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Land’s End: Journey To The Tip Of India

Achal Dhruva explores his way around Kanyakumari

Sunset at Kanyakumari

“Let us go then you and I, Where the ocean is spread out against the sky Two insignificant specks into the horizon Through the endless waters of time....” (with apologies to T S Eliot)

Standing on the rocks lashed by waves, staring at the never ending deep blue expanse all around, a strange sense of tranquillity suffused me. Mesmerised by the sweeping vista of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea from the rocky outcrop behind Vivekanand Rock Memorial, away from the milling tourists, realisation dawned, “Man is but a mere insignificant speck in the universe”.

Kanyakumari skyline

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

On the Kanyakumari-Nagercoil road

A beach adjoining Vattakotai Fort

Back view of Vivekananda Rock Memorial

It’s not surprising that Swami Vivekanand was inspired to start a mission to spread the message of Hinduism while meditating on this rock. During his travels across India after the death of his guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans, in 1892, Swami Vivekananda had swam out to this huge half submerged rock 500 meters from the shore to meditate. Vivekanand Rock Memorial, a synthesis of distinctive styles of temple architecture across the country, was erected on this rock in 1970 and is today a ten-minute ferry ride from Kanyakumari.

The memorial is one of the major tourist attraction of the small sleepy town of Kanyakumari. Nestling between vast green stretches of paddy fields and coconut groves, Kanyakumari is not only the southernmost point of India and the confluence of Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean but also an important Hindu pilgrimage centre.

Kanyakumari derives its name from from Goddess Kanyakumari Amman, the presiding deity of the area. Legend has it that the Goddess Parvati, in one of her incarnations as Devi Kanya, did penance on one of the rocks of this land’s end to obtain the hand of Lord Shiva. Kumari Amman or the Kanyakumari Temple, dedicated to this Devi, is picturesquely located overlooking the shore and attracts tourists from all over the world. The diamond nose-ring of the deity is famous for its sparkling splendour and is said to be visible even from the sea. Men are required to remove their shirts prior to entering the temple.

Referred to as the Alexandria of the East, Kanyakumari was a well known commercial and trading centre besides being a centre for art and culture. Islam, Christianity and Jainism have greatly contributed to the architectural wealth and literary heritage of this place which flourished under the rule of the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Nayaks.

The Portuguese Church with its beautiful archaic structure is a major monument of Christian influence. The massive towering spires and stained glass window panes contribute to the overall grandeur of the Church. As you enter the church the simplicity of the interiors, a sharp contrast to the ornate Gothic exteriors is the first thing, which strike you. There are no pews and the congregation sits on the sandy floor of white powdery sand. A tiny cross adorns the altar. A walk down to the fishing jetty behind the church is quite interesting especially if the boats have just come in with their catch. Fresh fish at really dirt cheap prices with a large turtle going for just Rs 500 is incentive enough to walk down to the jetty.

Besides fishing, tourism is the main-stay of Kanyakumari, famous for its unique beach with multicoloured sand and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, especially on full moon days. On a full moon night, also termed as Chaita Purnima (in April), the setting sun and the rising moon glow simultaneously on the horizon.

Kanyakumari is perhaps the only place in India where observing these two daily phenomenons of nature is raised to the level of a ritual. Kanyakumari wakes up regularly at 5.30 am to a cacophony of alarm clocks and wake up calls.

Tourists, pilgrims and locals flock like migratory birds to either Sunrise Point or the terrace of their hotels by 6 am waiting for the majestic sight of daybreak to unfold. The image of the night-sky gradually transforming into various hues of pastel colours with the silhouette of fishing boats in the foreground as the sun rises above the horizon of the Bay of Bengal remains etched in memory for a long time.

Sunsets are equally spectacular and the beach lining the Arabian Sea, a tiny strip of multicoloured sand, is crowded with people waiting for the grand finale of the day. Watching the sunset is the only activity one can indulge in on this beach which is rocky and dangerous for swimming. The sea is fairly rough and the waves pounding against the rocks, subsiding and gathering again for another onslaught keeps you engaged till the huge red orb in the sky goes down in a blaze of glory. The lighthouse is also worth a visit for the panoramic view.

Kanyakumari is a wonderful destination for a laid back holiday.

Fact File
  • Air: The nearest airport is at Trivandrum, 80 kms away, with regular flights to Bangalore, Mumbai, Cochin, Delhi, Goa, and Madras.
  • Rail: Kanyakumari is connected to Trivandrum, Delhi, and Mumbai by broad-gauge railway network.
  • Road: It is connected by road to Nagarcoil 19 kms, Trivandrum 86 kms and Tirunelvelli 91 kms with frequent and regular bus service. Bus service to other major tourist destinations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are available.
Around Kanyakumari

Vattakottai Fort
This small and picturesque circular fort on the seashore 6 kms from Kanyakumari is an idyllic picnic spot. The isolated beach lined with coconut groves and dense vegetation is sure to seduce you for a dip in the clear blue virgin waters. The fort, according to some historians, was constructed in the 18th century during the reign of Marthanda Varman (1729 -1758) while others claim that it was built by the Dutch. Only the ramparts and a few broken down structures have withstood the ravages of time.

Padmanabhapuram Palace
The ancient and majestic Padmanabhapuram Palace, an epitome of Kerala architecture, is housed in a small idyllic town set against a backdrop of hills, 32 kms from Kanyakumari, on the road to Thiruvananthapuram. A pleasant 15-minute walk through paddy fields from Thakkaly gets you to the Palace, which unlike the imposing Mahals of northern India, is made of granite and teakwood displaying a perfect combination of clean lines and gentle angles, sloping tiled roofs of various interconnecting buildings, broken by triangular projecting gables enclosing delicately carved screens. The whole ensemble, most of which dates from the 17th or 18th century with some parts dating back to the 14th century, is excellently maintained by the Archeological Survey of India and a guided tour through the maze of 108 rooms leaves one speechless at the artistic expression and sheer opulence. Even the ceilings have intricately carved floral patterns! And the Palace has a dining hall, which seated 2000 Brahmins at one time! The Palace was the seat and capital of the rulers of Travancore, a princely state, for over 400 years, which included a good part of present day Kerala and parts of western Tamil Nadu.

Suchindram Temple
Even from a distance the 134 feet tall gopuram or the tower of the Suchindram temple with the sky as a backdrop is an awe-inspiring sight. Suchindram Temple, dedicated to Sri Stanamalaya or the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) venerated in ‘one form’, is counted as one of the foremost shrines in southern India. The ancient temple with parts dating back to 9th century and the construction of which extended over a period of 600 years is the mainstay of the sleepy village of Suchindram located 12 kms from Kanyakumari. Home to a profusion of art, culture and architecture with the Pandyas, Cholas and the Pallavas leaving their inscriptions in Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil, the temple is a wonder. Besides exquisitely carved sculptures of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and Subramanya, the temple boasts of musical pillars, which emit a chime when struck and an 18 feet tall idol of Hanuman. The temple complex is open from 3 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 8 pm.