great cyclone swept across the Bay of Bengal and hit the coastal regions of present-day Andhra Pradesh, near the city of Machilipatnam. Hindus were celebrating Diwali and the city’s considerable European population was observing All Saints Day. The residents, quite used to frequent yearly cyclones, hunkered down in their homes, waiting for the storm to pass. But this time it was different. A giant tidal wave, 13 feet high, charged 27 km inland, destroying everything in its path. Around 30,000 residents were killed and the port was destroyed. Machilipatnam would never be the same again.
Drive 70 km east from Andhra Pradesh’s capital Amaravati and you arrive in Machilipatnam. A town like any other in Andhra Pradesh, it is hard to imagine that it was once the most important port on the eastern coast of India for nearly 1700 years, from the days of the Satavahana empire in the 1st century CE till the late 18th century. In fact, in the 1650s, it was believed to be the fourth-largest city in India after Delhi, Agra and Surat, where merchants from all over the world congregated.
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