Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On January 6th we went from Kodaikanal to Kanyakumari which is located at the southernmost tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean come together. First, we had Raja drive us from the mountains down to Madurai, a two-and-a-half-hour trip. Then we went by train to Nagercoil Junction, arriving around 10:00 p.m.  With no other people around, we walked in the dark to the parking lot and fortunately found a taxi.  

We then had a half-hour drive to the Sea Face hotel in Kanyakumari. The entrance didn't impress, so we went up to look at the room, our taxi driver waiting for us.  It was by far the most horrible hotel I had ever seen. The men at reception did not appear to be surprised by our reaction, and simply suggested that we go to the Sea View hotel next door. It was late at night by now, but we felt we had no option but to roll our suitcases a couple of hundred yards up a hill to the other hotel and take our chances, feeling a bit reassured that at least our driver would be there for us if we needed him.

The hotel looked great, and we couldn't believe our luck when we were given a room.  Then we asked ourselves how on earth had we managed to book such a crummy hotel when all our hotel reservations were based on online photos and reviews.  Next day, we investigated and saw to our amazement that the Internet photos used by first awful hotel were actually photos of the second beautiful hotel. We reported this at reception and were told that both hotels were owned by the same person but were under two different managers who were enemies. So go figure!

Kanyakumari is a nice town of around 35,000 people. Next morning, January 7th, the day after our arrival, we were surprised not to see the thousands of pilgrims we were told to expect. We decided to spend the day exploring the town, leaving a visit to see the island memorials for the next day.

By evening people were beginning to arrive for the weekend. These thousands were coming to see the statue of St. Thiruvalluvar and the Vivekinanda Rock Memorial which are located on two islands just offshore. Our plan for the next day was to take the ferry that shuttles people to and fro and to beat the crowds by having an early start.

 The Kanyakumari Ghats

In keeping with our plan we got up early, left the hotel at 7:30 a.m. and began to walk towards the ferry only to discover that the streets were choked with people. We were dismayed to find the queue already more than a mile long. Estimated time of arrival at the ferry was four hours. I was still getting over a cold so we decided not to go. In any case, good photos were possible from the shore.

 The statue of St. Thiruvalluvar and the Vivekinanda Rock Memorial 

The crowds we encountered here made us aware that we were having a hard time getting used to being constantly surrounded by people in the streets, on the highways, in the stations, in the shops, in the villages, virtually everywhere. At first it was intimidating, but gradually we began to feel quite safe. We did have a need occasionally to find a refuge from the noise, smells, squalor and pollution, however. We found it by relaxing over a long lunch in the restaurant of a luxury hotel. This is undoubtedly one of the best bargains India has to offer western tourists.

My most memorable experience in Kanyakumari was at the 1000-year-old Guganathaswamy temple. Paul stayed outside rather than having to take off his shoes. I went in and was motioned into the inner sanctum where the temple Brahmin handed me a brass dish holding oil burning with a large flame. I went to take it from him, but he held it back and moved his hand over the flame and then over his face. Not sure what was expected, I then did the same. 

Now, he held out some milky liquid, which I took in my hand and patted onto my face. He said, "No, drink" so I took a few drops. Finally, he put ashes and some dark orange-coloured paste on my forehead. When he passed a large plate with flowers and rupees on it, I put down some money. The other person in the inner sanctum with me, a Hindu lady, told me to take some flowers outside for the cows in the garden. It was a strange and  moving experience.

 Temple Entrance

 In the Grounds of the Temple

 Offerings in the Temple Grounds

Not feeling very energetic, we took it easy in Kanyakumari. First, we visited the Catholic church which dated from the time of St. Francis Xavier in the 17th Century.

 Our Lady of Ransom Church

  Church Interior

We also went to see the Suchindram temple located a few kilometers from the town. 

 Suchindram Temple Tank

 Close-Up View of the Tank

 Typical Rural Landscape around Kanyakumari

The town ghats were where we spent most of our time. This is an attractive area that is a major focus of activity for the town. We spent hours there watching the people.  While we were sitting on the edge of the platform that surrounded a small temple, we were approached by two beautiful young Muslim women. 


Left side is the Bay of Bengal, Middle is the Indian Ocean, and Right side, the Arabian sea more

One remarkable aspect of our hotel, apart from its relative luxury, was that, in spite of being in Tamil Nadu - a dry state - it had a bar. This was located on the basement level and was very poorly lit. We had dinner there each night in order enjoy the Indian Kingfisher beer. Although dark and gloomy, it was an attractive room. Nonetheless,  barely able to see the folks at adjacent tables, we thought the atmosphere resembled a speakeasy during prohibition.

From Kanyakumari we left Tamil Nadu for Trivndrum and Varkala in the state of Kerala. Having rounded the southern tip of India, we would now be traveling in a northerly direction.

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