The last minute glitch that adds a zing to your travel schedule is almost unavoidable. For us, it was the umbrella. Having planned about packing it, much in advance, we forgot to take the requisite number of umbrellas just at the last moment and then we decided to go without them.And we were on our way to the Bangalore railway station to catch the Nagercoil Express from Bangalore to Nagercoil, a small town about 15 Kms before Kanyakumari as we approach the Southern tip of India.
The train started at 5:15 PM from Bangalore and was scheduled to reach Nagercoil by the next morning, 7 am. But, as we moved, we saw that our train was the sacrificial lamb for all logistical inefficiencies of the railways in the region as we were stopped at multiple points to allow other trains to pass. Finally, we reached Nagercoil one hour late by around 8 am. Life’s easy when your stay is already booked and we were lucky in this matter as we had our booking in place.
After fixing the “auto rickshaw” – an indigenous three-wheeled vehicle plying mostly in Asian countries – we had the daunting task of explaining the location to him and we had two challenges. Neither did we know the location properly, nor the local language i.e. Tamil. And the best way to resolve the crisis was to call the hotel respondent and have them talk to the auto rickshaw driver to explain the location. We did that and our life was sorted. After reaching the place, we found that it was actually a flat in an apartment converted to a homestay. A 2-BHK flat with most amenities like AC, TV with Airtel DTH, kitchen with basic utensils, hot water, etc.
After finishing bath we took a power nap, which was an utmost necessity after the rapturous sleep in train. We then went for breakfast hunting. As we stepped out, we could see the simplicity of a small town. The people there were mostly helpful and realizing that we are not from Tamil Nadu, they made their utmost attempt to talk to us in Hindi and we also managed with broken Tamil. But the communication was humane and free from political influences. Our apartment was situated in a narrow lane that led upto the main road, wherein the road turned towards the left as one moves South, onto a small bridge and then to the right, leading upto Kanyakumari. The area was known as Suchindram.
Towards the end of our narrow lane were a few shops which served our purpose for breakfast – idli sambhar and poori saagu. It was manageably tasty. After ticking the checklist of breakfast, the next task was to figure out the sight-seeing spots and as we browsed the internet we found a long list of spots. But, since Vivekananda Rock Memorial was the highlight, we first decided to go that side and then map suggested that Wonder Wax Museum and Sunset Point are also in that direction.
The next step was to figure out a mode of transport. We decided to hire an auto-rickshaw for full day and thus we came to the main road again at the end of our lane. But it was chaotic, there was not a single auto-rickshaw available. One shopkeeper figured out our plight and offered help. He called a few rickshaw drivers from his cellphone and found out that one of them was roaming around in our lane only. We zeroed in on him but he refused to come for the full day. One man was standing on his bike there and was listening to the conversation. He offered us to go the nearest auto-rickshaw stand on his bike. We were moved by the gesture from the stranger and one of us went with him. After reaching there, we realized that the tariff for both auto-rickshaw and cab is same and thus finalized a cab for 2 days.
And then, we were all set to start our tour of the southernmost town of India – Kanyakumari. We set out from Suchindram towards Kanyakumari and saw the picturesque surroundings on the way. There was also a Sai Temple enroute and vast stretches of land covered by coconut plantation. The Kerala state border is a mere 30-40 kms from there.
In no time, we reached the beach of Kanyakumari. After the cab was safely put in the parking lot, we trolled towards the ticket counter for Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The memorial is built on a rock island about 100 meters into the waters of the Indian Ocean and ferry lounges are available which can take us across the waters onto the rock. Legend has it that Swami Vivekananda swam across the waters (despite warnings) in the 1880’s and meditated on this rock and then went ahead to attend the World Religious Conference in Canada.
The place around was like a small market, littered with shops and restaurants spread across a narrow street that ends up in the waters. The whole area was surrounded by waters of the Indian Ocean on all sides and the feeling was exhilarating. We slowly walked towards the ticket counter to buy the tickets for the ferry which costed INR 34. There was one more ticket costing INR 169 which would allow special entry, wherein one need not wait in queues to get into the ferry. We, for the time being, went by the normal entry.
As we came out of the waiting shelter, we were standing by the waters and ferry was waiting to leave. For the sake of formality, life jackets were kept there, which we were supposed to place around our neck, hanging on both sides of the body and strap it. After doing so, we sat inside the ferry which had a capacity of carrying 150 passengers at a time. After a while the ferry started and it started to cruise along the waters. In about 10 minutes we reached the rock memorial. After disembarking from the ferry and disposing off the life jacket in a huge container kept for reuse of the same, we headed towards the entrance of the rock memorial.
We purchased the entry tickets which costed INR 20 per head, submitted our footwear near the entrance and started walking barefoot to climb a few stairs only to realize that since it was noon, the surface was burning as it was directly under the Sun. We loitered around the area. The Rock Memorial is a beautiful place with two huge structures built on the rock island flanked by open terrace like spaces where people can roam, enjoy the cool breeze coming from the ocean and also get a nice view of the ocean water all around. All, one can see is, vast expanse of water all around. White colored strips are painted on the terrace to facilitate walking as those strips would reflect the light back and keep it relatively cooler compared to the surface.
At a distance of about 50 meters from the rock island in the west direction is the statue of the famous Tamil Poet Thiruvalluvar, standing on another rock island. Earlier, it was connected with the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and a passage was available to go there, but after the infamous Tsunami of Dec 2004, the rocks got separated and the statue was also damaged. Currently, the statue is closed for renovations since many years.
There is a Mandapam on the rock memorial which houses a giant statue of Swami Vivekananda and Maa Sharada and just behind the Mandapam is a meditation hall where one can sit and mediate as long as one wants. There is huge symbol of “OM” which is multicolored and chants of OM go on continuously there. It is said that one can see only one or few colors in the multicolored OM and those colors have a particular significance based on your life and personality. We spent some time in the meditation hall and then sat near the entrance to the Mandapam which was a narrow opening flanked by pillars supporting the structure and wind was gushing through the opening as there was a natural cross-ventilation. Sitting there was like feeling eternity. We would not have moved from there provided no cab was waiting for us to see other spots and that we weren’t hungry.
After spending some time there, we headed out. After collecting our footwear, we joined the long queue to the return ferry. The queue was well maintained with a long shade built so as to beat the sun and the rain. In no time, we reached the ferry, put the life-jacket back on and reached the shore. We were out of the Memorial with a memorable experience.
Smitten by hunger, we walked into the first restaurant that was visible and was providing staple meals and finished a sumptuous lunch of Rajasthani Thali as we were famished. However, the area is full of eateries and restaurants offering all kind of food from North Indian to South Indian. So after having visited our first spot and checking the tick mark of lunch, we proceeded to our next destination which was Wonder Wax Museum which is also very close to the beach area, around a kilometer away from it. It’s the first of its kind of museum in India.
The Wonder Wax Museum is an initiative by the Indian Railways and is situated in the premises of the Kanyakumari Railway Station itself. After purchasing the tickets there which costed is INR 40 per head, we went inside the Wax Museum and found the wax statues of many eminent personalities like Hollywood and Bollywood stars, politicians, scientists, sportsperson etc. Some of the statues were those of Johnny Depp, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Amitabh Bacchan, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Kalam Azad, Michael Jackson, Albert Einstein, Barrack Obama, to name a few. And then as one meanders through the alleys of the museum, we are finally led into the 3-D painting area where paintings across the wall depict a three dimensional view of the object drawn.
As we moved out of the museum we were led into a small theater which was showing a 9D movie, wherein one can experience the sight and sound of a thrilling journey shown through a movie of a train moving on precarious terrains and feel the thrill with an audio-visual experience. Overall, it was a very nice experience. Similar movie experiences are available in Singapore’s Sentosa Island and Dubai.
After this, we were confused for a while, as to which direction we should be going. So we just wandered around for a while, asking around and then came to know about Vattakatai Fort in the area. This is a 12th Century AD fort. The fort is a very small one is near the seashore. The main portion of the fort has prison cells on two lateral sides and a huge water reservoir in the middle and flanked on all sides by walkway which was guarded by high walls. There are 2 protuberances which can be equated to terraces. These terraces face the sea at different intrusions into the waters along a lateral direction and are flanked by high stone walls. We sat on the stone walls for a while and enjoyed the cool breeze flowing there and sea waves gushing to the shore, occasionally bringing a plankton or a crab to the stones at the shore.
After spending sometime there, we headed towards the beach again to view the famous Sunset at Kanyakumari. We walked along the coastline for a while to find a nice sitting spot. However, sunset eluded us that day as the Sun got shrouded in the clouds and it wasn’t a distinct sunset. We were exhausted by now, having visited 4 different points along the beach and the coastline and thus decided to retire to the room for the rest of the day.
The trio that traveled together