Hemachandra Rao is fondly called "The Lighthouse Man of India"
Chennai's 81-year-old architect Hemachandra Rao is perhaps the only person who has visited all the lighthouses in India, numbering more than two hundred. It took three years for this lighthouse enthusiast to say hello to all these landmarks, undertaking thousands of miles on the road, travelling in his Ford Eco Sport when he was 76.
With hundreds of his photographs of these vintage value landmarks, he has set up a Maritime Heritage Museum at his Chennai home, displaying pictures of these real beauties state-wise.
Hemachandra Rao, who's now fondly called "The Lighthouse Man of India", recollected his love for stamps on ships during childhood, which later shifted to lighthouses that guide ships. Over the years as he grew up and became an architect, he felt India did not adequately showcase its lighthouse treasure in philately and thus started his mission to "offset" in 2015, a year after his wife Pushpa passed away. He says: "I'd click the photograph of the lighthouse then go to the nearest post office, get a cover cancelled and later I'd superimpose the lighthouse photograph of that, that's how I got almost all the lighthouse picture cards or picture covers with me cancelled. The passion is still alive".
Mr Rao says, as an architect, the shape and geometrics of lighthouses inspire him, be it circle, square, octagon or a twelve-sided lighthouse in Kerala. He compliments the British for their "wonderful eye for beauty and function" in building these structures as early as the 1850s with limited equipment.
When asked to handpick three best lighthouses, he ranks the Jaffrabad lighthouse in Gujarat as number one, for its square base, octagonal middle and a circular top. The lighthouse at Muttam in Tamilnadu's Kanniyakumari too shares the top slot. Tuticorin's black fluted and spiral lighthouse and the one at Honnavar in Karnataka with a peculiar shape get the second and third spots respectively.
Famous Journalist Vincent D Souza has been his travel companion for these trips.
Encouraging people to discover the joy of visiting lighthouses, Mr Rao adds, "When you travel along India's 7000 kilometre coast I am sure you wouldn't want to travel to Switzerland or Singapore. This gives you lots of natural beauty… just travel leisurely. Take your car or any other mode of transport".
Reaching the beautiful Coringa lighthouse at Kakinada, he says it gave him the most challenging experience as the derelict structure had to be reached by boat after passing through thorny bushes and bats.
Mr Rao believes the age-old lighthouse hasn't lost its relevance in this age of satellite technology. He says, "the small light, coming from distance, still navigates the humble fishermen… even today we hear stories of fishermen coming to the shores safe led by the small light".
The Department of Lighthouses has acknowledged Rao's feat of visiting all lighthouses on the Indian mainland with a citation.
He is now working on his dream to visit lighthouses in the islands of Andaman and Lakshadweep after which he wants to bring out a coffee table book featuring all lighthouses of India.