Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Surya Namaskar

The Kanyakumari Express chugged into the station dot 9.30 am, perfectly late by three hours. Dashing all my hopes of spending arrival hours cavorting in the trinity of the waters hugging India’s tip. The sun now had a typical coastal blaze. I trudged off the platform only to be accosted by milling cabbies offering services dime a dozen. A colleague had scribbled the contact of a lodge near the station and the cabbie was all set to charge a “reasonable” Rs 100 for the “distance”. In a 1.5 sq km town how far could far be, I thought, and preferred checking out options on foot. The moment I got out of the station compound, bang opposite was the lodge! True wheeler-dealers, them cabbies. That was the first and last instance I spent time striking a deal for local transport during my 30 hours at Land’s End.

In Kanyakumari, once called
Cape Comrin, there’s nothing called ‘peak season’. The tourist, pilgrim, traveller is always here, though tour operators suggest April as being the pick of the months, when on its full moon day, in a unique occurrence both sunset and moonrise can be seen simultaneously on the horizon. As far as its climatic seasons go, yes, it does have two: this summer and that summer. So make your choice! A two-day break midst an assignment in Chennai had me seizing my opportunity for this overnight getaway.

Sunset-moonrise-sunrise. Regular occurrence, taken for granted. But here it’s been raised to the level of a performing art form, with show timing on display at every corner. Any one of the elements from this celestial triptych, in combination with the azure confluence—
Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal—is the town’s pivotal attraction. Yes, there’s also the Kumari Amman or Devi Kanya temple dedicated to the deity who as usual fought the demons single handed, the Portuguese church, the Vivekananda rock memorial, the Thiruvalluvar rock memorial, the Gandhi memorial and sundry other tributes on rock, sand, earth, ether, but none can match the prowess of Lord Surya, the sun god, who steals the limelight. Were it not for His radiance, Kanyakumari, I can assure you, would not give any of those marvelous picture perfect shots.

But you see, like most eminent performers, Lord Surya is classy but wont to tantrums. The spectacular morning and evening aside, he is known to rage and blaze, and I just happened to land during one of those sessions. Kanyakumari has this languorous air about it though the heat can play havoc with you. The oceanic waters were tempting and I saw myself queuing up for a ferry ticket to the rock memorials. The lines are long but quite organised. I was snaking along when all of a sudden a surge of Black surrounded me. Why in the world are these men wearing black in such heat, I wondered. They were pilgrims who had descended from Sabriamala; the shores of Kanyakumari being the culmination of their pilgrimage. They were all Shiva worshippers and black is his colour. God bless them.

The ferry ride was quick and I was a tad disappointed. I wouldn’t have minded an arrival delay this time. The Indian Ocean is so immense, so ceaseless, so powerful, yet its waves that are a tsunami one day, can gently caress you on another occasion. The way they were when I was in the ferry. It was blissful.

That bliss got carried forward in some measure to Vivekananda memorial, built on the rock the Swami meditated and gained enlightenment. It’s a soothing structure and a number of visitors who meditate here narrate of a serenity they experience. The place definitely has calming vibes. In contrast is the colossus 133-feet memorial statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar a few nautical miles away on another rock. The mendicant bard seems reduced, or heightened, to Gulliver in stone. As if that’s not overpowering enough, the ocean breeze—gale would be more appropriate—adds its own dimensions. It gives a flight to everything. Hair flies, sarees become air balloons, dupattas take wing. Holding on is a task. Beware if you are a lightweight… you might find yourself blown to
South Africa. Phew! Such is the wind force. Remember it’s capable of harnessing energy. Its sheer magnitude dwarfs us to Lilliputian levels.

Back on shore I walked the streets. There are two main roads cutting across town. One goes north to the railway station, and the other goes west to the bus station. Shops and accommodation is mainly found near the junction of these two roads. The ones near the coastline consider themselves more premium, though all places offer about the same average kind of facilities and food.

The quaint cobbled market on
Sannathi Street near the temple held more attraction for me and I pottered around a bit. It has the usual on sale: she sells seashells, seashell necklaces, curtains and dolls; he sells coconut tableware, masks and bags; and they all sell strips of sand in patent seven colours of the Kanyakumari coast, ritualistic regalia of Devi Kanya temple etc. There are lots of saree shops, and one particular board that interested me was Tamil Nadu Weaver’s Corporative Society. Did they have looms here, I asked. “Most definitely, madam.” Would I be able to visit? “Most definitely, madam” Weaving fascinates me, so there I was with my 12-year-old guide Kuppuswamy, heading towards the cooperative office. On reaching there I was told Madurai was the saree-weaving center, though there were a few looms 20 km from here at Nagercoil. I had been misdirected to a dealer’s residence. It was a communication gap. Disappointed, I began walking back when the gentleman hailed and asked if I would like to see a loom. His friend, a weaver, had set up a small one at home which he used occasionally. “You could even try your hand at it,” he suggested. I was hooked.

The friend was called Anna (brother) by all and welcomed me in. He was obviously a passionate teacher and soon I was under tutelage of the master weaver. The act of weaving is considered metaphorically powerful in
India, with textile lexicon often being used to express a philosophical thought. For instance, sutra originating from the word sut (thread) means stringing together a guru’s teaching. Tantra is from tant (warp) and denotes that which can go beyond limits. Yantra (loom) is creation of a form for meditation. And so on. All those similes took shape as I sat by the loom binding warp and weft, giving form to some loose threads. It looks easy and effortless. It’s not.

My lessons were in Tamil, and all I know is the word begins with T. Language proved no barrier and at the end of three hours I had managed to weave a two-inch strip for a South-cotton maroon saree. Who cares it was sans design and just a plain band. I did it. And someone at Anna’s home will be wearing a saree I had a hand in making. The experience had been elevating.

I was still busy at the loom, when suddenly I heard an urgent voice saying “sunset time”. It was an out-of-breath Kuppuswamy sticking to his promise of taking me to the best spot to see the spectacle. We sprinted, wriggling past the numbers to reach atop a rock. I stood captivated at the edge of the endless blue ocean domed by an orange-red sky. As the big fiery ball mellowed, myriad colours filled the cosmic canvas. Breeze wafted. If divinity had a form this was it. It humbled. The moments were truly breathtaking. Lord Surya’s performance had been masterful. Cameras and thousands of voices buzzed around me. I turned to give Kuppuswamy a thumbs up. He smiled.

If sunset is divine, the sunrise matches it in aura. At all places of stay, be it the lodges or the star-grade hotels, the wake up password is “sunrise”. Frenetic activity can immediately be heard in corridors. I tumbled out of bed and checked my watch. It was
4.05 am. Granny should be pleased. For once in my lifetime I had woken up at “holy time”. Even the chemistry exam and its millions formulae couldn’t get me out of slumber that early. Kanyakumari did. It was worthy. Yes, dawn exudes a certain unmatchable peace.

The Kanya temple opens doors early and I stood in queue once again.
Temple interiors are dark and dingy but faith knows no obstacles and fan following continues to be serpentine. Morning chants resonated inside. Ceiling high brass diyas being lit with ghee filled the space with its distinct aroma. It’s legends, which add that touch of supernatural charm at places of worship. One such is about the supremacy of the presiding devi. The deity Kanya wears a brilliant diamond nose ring that is supposed to emit a powerful ray that supposedly makes ships crash against rocks near the shore. Thus the temple’s sea-facing eastern gate is opened only on particular occasions.

I still had 12 hours in hand. After tucking into a breakfast of half-dozen deliciously fluffy idlis at a princely price of Rs 7 (someone teach urban restaurants this economics), I was on my way to do the touristy circuit of Suchindaram, Nagercoil—where sand is given as parsadam at the Nagaraj temple, Padmanabhapuram, Kovalam and Thiruvananthapuram. It’s a 180-km/7 hours round trip, which is all about lush Kerala countryside, a temple overdose, an over-hyped beach, but an exquisite 400-year-old palace. The seat of power of the Travancore rulers dating back to the 17-18th century, the
Padmanabhapuram Palace is considered an epitome of Kerala architecture. Built in local granite and teakwood that has amazingly stood the test of time. It is immaculately maintained and a guided tour through its labyrinth of 108 rooms is striking.

Back to base well before time to board the
5.15 pm train, I gave the ocean one last look. Boundless, blue and beautiful. The sky was beginning to adorn colours from the palette. Today I wont see the spectacle. I had to go. Land’s End, do they say? Kanyakumari seems eternal.


AIR: Nearest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram, 86 km from here.

TRAIN: 2633 Kanyakumari Express leaves Chennai (Egmore station) at 1730 to get here by 0630

When to go

Round the year, though November to January and April, especially on its full moon day, are preferred.

Timeline: Lots to do in two days

Family: Perfect destination

Food: Average Indian. Stick to traditional fare. Breakfast at market restaurants is good and cheap.

Stay options: Ample choice for all budgets. Rooms are usually rented out for 24 hours.

* Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram round trip costs Rs 250 by mini coach (minimum 5 pax) or Rs 1,200 by private cab.

Tour Operators approved by TTDC:

Triveni Tours & Travels -- 04652-246184

Sabaree Travels -- 246157

* In case you want to meditate, Vivekananda Memorial is open daily except Tuesdays. Admission fee Rs 10. Carry a pair of cotton socks if it’s a hot day as shoes have to be taken off here and the stone floor can scorch.

Published India Today Travel Plus

1 comment:

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