THIS IS TAMIL NADU ‘S second largest natural harbour, and the main port of call for ships from Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Tuticorin is also a major industrial centre with thermal power stations, spinning mills and salt extraction units.

The city’s other important commercial activity is pearl fishing. Since the early centuries of the Christian era, this region’s pearls have been in demand throughout the  world. Ancient Tamil literaturementions a flourishing trade with the Romans, who bought Tuticonin pearls in exchange for gold and wine.

Today the government, which has set up a society of divers, strictly regulates pearl fishing, in order to protect the oyster beds – sometimes pearl fishing is allowed only once in ten years. The pearl fishers still use traditional methods, diving to a depth of up to 70 m (230 ft) without oxygen to extricate the pearls. Most divers can remain underwater for more than a minute; their only safeguard against accidents or natural danger is to dive in pairs.

Tuticorin was occupied by the Portuguese in the 17th century and later by the Dutch and the British. Its colonial past is visible in two elegant churches, the Dutch Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in the mid-18th century, and the beautiful 17th-century Church of the Lady of the Snows, built by the Portuguese.

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