Ever get that feeling of wanting to kick yourself because you’ve been lazy and missed doing something important, like clicking the picture of a place that you really liked? And realising the goof-up only when you are digging through files for a photograph to show off or post on social media!
It tends to happen to me a lot. Mostly because I invariably lose myself in the surroundings, get busy absorbing everything and forget that I have a phone camera and a digital camera that should be put to good use.
The most recent, in this case, being the missing photo of the Kanyakumari railway station – the last station in the southern part of peninsular India with the cool station code ‘CAPE’ and the pinkest station building I’ve seen. It’s not like I don’t have a photograph of this pink station. I do. But I wish I had a better one, along with photographs of the board announcing the station and some photos of the green interiors.
Kanyakumari is a postage-stamp-sized town in comparison to other towns that you may have travelled to. You can easily cover the touristy and non-touristy bits of the city in a day as I did.
Kanyakumari, an experience…
Hot humid air that carries the smell of the sea and scorching sun are two characteristics I will always associate with the town. Those were the two things that shook me when I hopped off the train at Kanyakumari station.
Located in the heart of Kanyakumari, the railway station is just a kilometre away from the beach and probably a 10-15 minute auto-rickshaw or cab ride to any hotel/paying guest that you may have booked yourself into.
Within Kanyakumari the town, the locals mention 11 places as ‘must-see’ spots. But in my humble opinion, there are just a handful of things that you must see whilst in the town and coincidentally, these are the main tourist spots of the town. How do you manage to wrap up Kanyakumari in half a day?
Vivekananda Rock Memorial & Thiruvalluvar Statue
Operating from 8 am to 4 pm, managing a visit to these two rock marvels during the short time I was visiting was nothing short of a miracle. As I jogged into the hotel lobby at 2.30 pm and proceeded to check-in, the hotel team pointed out that if I wanted to make it to the memorial + statue the same day, I needed to be at the ferry point by 3 pm! “They start telling people to leave from 3.30 pm, madam, and they close everything at 4 pm. And you need to set aside at least 20-30 minutes for the ferry ride,” said the hotel staff, with an urgency in their tone as I was whisked to my room and coffee sent my way within 5 minutes.
A popular tourist destination, the Vivekanda Rock Memorial was built in 1970 to honour Swami Vivekananda, a prominent youth icon of India who attained enlightenment on this particular rock. Legend says this was also the rock where Goddess Kumari – the town is named after her – meditated. To get to the memorial, you need to grab a ticket and board a ferry – along with at least 100 others. Do try to get there early so that you can grab a good seat for the main attraction – the horizon where you see the waters of the sea merge with shades of the sky, the waves slamming the massive rocks and your first view of the memorial and a 133-feet statue.
The ferry will first take you to the memorial. I’ll refrain from boring you with the specifics of the memorial, information easily available on the internet, but what I will encourage you to do is read a bit about Swami Vivekananda. As someone who has grown up on tales of this youth icon, this was a goosebumpy emotional moment for me.
A few minutes here and you should be ready to walk back to the ferry for a quick ride to the massive Thiruvalluvar Statue. The stone sculpture of the Tamil poet/philosopher was unveiled only in 2000. While not much is known about the legendary poet, his work is considered among the finest works of Tamil and Indian literature. The statue, interestingly, is hollow from toe to scalp – take the stairs up to the base of the statue for a breathtaking view.
Devi Kanya Kumari Temple
The Devi Kanya Kumari temple is where the town gets its name from and should be on your must-visit list for its mythological importance if not religious. Photography is not allowed in the temple premises.
Said to have been established by Lord Parashuram, the statue of the deity inside the temple is stunning. The only problem is that you have to shell out extra to be able to join the queue that takes you closer to the inner sanctum where you can see the goddess’s face. This opposed to the regular queue wherein you will need to do a side bend to be able to lay your eyes on the goddess. Not too keen on this side bending and forever irked by this discrimination, I argued with the priest and managed to get a dekko. But this is not something that will happen during the rush hours.
The Triveni Sangam, the meeting point of three seas – the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean – is a place that you might just miss if it hasn’t been pointed out to you. As you walk out of the temple towards the sunset point, keep a watch for an open market to your left. Walk through the market and you will come to a stone mandapam. A little ahead you will come to a series of steps that lead into the water. This is the Triveni Sangam, as demarcated by the orange flag that flutters in the breeze.
Catch your breath, dip your toes in the water – if you can find some space to – and then head towards the sunset point which is a good 30 minutes away. Now don’t go ahead and be the braveheart. Get a taxi or auto-rickshaw to take you to the beach where you can see the sunset.
The sun show
A sunrise or a sunset can very well be seen from any part of the world. But there is something unique and fascinating about watching the sun play peek-a-boo through the water before it bids adieu for the night and rises high and bright the next day. Sunset in Kanyakumari is best seen from the beach. Walking towards the water, the sand at your feet as you watch the sun sink into the sea is an ethereal feeling. This could very well be disrupted by the presence of the huge crowd of tourists that flow in and out of the town irrespective of the time of the year. “There has to be a way to avoid the crowds,” I mulled, a little disgruntled having failed to find a space to enjoy on the beach to enjoy the sunset from. I finally hauled myself to the edge of the beach, near the road and settled myself on the wall surrounding the beach.
As for the sunrise, I was lucky enough that I only had to drag myself out of bed and walk up three floors to the hotel rooftop. Now the sunrise and sunset take around 15-20 odd minutes and both are among the most delightful things you will even see.
The play of shades and glimmer of light as the earth slowly tilts and tips over – you do remember the sun-earth-rotation system bit, right? – and you see fractions of light burst through the blues and purples, the yellows and oranges mixing with the night colours to create the gorgeous colours. As you wait impatiently for the round ball of fire to make its appearance, the sun seen over the sea, a tantalising glimpse, peeking through and winking, hold your breath and do NOT blink. Because things go really fast from here! Blink and you will miss the sun popping out!
As mentioned earlier, you can explore Kanyakumari in a day and then head back to wherever it is you came from. In case you feel the ardent desire to spend more than a day there, hire a cab and explore places that are an hour (or two) drive from the city. The team at Hotel Ocean Heritage where I spend the night had shared a list of ‘Important Places of Interest In and Around Kanyakumari’. Hope it is of some help to you.
When in Kanyakumari, remember that…
* Most places in the town will require you to step out of your shoes. Wear slip-ons and carry a pair of socks.
* The sunrays in Kanyakumari are of the scorching kind so pack the sunglasses, hat/cap and don’t forget to slather on sunscreen. Wearing cotton clothing is highly recommended.
* Do carry currency in lower denominations, you would be helping move along the ticket lines faster. Entry tickets at most places range between Rs 20 to Rs 40.
* Kanyakumari is choc bloc with hotels and guest houses. But it is equally crowded throughout the year. So book your rooms before your train chugs into the last railway station of mainland India.