Ruchira takes us to Kanyakumari, where the waters to two seas mingle with an ocean, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Mahatma Gandhi had once remarked about Kanyakumari, “…this is no port of calls for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin.” Decades later his words ring true. Indeed Kanyakumari, or the erstwhile Cape Comorin, has retained some of its pristine quality by not getting transformed into a commercial port. However, with the passage of time, it has emerged as a highly popular tourist destination and a real crowd-puller at that. Its crowning glory is the geographical location.
In fact, it is the solitary spot on the subcontinent and in the country where the waters of two seas, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, mingle with the Indian Ocean, to form a vast unending water body. Another attraction being the shrine of Kumari Amman the virgin deity (an emanation of Parvati/Sati) who, so the legends say, waited for Lord Shiva to come and wed her. As ill-luck would have it, Shiva completely forgot about the sacred rendezvous. However, the divine bride, long forsaken, still waits for her Lord…There is an undercurrent of pathos in the story I feel. It is well known that Swami Vivekananda, the world-renowned philosopher-monk had sojourned here during his pan-India travels during the late 1800s. There juts out a rock, a few miles off the shore where he had meditated for three days and three nights. It was here that the youthful sanyasi, Swami Vivekananda, took the most significant decision of his life: To present the lofty ideals of the Vedanta at a global forum. And he did. But that is another story.
Back to basics, despite its remote location the place is fairly well connected to the rest of via direct trains – the Himsagar Express from Jammu being one among them. There are similar trains from far-flung places like Assam, as well. In fact, Kanyakumari boasts of its own railway station, though the one at Thiruvananthapuram is rather handy and convenient. One could even fly into Chennai and/or Trivandrum and then travel onward by road.
Been There, Done That
In the year just gone by, we went down to Kanyakumari during summer. This was my third visit but I was greatly surprised. The place had become a bustling town! During the early 70’s when I came here as a four-year-old, the coastline was desolate and the sands so pure and fresh. I can vividly recall the experience by looking at the old black & white photographs in my album. We paid a visit to the Gandhi Mandapam – a memorial to the father of the nation – who had visited the cape twice during his lifetime.
The recently erected Vivekananda Rock Memorial impressed with its splendid isolation. The next time the family went down to Kanyakumari, It was the 1980s and I was in college. Since we had missed it earlier, a visit to the rock memorial was a must this time around. As the crowded ferry chugged its way forward, and the coastline began receding, my mind conjured up images of how many ago an athletic young man had impulsively plunged into the choppy waters of the three oceans and clambered up the rock. On a cold December day in 1892, history was unfolding…. As is a common phenomenon at all famous Hindu shrines across the length and breadth of the country, there were serpentine queues at the temple here; we barely managed to catch a glimpse of the dazzling idol, before the crowd pushed us forward.
My third journey undertaken barely half a year ago came as a shocker. The place had changed beyond recognition! As matter of fact hotels, lodges and inns suiting all pockets had cropped up almost everywhere. This mushrooming, though good for the tourism sector, is baneful for lovers of pastoral natural beauty. Miles of golden sands are now studded with concrete fences and benches to facilitate tourists. The beach bordering Gandhi Mandapam is dotted with makeshift shops and other utilities. The memorial has a new neighbour in the vicinity, namely, the Kamaraj Mandapam. This perpetuates the memory of K. Kamaraj, a well-known freedom fighter, Congress leader, and many times chief minister of Tamil Nadu. To behold sunset on the sea tourists nowadays head out to the Sunset Point, which is yet untouched by the concrete jungle. The sunset is indeed a feast for the eyes.
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial is the same as to before serene and dignified. Sadly enough the massive rock upon which it stands has fallen into disarray. Parts of the rock have been draped in a green cover to prevent it from erosion. However, the overall effect is not too pleasing.
Next to the rock memorial, stands the gigantic statue of the legendary Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, for more than 17 years now. The combined height of the statue and its pedestal is 133 feet (40.5 metres), coinciding with a total number of chapters in the Tirukkural, his magnum opus. Tamil chauvinists might be fuming, but I cannot help mentioning that besides the reposeful monument, the statue looks rather ungainly, soaring upwards amidst the swirling waters. The only saving grace is that after sunset each day the statue is illuminated to create its colourful silhouette against the dark backdrop.
All said and done at Kanyakumari one can still get charming views of the oceans; this combined with other attractions will make it a memorable holiday by the sea.
©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh
Photos by the author and from the Internet
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