By P Ravi Shankar
I had always looked forward to visiting Kanyakumari. The idea of standing at the southernmost tip of India and gazing at the vastness of the Indian ocean was irresistible. There is no major land mass till you reach the southern continent of Antarctica. The union of the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal make this area, referred to as TriveniSea, unique.
We wanted to visit the Southern most part – the Vivekananda rock, where Swami Vivekananda meditated before going to Chicago in 1893. However, the gate slammed shut as we rushed to the ferry terminal. It was past four in the afternoon, the hour when the last ferry departs for the rock that was at a point peaceful and calm. With it evaporated our hopes of visiting the Vivekananda rock memorial at Kanyakumari.
We were not deterred by having failed in our endeavour. We decide to continue our exploration on the mainland to see as much as we could. Huge crowds were everywhere. It was school holiday season, and everyone seemed to be travelling. Chaotic was the word that would best describe the situation. As my travel companion, Subhish, and I moved around, we noticed nearly every house in Kanyakumari seemed to have been converted into a restaurant and a homestay though waste management was poor and the toilets – especially in the tourist spots — were unsanitary and unusable.
We went to the Gandhi Mandapam by the Triveni Sea from where the Vivekananda Rock could be viewed. You can get an excellent view of the Vivekananda memorial and the statue from the top floor. In February 1948, Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were immersed at this intersection. The memorial building houses several old photographs relating to Gandhi’s life but the museum needs maintenance and cleaning.
Kanyakumari houses ancient history. Our journey had started at the Sree Adi Kesava Perumal Temple, a temple dedicated to Vishnu, a major Hindu God, had been built in the Dravidian style and dates back at least to the seventh century. The stone and wood carvings speak of the deep devotion of the craftsmen.
Kanyakumari district had been part of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore. King Marthanda Verma, who lived in the eighteenth century, is regarded as the founder of the Kingdom of Travancore. He had defeated the Dutch East India Company. A staunch devotee of Vishnu, he would pray before all his campaigns. Kanyakumari district had been the granary of the Travancore kingdom and was handed over to Tamil Nadu during the re-organisation of India along linguistic lines in 1956. Subish mentioned how his parents had told him about the fear and violence that existed for several years after the handover. Some of the monuments in the district are still maintained by the Kerala government under a 99-year lease.
Just before lunch, we had visited the Padmanabhapuram palace, the capital of the Travancore kings which was rebuilt on an earlier structure from in the sixteenth century. King Marthanda Verma dedicated his kingdom to Lord Padmanabha, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu. The King and his successors saw themselves as Padmanabha dasa or subjects of the lord. The palace was vast and sprawling and situated in a four-kilometre-long fortress. Made entirely of wood, it had exquisite carvings. Though in some places, only the frames remain to suggest a story. There seemed to be massive halls where up to a thousand people could be fed at one time. They suggest a testament to the generosity of the kings. The palace unfortunately does not provide a glimpse into the life of its royal inhabitants. Having visited several museums and palaces elsewhere, I believe serious thought and action may be required on how to present this cultural gem better to visitors.
The Pechiparai Reservoir, where we stopped, has an interesting history. The dam was built across the Pechai River by a British engineer, Mr. Minchin working in the Travancore irrigation department. The site is peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle, and surrounded by green hills. In the 1880s when the dam was being built this would have been a remote location. Mr. Minchin’s grave has a home here – far from his own homeland in Britain.
We also visited structures closer to our times — the Mathoor Aqueduct, built in 1965. This is among the longest aqueducts in India. I was reminded of the Roman aqueducts. The view of the surrounding valley and hills from the aqueduct was spectacular. A rich agricultural area, you can walk along the aqueduct, come down and walk through the garden and playgrounds and then climb back to the starting point.
We drove to Sunset Point to watch the sun dip into the ocean after a hard day’s work. The sunset was spectacular. The few clouds had disappeared. The circular orb slowly sank into the silver sea.
As dusk set in we started to drive back to Eraniel, Subhish’s hometown where we were staying. Subhish worked in Dubai and was on holiday like me. We stopped at Kilometre Zero on the national highway. The Indian politician, Rahul Gandhi had started his Bharat Jodho yatra here a few months ago. ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari’ is a popular slogan in India and this spot is a popular starting or ending point for political and other such marches.
Kanyakumari has red bananas everywhere. They grow well in this soil. I am partial to this variety and enjoy them whenever and wherever I can. The district has several ancient Hindu temples. We were now returning from Kanyakumari. Dusk had settled in and there was a huge line of cars going back to Nagarkovil (Nagercoil in English). We were searching for the nongu fruit also known as ice apple, palmyra palm, and by several other names. We eventually located one at a roadside stall. Eating nongu was one of the best experiences of my life. An absolute delight.
Kanyakumari district has seen great progress over the last few decades. People from all over India have settled here. There are several water bodies scattered throughout the land and several wind farms. Tamil Nadu is among the wind energy giants in India. The climate here is less harsh compared to other parts of Tamil Nadu. Indians now have a good disposable income and are eager to explore their vast country. Will the tourism authorities pick up the gauntlet and cater to this population or will they continue along the old self-centred ways? Only time will tell!
 Translates to where three sacred rivers – in this case oceans — meet
 Unite India March carried out in 2022 by the Congress Party
*Photos by P Ravi Shankar and Subhish, where unacknowledged
Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.
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