Leaving the lush greenery of Mid Kerala was hard to do but, having seen and done what I wanted to, I decided to move on further south. My plan originally was to end up in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) before cutting across the midlands towards Madurai. However, after a few days in the clifftop beach town of Varkala (where I spent my time mostly eating and drinking, and meeting some great people) I decided it’d be a shame if I didn’t actually reach the very south of India at its most southern tip. So, after a quick stop in Trivandrum I headed to a place called Kanyakumari (formerly Cape Comorin) which I was told by some locals was just a place to go for the sake of being at the bottom of India; though I found that this simply isn’t true.
I nearly didn’t come to this place as I thought I was pushed for time, but then I realised that I’m not pushed for time at all. Why should I be? On my way south I seemed to be living under some illusion that I had to see certain things whilst in the country; not everything of course, but certain things. For example: I wanted to have reached the deep south of the country and then manage to head back up to Rajasthan to celebrate Holi Festival by the 23rd March; this was possible, but it would’ve meant me rushing through the south in less than 3 weeks and not really taking anything in.
I reached a certain point and came to the conclusion that this was not going to happen, so I threw the ‘timescale’ out of the window; I started to just take it easy and go with the flow a bit more. This was almost liberating in a way and, having reached the south with 2 months left, I could happily go about my business and still spend plenty of time in the north; after all, I could always come back to India in the future, right?
What’s so Special about Kanyakumari?
Well, at a first glimpse, nothing. I arrived and stayed in a guesthouse to the north of town so, for the first hour or two, I could only just about see the shore; everything else appeared to be a baron, dusty cluster of buildings and half built roads (reminded me of Mysore a little bit). However, after a stroll down to the sea my thoughts on the place completely changed. Walking through the bazaar was surprisingly refreshing, almost in the way that Bangalore was refreshing from the calm and relaxation of Hampi and Goa; sometimes the busy streets and noise are a welcome change from near silence.
After fending off many street sellers and indulging in a coconut or two, I reached what is known to be the very tip of India’s mainland. Though not much on its own, the fact that this is the meeting point of three seas (the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal) and topped with the two small islands just off the shore, you can see why this place is deemed as holy and is popular among Indian tourists (there aren’t many non-Indians here- I saw only
Looking past the rocks and the sound of thundering waves you see two islands (large rocks really); one of which is a memorial to a Hindu Monk named Swami Vivekananda, who is said to have achieved enlightenment by meditating there for 3 days, and the other primarily a 30m sculpture of Tiruvalluvar, who was a Tamil philosopher. I sat for over an hour, Chai in hand, just staring at these islands, listening to the waves, generally soaking up the atmosphere. There are locals who sit and watch, there are tourists flocking the shoreline, and there are people on their own pilgrimage who breathe a sigh of relief (and joy) knowing that they’ve reached their destination (only in body though, I imagine).
I visited both of these islands (a 34r round trip) and I must say that, though I wasn’t expecting to find much, I did experience a great feeling of accomplishment, and for a moment or two, sadness; I’d reached the south of India; Kanyakumari was as far south as I was going to get. It’d been my focus for the best part of 2 months so, to finally get there was quite emotional. I’ve seen and experienced things on my way down that I never thought I would, I’ve done things I didn’t imagine I’d do, and I’ve felt things I didn’t think I could feel.
The journey to the south has been amazing to say the least, but it’s not over. I’m only half way through my Indian journey and, though I’m not going to see the whole of this country (it’d take years to cover it), I’m looking forward to heading back to the north west to the great state of Rajasthan, before my adventures on the borders of the Himalayas begin.
Of course, there is more to this Holi place than two islands: there is the Kanya Kumari temple, named after a Goddess (Devi Kanya Kumari) who is believed to be a sister of Krishna, and there is also the Ghandi memorial where, at one point, parts of his ashes were stored before being given to the sea (this place is of note because it’s designed in such a way that, on his birthday, the first beams of light shine through the building onto the spot where his ashes were kept).
Also, something that I was not aware of was that, sadly, the 2004 Tsunami reached this point in India, flooding the entire lower land of the town; hundreds of people died and there is a memorial located just outside the temple. A friend and I got talking to one old lady (who we bumped into many times as she wanders aimlessly around the bazaar) who told us her experience of it. Now, I’m not criticising anyone’s beliefs, but something as horrendous as a Tsunami to hit somewhere as holy as Kanyakumari just doesn’t make sense (from a religious point of view anyway).
I met a few people whilst in Kanyakumari (one of which I actually met on the train a day or so earlier) and we spent a couple of days together. Of all the places in India where I’ve actually wanted to be alone, this was the place and, behold, I get stuck with some people. I joke of course, but both of these people did have some sort of affect on me.
Now, during my time in India so far, I’ve met many people, some of which I’ve kept in touch with, some I haven’t, some have left their mark on me, some haven’t, so on and so forth. However, one night, accompanied by a few other people we’d met, we sat on the sea wall in the dead of night, listening to and watching the sea in the moonlight. This happened to be the 2nd time I’d done this, the first being on my first night in Mumbai; how strange that, from one milestone to another, I spent the night in the same way…
Now, there was one person I was talking to- the sort of person who believes that ‘there are no coincidences’ and that ‘everything happens for a reason’- who I got along with very well and, mid conversation, said something very profound to me. I won’t say what it was, but to be honest, this person saw straight through me; it took me a minute or so to take in what she said as I was genuinely speechless but, after thinking about it, I completely understood something that I’d been trying to figure out for a while (and no, I’ve not turned gay or anything like that!).
I think that the people you meet, whether good or bad, leave a mark on you, especially when you travel. I’ve not been travelling long at all but some people, whether they like it or not, have made me see things a lot differently (again, in both good and bad ways).
I’ve not met many ‘long term’ travellers out here who haven’t, in one way or another, been lost. There are people traversing the planet, trying to find something; something they can’t find back home; whether it be happiness, peace, love, a life, a job, or even just a good time. There are also people who really don’t know what they’re looking for, and, to some degree, these ‘lost’ people truly are the most interesting people of all…
Anyway, enough of the deep stuff for now; Kanyakumari turned out to be a far greater experience than I’d imagined and, if you’re thinking of skipping it like I almost did, think again; you only need to be here for a day or two to get a feel for the place before moving on and, like a few people I met, you may find here something you were looking for. So, as previously mentioned, from this point I start the long journey back towards the north, starting along the east coast. Will it be as interesting as my journey south? Let’s hope so…