Friday, October 7, 2011

A Tryst with Sun, Sea and Sand

Travelogue entry of Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), Tamil Nadu, India

About Kanyakumari: Located at the southernmost tip of Indian peninsula, marking the georgraphical end of Indian Mainland, this coastal town in state of Tamil Nadu is a popular tourist destination. Located at the confluence of three major seas - Arabian sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, this is the only town in India where one is bestowed with the gift of view of sunrise and sunset over sea.

The place teems with its share of tales, history left by Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and Nayak kings, but the most important imprint, that influences the local culture till day, is that of the Venad/Travancore kingdom. The town presents a conspicuous amalgam of Malayalam and Tamil cultures, the former being more dominant. However, few agitations held during linguistic reorganisation of states in 1956 removed this town from the frame of Cochin-Travancore state and incorporated it into Tamil Nadu state.

Travel Mode and duration of Stay: Kanyakumari can be reached from Bangalore directly by a daily train. We headed to this place from Rameshwaram by CAPE-Rameshwaram express that plies thrice a week.
We left Rameshwaram on Sep 26, 2011 - 8.45 pm and reached Kanyakumari - Sep 27, 2011 - 4 am. We headed from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum at 6 am by bus on Sep 28, 2011, thus completing a two days stay. 

Hotel Details: Kanyakumari is a very popular tourist destination and therefore there is no dearth of hotels. The seaside boasts of innumerable hotels though these buildings and concrete pavements constructed around have quite avariciously swallowed the beachfront.

We stayed in Hotel Maadhini - at the seaside, phone contact - 04652 246787. A non ac room for two here costs Rs 800/day and it was super neat and offered true value for money paid. The hotel has a decent restaurant, courteous staff who wake you up for a view of sunrise from the hotel's terrace. I personally enjoyed the stay in the hotel. I would safely recommend it to all and choose to stay here myself if I visited Kanyakumari again.

Places to eat: In my opinion, gone are the super yummy idlis, dosas, sambar and chutney with the inner heartland of Tamil Nadu and island of Rameshwaram. The same breakfast dishes lose quality and taste quite noticeably and fail to impress against delectable versions I have had in Madurai, Trichy, Tirunelveli and proximal regions. From past experiences, I have understood that the chances of getting delicious, pure vegetarian fare  reduces exponentially as one moves close to the state of Kerala. At Kanyakumari, we ate at few places durign the course of our stay and felt Hotel Maadhini's restaurant was a decent option  among them all. I am sorry I cannot prove to be of any use when it comes to reviewing on non-vegetarian food options.

Tourist's Itinerary:
Kanyakumari Amman temple: The main deity in this temple is Goddess Parvathy who manifested herself as a virgin - Kanyakumari and did penance to slay the demon, Banasura. It is believed that Lord Shiva from Suchindram wished to marry Kanyakumari but the marriage stood cancelled due to clever theatrics by Narada. The goddess, in dismay, discarded sandal, turmeric and kumkum kept aside for the wedding into the seas explaining different colors of the waters of three seas that meet here.

I was visiting Kanyakumari for the first time but I learnt from my husband who visited the town as a kid that the three different colors of the seas were clearly noticeable earlier. Also, back then, there was a sizeable beach strip in front of the temple.  I saw no beach strip, there were marked pavements with benches laid out in front of the temple and water all around me shone in azure blue mixed with a verdi green.

The deity is highly beautiful and her nose ring that glistens vibrantly catches your attention as you step into the sanctum. Mobiles and digital cameras ought to be deposited at the entrance of the temple and this draws a fee of Rs 10. And yes, we get close to Kerala, therefore to the mandatory practice of guys removing their shirts and vests before entering the temple premises. The temple is open till 12 noon and opens again from 5-9 pm.

Suchindram temple: Located in the town of Suchindram, 12 km from Kanyakumari, is the temple of Thanumalayan. The presiding deity is an incarnation of the trinity of gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with the name interpreted as Thanu - meaning Shiva, Mal - meaning Vishnu and Ayan meaning Brahma. The deity in the sanctum is a lingam adorned with golden metal covering that bears a face at the base(representing Brahma), then 14 curvilinear moons in a vertical arrangement (representing Shiva) and a snake hood at top (representing Vishnu).

There is a self manifested lingam too in the temple that represents the trinity of gods. This exists at the foot of a tree known as Kondrai maram in Tamil. The temple is unique for it speaks of tales of Atri, a sage and Anusuya, his devout wife, the penance the three goddesses did in this region known as Gnyanaranyam,  immense sculptural wealth, the four sets of musical pillars, unique deities like Vigneshwari (female form of Lord Ganesha), 18 feet high Hanuman, very intricately sculpted gopuram (main temple tower) and navagrahas (nine planets with the sun) on the ceiling rather than on ground which we usually come across.

The temple gains its name on the pretext that Indra was cursed with an evil skin disease for his wrong doing. He broke the curse and shed the disease after immense devotion and strict penance to trinty of gods here. This temple is open from 4 am to 11.30 am and again from 5 to 8 pm.

Buses from Kanyakumari to Nagercoil (Vadassery - is the name of the central bus stand at Nagercoil) that ply at very frequent intervals stop at Suchindram, journey one-way lasts about 40 minutes and presents pleasant visuals of lily-lotuses ponds, fields marked with coconut trees, plantains and paddy arranged in a three tiered layout against the backdrop of Mahendragiri hills.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Tiruvalluvar Statue: After visiting Suchindram, we headed back to Kanyakumari town, to the jetty from where boats ply to Vivekananda rock memorial and memorial of Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar.

Two rocks in the sea, about 500 metres from the mainland bear twin attractions of this town. It is stated that Vivekananada visited Kanyakumari in the year 1892, meditated deeply and sought enlightment on this rock. One can see the impression of feet on this rock, supposed to belong to Devi Kanyakumari thereby imparting the name - Shri Pada paarai to the rock, the site where it is believed the goddess herself performed penance before killing Banasura.

The Vivekananda rock memorial consists of a big meditation hall at an elevation that is reached by flights of stairs and corridors in periphery that provide an awesome view of the seas around. This grand monument of national importance, completed in 1970 was envisioned by Eknath Ranade, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda. From here, one can get a view of many windmills stretching out at a distance, in a place called Anjugramam. The shoreline in view from the rock memorial, ends at a dome like structure peeking into the sea - the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, the commencement of operations of which is under dispute. Fishermen at Koodankulam (near Tuticorin) have complained that the release of water from the  plant will raise temperature of local waters by about 5'C, harm aquatic life at large and hamper their catch and their daily earnings. Environmentalists have further bolstered the cause of fishermen, expressing concern over ill effects this nuclear power plant will have on marine eco system - the coral reefs, unique aquatic species, pearl cultivation and severe, irreparable damage to human life drawing example from havoc caused by Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan post earthquake and tsunami.

No further ado, atop another rock, about 200 feet away from Vivekananda rock memorial, stands a tall statue of Tamil poet - Thiruvalluvar, an iconic figure in the state of Tamil Nadu, the author of the famous work - Thirukkural. The pedestal that bears the statue is 38 feet high indicative of 38 chapters of virtue in Thirukkural and the statue itself made of granite - stands 95 feet tall indicative of the remaining 95 chapters in the work. This memorial, inaugurated in year 2000, is a recent addition to the sky/sealine of Kanyakumari and quite awkwardly masks the serenity of Vivekananda rock memorial when seen from the western seaside. From the high pedestal here, Koodankulam nuclear reactor catches one's attention again, leaving one in deep thought of possible and inevitable dangers of man's constant messing with nature.

Sunset Point: The boat from mainland completes a tour of Vivekananda rock memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue, leaves us back at the mainland jetty for a fee of Rs 20 per person. The ferry timings are from 10 am to 4 pm. A walk along the shore crossing the temple, takes us to Gandhi mantapam, Kamaraj memorial onto a wide and clean road with well marked pavement. Along this we walk to reach a thin strip of beach and the sunset point. Here, we reach the waters of the Arabian sea and can catch a glimpse of weary sun as it sinks down the horizon leaving orange-purple streaks over azure sky.

Sunrise View: If one stays at a hotel close to seaside, then an early morning call by the staff of hotel for a view of the sunrise on waters of Bay of Bengal is sure. Many boats quite sleepily rock in the waters anchored to the shore, spires of the Lady of Ransom church tower into the sky as the orange-red plum shaped sun peeks out of it sending ripples of light far and wide.
Padmanabhapuram palace: Kanyakumari has a heavy imprint of Venad dynasty which once was centred around the capital at Padmanabhapuram under the reign of Marthanda Varma.  About 37 kms away from Kanyakumari via Nagercoil, the palace, now managed by Kerala State government, is closest to Thucalay town (3km). Buses to Trivandrum, Kayalikaaval and Marthandam from Kanyakumari stop at Thucalay. An auto can be hired from Thucalay for Rs 30 to reach the palace. It is better not to rely entirely on direct buses from Kanyakumari but save time by going to Nagercoil (18 km from Kanyakumari) and then change over to reach Thucalay. The palace is a marvellous creation and calls for lucid description than a mere mention. So I decide to keep aside an exclusive post on it.

Nagercoil (Nagraj temple): After visiting the palace, we reached Nagercoil, grabbed a mini tiffin and visited Nagraj temple in the town. The Nagraj temple, initially a Jain shrine with figures of Parswanath and Jain thirthankaras (still seen on the temple pillars), was later converted into a Hindu temple with Nagraj (five hooded serpent) and Lord Ananthkrishnan as the main deities. A quick 15-minute worship completed and we headed back to Kanyakumari by bus.

Our tryst with sun, sea and sand continued on the second evening at the shores of Cape Comorin. "ENCORE", I felt !!

Picture Gallery: 

  Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue, Kanyakumari

Post sunset sky, Kanyakumari

Sunrise at Bay of Bengal, Kanyakumari

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