Sep 8, 2011

The End of India

The end of the sub-continent of India

We’ve finally arrived at the end of India—literally.  If you were to look at a map, you’d be able to pinpoint precisely where we are—Cape Comorin to be exact, the most southern point in India, where 3 bodies of water meet: the Bay of Bengal (east), the Indian Ocean (south) and the Arabian Sea (west).  And like many of the places what we’ve visited so far in South India, we found it to be a strangely interesting place.

At the Cape is the town of Kanyakumari, which was from what we gather, originally a fishing village.  We were surprised at what a busy place it was, initially thinking it was because it was a Saturday night.  The small pocket directly north of the seafront was purely a tourist area, lined with all things touristy.  Only hotels, restaurants, clothing stalls, souvenir stalls and tea stalls could be found here, with none of the usual businesses associated with a place where locals actually live like medical centres, hardware shops, household goods or even supermarkets.  Individual entrepreneurs walked up and down trying to sell maps, pearl necklaces, sunglasses and taxi rides. Tour buses, taxis, tuk tuks and hired cars with drivers also further congested this area, not to mention the actual tourists themselves who wondered the streets.  Interestingly, 99% of the tourists seemed to come from all over India, with only the occasional foreign backpacker. We met Indians from as far away as the states of Punjab and Rajastan; others from Mumbai and Kolkata spent 30-40hrs travelling to get here.   For the 3 days that we spent in Kanyakumari, tourists continued to come and go, all the while, the town was always a buzz of activity starting from around 5:30am as people got up to catch the sunrise to well past 11pm.  But although the town was busy, it was mostly foot traffic that moved (along with the occasional cow) as the main tourist strips were closed to vehicles, so it wasn’t that unpleasant as the pace was that of people on holiday (slow and relaxed).

Looking south down the main tourist strip at 6:05am, just after sunrise

There’s a lot of touristy things to see and do here for such a small place.  Some of the tourists were devotees who come here to visit the near 3000yr old Kumari Amman Temple dedicated to the virgin goddess Kumari, ‘...who single-handedly conquered demons and secured freedom for the world (Lonely Planet, 2009)’.  It’s located just at the end of the main strip in front of the sea right at the Cape.  In addition to removing your shoes upon entering, men also had to remove their shirts to honour the ‘...sacred femininity of the goddess (LP).’  

But many more tourists and non-Hindus seemed to come here for the same reason we did—because it is the end of the continent.  And maybe to piggy-back on this, many new attractions have sprung up here.  The 2 most striking and obvious are the statue of the Tamil poet ‘Thiruvalluvar’ and the Memorial to Swami Vivekananda (aka The Wandering Monk).  Both are located in the sea, about 500 metres offshore.  The 133ft statue was only erected in the year 2000 through the collaborative effort of 5000 sculptors from all over India—it’s very imposing and ‘Statue of Liberty-like’.  The Memorial to Vivekananda was built in 1970 upon the rock where the Swami actually meditated on—it’s very ‘Alcatraz-like’.  From 7:45am to 4pm, you can board a public boat for a return trip to the island for a nominal charge of 0.50cents/Rs20 (extra 0.25cents/Rs10 applies pp once you arrive at the island). Not far away from these is another distinguishable and relatively recent landmark/attraction--the very pink Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.  Some of his ashes are actually stored here and the rooftop offers terrific views of the Cape.   It’s especially popular at sunset.
View of the Statue and Rock Memorial
Ferry to the Rock Memorial--and lifejackets were supplied for all!
Sunset at the tip

Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi

One afternoon we wandered about 1km further north and came upon the actual fishing village of Kanyakumari.  At its centre was the very white Catholic Church with its very pastel coloured stain-glass windows and interior accents.  The surrounding homes all had religious icons (like tiles with Mother Mary on them) somewhere on their exteriors, and most were very colourful.  The streets were clean and quiet, yet full of life.  It reminded us of villages on the very Catholic island country of Malta (Siggewi), where we had spent some time many years ago.  There were many more religious shrines as well as another smaller church in this area too.  It was a nice slice of ‘real Kanyakumari’ in the midst of the surreal tourist area.

Another of our afternoons was spent about 1.5km away at the ‘Baywatch’ water park.  On one hand, the park seems a bit out of place—a concrete jungle amid the geographical wonder of the area.  But on the other hand it fits right with the circus-like atmosphere. For a nominal entry fee of $5.50 US/Rs220 per adult and $4.75/Rs190 for children over 90cm, there were amusement rides (not that many) included as well as a water park with a good assortment of slides, many of which were suitable for children 5yrs+.  Maddy loved them and went on all but two (on the account of her size—too small), while Yasmine enjoyed splashing about in the shallow kiddie pool.  It was the perfect way to spend a hot day.

Kids pool

Side Winder

Jim and I also had great ways to spend our evenings here—sitting on our 6th floor rooftop balcony right outside our room, with a clear view of the bustle down the main strip leading straight to the Temple, with the Statue and Memorial Rock grandly lit in the darkness of the sea.  It was an eerie feeling when at 9pm the lights were switched off and the Statue disappeared completely.  I can imagine one’s surprise if they happened to arrive in Kanyakumari after 9pm and without any prior knowledge of the statue’s existence, only seeing it in the light of the next day!  

Our hotel--that was our room at the very top.

Yes, it happened again—we found another place in South India that took us by surprise.  We found we quite liked because it had its own uniqueness.  We just had to stay longer than we initially expected/intended so that we could enjoy some of this ‘happy holiday mood’ of most everyone there (except probably the street beggers). Kanyakumari had enough to offer for all of us, including the kids.  Fascinatingly in our entire 4 nights here, they never even asked to watch any cartoons and we only switched the TV on once.  We still played lots of UNO though.

At Memorial Rock

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