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Tuesday, 10 April 2007

At India's Cape with Good Hope

Many years ago, when I would hear about Kanyakumari, it used to fascinate me. My god, you can see a confluence of three oceans here... I used to think, amazed but strangely, it never dawned on me that visiting the place could ever be a possibility.

And then, many years later, I heard a casual reference of Kanyakumari from my husband whose family is settled in
Trivandrum. I learnt that Kanyakumari is about three hours away from my in-laws home.

I was excited as I asked Sujith if we could go there. "Yes we can try to," was the casual response. I was surprised to hear no excitement and no awe of the place. It was only later when I learnt that going to Kanyakumari is a routine for these people and they are no tourists there.

Though they often plan a vacation to Kanyakumari, they were little amused by my fascination towards the place.

However, a trip was arranged and it was supposed to be a three night and 2 day visit. Thanks to my mother-in-law's job at the
Census Directorate, our stay was arranged at the Central Government Employees Holiday Inn.

Oceans, Shopping and Tranquility

We, my father and mother-in-law and my sister-in-law with her two little daughters reached Kanyakumari towards evening after brief visits to the temples at Pallugal (my mother-in-law's family deity) and Tirchendur (I will write more about this in the posts to come).

As our car approached the road to our Guest House, I saw and heard the waves welcoming me. From a distance, the road we were taking seemed to abruptly end somewhere. But of course, the concrete road gave way to the beach.

First things first, a visit to the beach was an absolute must before settling down. So the car was parked and we walked (I almost rushed) to the beach. Suddenly, there I stood overlooking an expanse of water ... I looked towards my feet and was quiet for a moment. I was standing on the Indian Ocean with the water from the Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal softly caressing my feet.

It was amazing ... the sheer creation of nature. Somewhere in the ocean, I would see the
Vivekananda Rock Memorial staring at us. So this where the Swami swam and came?

The others were busy controlling the 3-year-old girl with us who was insisting to wet herself fully in water without anybody's help! I was of no help to them because I was standing speaking to myself, thanking my in laws for bringing me to this place.

And now, we had to see something which makes tourists shell out potfulls of money — the sunset. It was the perfect time as the sun was about to drown. We drove up to the sunset point (which was just a few meters away from our guest house).

We all badly needed to put our legs to rest and sat around the place with cups of tea. The cool breeze blowing across the ocean acted as a tranquilizer to our bodies.

There were clusters of eager people like me who were going to see this sight for the first time. And suddenly I saw everybody looking to one side.

Yes, there it was, the crimson ball gently going down the water. The sight was truly breathtaking ... the water seemed to open it's hands and cradle the sun so comfortably in its fold. Well, this was some view. Immediately, the crowd dispersed but we sat and chatted for sometime and finally got up to retire to our guest house.

For the others with me, it was like homecoming and even I felt so homely at the place. I was still little lost thinking that i'm actually at the land's end of India...

My meticulous in laws instantly chalked out the plans for the rest of our stay. Next day early morning, we would go to see the sunrise, get back to the hotel, freshen up and then visit the Kanyakumari temple, do some window shopping and return back to the hotel by lunch time (which by the way is 1 o clock for them). After that we were supposed to go to a water theme park for the children's sake.

There was no way I would be lazy to get up the next morning. We were up at five and by six we rushed to the sunrise point. It was quite crowded and very badly maintained. But surprisingly, people still thronged to the place and stayed put amidst the garbage lying there.

After all, who would want to miss a sunrise at Kanyakumari? The wait was for quite sometime and in between a crow nicely released itself on my hand! I had to go up to the water to clean it... and to be honest, I really didn't mind since I got a chance to go near the sea again.

We stood there for a long time as the clouds played pranks on us. We overheard some people saying it will be cloudy throughout the day, the sun won't come out ... no point wasting your time.

Many people even started going... I was so crestfallen as I was just about to lose my first opportunity to see the sunrise I heard so much about.

We almost turned back when Sujith suddenly shouted that sun's coming up... His camera instantly started snapping as we all looked to the direction.

The ocean, which had so lovingly put the sun to sleep was sending it back to wake all of us up. It was enchanting and I found it difficult to take my eyes off. I could hear people saying that because of the clouds, it is not as beautiful as it generally looks.

But to me, it really didn't matter ... I got a chance to see some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Sometime after I had marvelled at the sunrise, I stood and admired the Kanyakumari Devi, looking so delicate and lovely in the temple, smiling and blessing all her devotees, her famous nose ring illuminating the eyes of the eager onlookers.

I was blessed they told me, since I got an opportunity to see her being bathed and then the arathi. So many times, I thanked whoever is up there of everything that he is giving me.

This place was full of surprises for me, I realised after taking a walk down the market. The well stocked market would stump any traveller. You get all sorts of miscellaneous things, from saris for Rs 80 to shells curtains for Rs 300.

There were shops selling everything for five rupees and wonderful footwear for Rs 70. Shopping was an absolute must but it had to wait till the evening because no one will be able to take the blinding heat.

Kanyakumari, once a part of Kerala, still has a lot of
Travancore even after years of being a part of the Tamil Nadu. So, most people could speak Malayalam and the food also had similarities.

With instructions from my mother-in-law, our lunch was also typically malayali with the traditional thoran, sambhar and fish. The only difference was that we were served white rice instead of the typical red rice. I enjoyed the meal but was informed later that the non-veg dishes were tastier.

The water park visit was one of the most exciting experiences of our trip. Spread over a huge area, Baywatch, as it was called, was a beautifully constructed water park. After getting a good discount for the tickets, we decided to visit the wax museum first.

Considering that Baywatch has the first wax museum in India, I felt that it deserves more publicity in the North.

For us, it was the
Madame Tussauds of India and we excitedly examined the wax statues. Our hair raised when we saw M.S. Subbulakshmi carved showing tears in her eyes, which often was the case when she used to sing.

The rest of the statues were also quite impressive and I kept wondering why haven't they publicised this one of a kind place.

The kids were getting impatient to get into the water but we decided to sample the other joy rides first. My sis-in-law and mom-in-law were in their enthusiastic best as they got on to all those rides they thought they
could manage.

Here, I have to confess that I was the old lady who didn't dare to get into any fast moving rides fearing I would puke! In between my dear father-in-law treated us to some yummy mango bars.

Now, it was time to get into the water and just then we were told that the waves are going to be started soon in the wave pool. The children were excited as they soaked themselves into water in the almost real looking waves.

But it was the other water rides which made us kids at least for an hour. Doing a big show of bravery, I got into a slide in the kids pool! But I was immediately pulled to the bigger rides by my husband.

Looking at the long, scary slides that would lead us directly into the water, I decided not to try it out. But who am I to decide alone? I was forced to sit into one of the slides with my hubby ... Sliding down we went with me shouting at the top of my voice.

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it ... But our excitement doubled when we succeeded in forcing our sister to join us. The darling that she is, she not only agreed to accompany me, she also was quite excited! It was great fun as our threesome repeated this till our legs allowed us.

Somewhere down there, we could hear the kids shouting to their mother to come down to the small rides but their mother was kidnapped by us. Mom and dad-in-law were enjoying looking at us and clicking our pictures ... Ah, what an experience it was... Our energies were giving up but the prospect of shopping again rejuvenated us!

We raided the sari and footwear shop. I was strictly commanded to keep my mouth shut as the other ladies with me conversed expertly with the shopkeepers in Tamil.

Kerala House where we had our dinner was an impressive place. The tall ceiling and the ancient feel of it was so soothing. Situated right at the seashore, one could hear the waves lapping up every minute. It was a much awaited Kerala meal for the people with me as we got back to our Guest House contented.

The night there was awesome ... the only sounds to be heard was of the ocean as I and Sujith took a small walk within our guest house. We were supposed to leave early next day but especially for me, a trip was planned to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial.

Why everyone was reluctant for the visit I realised when I got into the boat which took us to the rock. Dilapidated and ancient, the boat was ill-equipped for any contingency.

Carrying about 70 people, I counted exactly 10 available life jackets on the boat. My visit to the rock memorial and the Thiruvallur statue was very ordinary when I compared it to the excitement I felt reaching Kanyakumari.

The one thing which kept crossing my mind throughout the trip was that it will take just a tsunami to destroy all this... what would have happened to all the shopkeepers and the inhabitants of this place on that fateful day when the word tsunami became known throughout the world? Well, one really can't escape the curses of nature ...

Bags packed and smiles intact, we were just getting ready to get into the car, when my husband came and asked me if the little girl had come to our room ... She had not I casually replied and returned back to my phone conversation with mom.

In between I could see people rushing here and there when I kept the phone and rushed outside. The little one was missing I learnt... Just how helpless we are in situations like this...

Everyone, including each and every staff of the guest house was frantically shouting and running around. I stayed back convincing my father-in-law to sit back and relax. I was afraid he will have a heart attack ...

She was found sitting right below her mother's bed sampling every content of her mom's vanity case ...

The little angel was completely unaware of what she had done to our poor hearts ... Thanking God, we were swiftly on our way back home.

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