KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We left Madurai just after 8:00 am and set out on the final south-bound leg of our journey in India. The drive to Kanyakumari, about 140 km, would take us about four hours, passing just to the east of the Cardamom Mountains. As I mentioned at the end of my last journal entry, Kanyakumari is right at the very tip of India, the place where three bodies of water meet - the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The countryside became more and more lush as we headed southwards but the biggest surprise was the forest of wind turbines that greeted us an hour outside our destination. There were hundreds of these beautiful windmills turning in the stiff breeze. At one point, we passed several large semi-trailer trucks each hauling a single blade of the turbine. I am kicking myself that I didn't ask the driver to stop so that I could take a picture of one - they are unbelievably huge and space-age looking.
Kanyakumari (pronounced Kan-ya-ku-mar-ee) is a small town with a population of just over twenty thousand. It is a major pilgrimage site however, and the place is thronging with devotees and others just on vacation. I swear that many of the couples are honeymooners; they have picked a beautiful location if that is the case. There was also a very large number of foreigners in Kanyakumari dressed all in white flowing clothes and simple sandals. There may have been as many as a hundred "ashram-ites" as we came to call them. Most looked like they had been in India for some time, they were all rather thin and pale, so they were not into the beach scene or they would have dark tans. India is a magnetic for people on a spiritual quest, I regret that I didn't make the effort to speak to them, I probably would have learned a lot more about where and how they are living.
The sea is a lovely blue and the weather is perfect at this time of year. There are only a few hotels spilling down over the tip of the land here - there are some new ones under construction but we managed to find a delightful room in an old hotel that is being renovated. The outside of the building has been completed and many of the rooms are done, but the hallways are in an appalling condition. The section of hallway that leads to our room has had the old tiles removed and we walk on crumbling concrete to get to our door, but we lucked out with a corner room - there are huge windows on two walls and a small balcony as well so we have great views, loads of light and more breeze than anyone could ever imagine. All this for one quarter the price of the room in Pondicherry!
We settled in, and as we have done in every hotel along our route; we make it our temporary home. I always find that I rearrange the furniture a little to give us more room to do our morning exercise and to ensure that we each have a table by the bed to hold our books, iPod, reading glasses and water for the night. Once that is done and our clothes are unpacked, we usually put on some music and our "nest" is ready.
We made and exploratory walk through the small town once the sun was low and made plans to take the ferry to see the Vivekanandapuram (Memorial) the next day. They have a well-developed night market especially for the tourists, with loads of shell kitsch, toys for children and fresh spices. I was surprised to see the huge displays of spices and cashew nuts until I remembered that we are not just at the tip of Tamil Nadu, but near the southern end of Kerala, the state where most of the spices and cashew nuts are grown.
We called it an early night as it had been a long, hot drive from Madurai. Earlier I looked out our window at sunset, I was surprised to see that all of the fishing boats that had lined the beach below our window were already out at sea. As we settled in to sleep, a couple of women in the hutments below our hotel started to argue. In short order, the spat had grown into a full-scale battle and I couldn't believe my ears at the shouting that was going on. I was so happy that I couldn't understand a word they were saying because I'm sure there were curse words aplenty in their frenzied speech. Perhaps this is where the word "fishwife" comes from.
I slept fitfully for a while and awoke to the sound of men shouting below. I wondered if the women had been fighting over a man - the men had been all out to sea when the screeching went on - and perhaps the men were back and getting in on the action. When I looked out the window, the moon was glittering on the sea and I could see all the boats were back and the men were hauling them high up onto the beach. As they worked together to lift the heavy boats, they shouted in unison and I could see some men pulling in large nets as well. When I checked the time, I was surprised to see it was only shortly after midnight.
Not long before the sun rose, I was again awakened by the sound of women arguing. These two were worse than any cat yowling that I've ever heard. Maybe this was the reason that the hotel room was so reasonable, and not the fact that the hallways aren't finished yet. We will try to sleep better tonight and if those fishwives are at it again, we will seriously consider another hotel. Too bad, as you can see from the photos I took, the views are wonderful.
The ferry ride to the Memorial was great - other than the fact that the people behave so badly getting on and off the boat. There is so much pushing and shoving, even though the numbers of passengers on each boat are managed in such a way that everyone is sure to get on board. It must come from growing up in a country of a billion people, for much of the time everyone has to push to the front to get what they need. It will probably take another generation before things change, maybe they never will. I just put up with it all, but when we returned to the hotel, I had to wash my white blouse because there was so much yellow and red powder smeared on the back. This happened because many of the people on the boat had already been to the temple and had tikka put on their foreheads and on the boat, they were pushed up against my back in the crush and the powder rubbed off on my shirt. It's one of the few disadvantages of being so tall.
Swami Vivkeanada, an Indian philosopher, meditated at this spot before setting out on an extensive journey across India in 1892. The Memorial itself is a simple structure, very impressive from the outside but even more so on the inside. There is a bronze statue of the Swami in the middle of a simple canopy decorated with marble. Photography is not allowed inside the buildings and that is unfortunate because the interior is covered in black marble that is filled with white in the recessed areas to create the designs. I have not seen this kind of work anywhere else in India so it was a feast for the eyes. There is a little of the same work around the entrance doors so I took a photograph to give you an idea of the beauty of the marble work.
It was wonderful to be out on this large rock surface, beyond the coastline of India and to realize that there is no land between here and Davis Bay, Antarctica! I couldn't believe how excited Anil was by this fact. If you think about it, this is probably the spot where there is the greatest expanse of ocean between two north-south or east-west places in the world. Have a look at a globe to see what I mean. There is something very special about this spot. From here we turn northwards to travel along the west coast of India all the way to the Himalayas. We are looking forward to some very restful time in Kerala. We have seen just about enough temples for now - Anil hates having to take off his shoes and walk barefoot through the temples. It's bad enough for me, but he has terrible corns on the balls of both feet and this makes it very painful for him to walk or descend stairs. His mother had surgery for this condition when she lived with us in Edmonton, but Anil has never been willing to go under the "knife". The final straw came when we wanted to see the Kanyakumari Devi Temple. This is the only temple we have come across where men have to remove their shirts as well as their shoes. Anil drew the line at this and refused to enter. Thank goodness they didn't ask the same of the women!
After we finished seeing the memorial to the wandering monk, we boarded the ferry for the very short hop to a neighbouring rock where a monument has been recently erected in memory of the famous Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. He composed a 133-verse poem Thirukkural so it was decided to make the monument 133 ft high. It's unfortunate that the two rocks are so near to each other, because the poet's monument dwarfs the other and, in our opinion, detracts from the effect of each. We can only see the monk's monument from our hotel windows and now we are glad for it. On our first evening in Kanyakumari, there was a beautiful sunset and the monument was a glowing orange with the light. At night it is lit up with green and yellow floodlights.
Our second evening here, we decided to wait with the throngs of pilgrims for the sun to set over the Arabian Sea and light up the monuments situated in the Bay of Bengal. Anil had enough of taking off his shoes, but I wanted to visit the Gandhi Memorial built onshore near the tip of the continent. Some of Gandhi’s ashes were stored here until they were immersed in the sea. There is a series of photographs from Gandhi’s life on the walls and an inscription on the wall near the sea. It reads:
I am writing this at the cape, in front of the sea, where the three waters meet and furnish a sight unequalled in the world. For this is no port of call for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin. January 15, 1937
Together again, we climbed to the top of a concrete viewpoint that juts out over the ocean. The crashing waves below were something to see but the sunset was a dud as there were heavy clouds at the horizon and the sun petered out without creating a show. On our last night here, co-incidentally it's our daughter Adia's birthday, we went to the edge of the sea and dipped our feet into the waves. Several people were filling bottles with sea water to take home for a puja. We will just take the memory of this special place with us as we continue on our way.