Kanyakumari is basically as far south as you can go in India. If you tried to go any further south you’d probably drown. You wouldn’t even know which ocean you actually drowned in either on account of the fact that this is where three oceans meet, it’d be like some manner of water inhalation lottery. You could meet your doom in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea or the Bay of Bengal. It’s also the beginning (or the end?) of the longest single train ride in the country which runs all the way up to Dibrugarh in Assam 4241km away and takes a whopping 85 hours. That’s if it’s on time, and who’s ever heard of a train in India running on time? The geek in me wants to do it but whilst epic journeys like this seem awesome in theory, the reality would be way less romantic and would probably involve a lot of train food of dubious origin, a small portion of your lower colon spread out along the tracks in remote parts of the country and four mornings of waking up to that horrific chorus of a hundred Indians clearing out their sinuses that everyone who’s travelled sleeper class overnight will be familiar with. Yeah nah, I have a 25 hour journey booked from Bangalore to Mumbai at the end of January. I think I’d like to keep that as my official Longest Time Spent On A Train record.
The trip to The Tip (as it’s known when you can’t remember the actual name past the first two syllables) ended up being free. I was sat in Kovalam waiting for a direct bus to my destination when a guy came up and asked me if I could help his uncle get to Kanyakumari too. He wanted to get the bus down but wasn’t familiar with… something… buses or the area. I have no idea. Of course I said I would, and together we ended up giving up on the idea of a direct bus and caught one to Trivandrum where we could pick up one of the more regular buses south. Yosef, his name was. From Kashmir. Nice fella, and he insisted on paying for my bus fare so I silently forgave him the occasional unsubtle glance at my cleavage. I don’t know why he needed my help either to be honest, he did just as well as me at asking people where we needed to be. Maybe he just wanted the company, who knows, but it saved me ₹70. Boom.
It’s apparently not easy finding a place to crash this close to Christmas either. I’ve ended up in a place called Narmada Lodge which insists on printing the hotel name on all of the linen, I guess so if you nick off with it you’ll have a lovely reminder of your stay. It’s mint green and white striped though. It looks like toothpaste. It’ll not go with your curtains. My room also has a strip light with a barely perceptible flicker. Not much, but just enough to give your frontal lobe a nervous breakdown. Cheap hotels are always a fun way to find out if you have epilepsy or not.
You really really really don’t need two nights here ay, but I had so much time to kill before heading back to Varkala for Christmas I just booked in for two. Franziska was here too but in a nicer hotel without illumination that’d trigger a neurological disorder. And the whole fucking town was packed out! I thought it was because it was Sunday but it was just as busy on Monday an’ all. I was told by a Hare Krishna from London whilst I was in Kovalam that it was a really significant place on account of the fact that’s where Hanuman, the monkey god, built the bridge to Sri Lanka to help Rama. Actually she’s wrong, the place she’s thinking of is Rameswaram. People, whether they’re Hindu or Hare Krishnas or not, flock here to watch the sun rise over the three seas. They also come to watch the sunset and there’s a monstrosity of a concrete lookout tower, with a spiral ramp that wouldn’t look out of place in a multi-story car park built in the 70’s, that you can climb up for ₹10 for the least spectacular sunset India has to offer. I liked it though. It gives you great views and you can get a real sense of just how many people there are in town, watching the fiery sky ball sink right at the bottom end of India. It’s a good atmosphere. It usually is when you put a bunch of Indian tourists in one place, they know how to have a good time and they don’t have the same inhibitions as we do in the west. They’ll scream and shout and disobey warning signs and generally just enjoy life.
Anyway, usually when you drag your lazy carcass out of bed to watch the sunrise in India it’s just you and a handful of others shuffling through the mostly deserted streets as cows eye you quizzically and your basic motor functions struggle to keep up. At 5.30am though, Kanyakumari is alive. You couldn’t sleep in even if you wanted to, everyone else in your hotel will be awake. Apparently, reception called Franziska before her alarm even went off with an un-asked for wake up call because they didn’t want her to miss the sunrise, then proceeded to knock on her door too. That’s halfway between being really sweet that they’re worried she’ll miss the main attraction, and risking getting their fucking teeth knocked out. But you have to fight your way through crowds for this one. I think as long as you’re looking at the massive statue thing in the water then you’re facing vaguely the right way. We shuffled to where we though we’d get some good shots, sat down and waited. Horns sounded from somewhere at 6.28am because everything significant in India must be marked by some kind of deafening noise and we pretty much just watched it get light as the sun rose behind a cloud bank over three seas. Fuck you, clouds.
I’ve no idea which sea is which though. They need to dye them different colours or some shit so people know what they’re looking at. At one point, waves come directly towards the shoreline as different waves come in from the right, perpendicular to the shore. So that’s gotta be at least two seas hey? I mean, that’s how oceans work, right? Anyone? I’m surprised more people don’t get swept away either, folks were climbing on the rocks and letting the waves hit them.
Eventually the Indian tourists will lose interest in the sunrise and start photographing your pasty white mush instead so you stand there pointing your fixed grin at whatever camera is being brandished at any given time before making a quick escape in search of idli sambhar because your stomach has woken up and wants to know why it’s not been filled with spicy, breakfasty goodness yet.
And here’s where we indulged in a game of “find shit to do in Kanyakumari that doesn’t involve queuing for a ferry for an hour.” It basically involved taking photos of lots of things including a church called Lady of Ransom which has a pure gold cross on the roof. If that was back home someone would have had that away ages ago and it’d be sat in a Cash Converters window priced at £29.99. We had a quick look inside too and it was surprisingly basic. There were a few pews either side but mainly it was open space and a few worshippers were sat cross legged on the hard, tiled floor. Poor buggers. At least the Sikhs get a nice carpet. We photographed some boats and the Gandhi Memorial, then headed to India’s first wax work museum. Well it’d be rude not to given that it’s right next to my hotel. It’s ₹60 but guys, that’s overpriced. Madame Toussaud’s doesn’t need to start shitting itself any time soon. The first model is Michael Jackson and yes, I know that by the time he died his face could be used to scare small children but seriously, Wonder Wax, this is terrifying. I shall be billing you for my therapy. I did, however, get to take a selfie with Obama and everyone knows he’s mad for selfies, that one. I got one with Mother Theresa too. Me and Mammy T rocked the selfie.
There are mandapams on the island where you’re not allowed to take photos. I don’t even know what a fucking mandapam is despite the fact I’ve now been in two of them thanks to this little excursion. Maybe it’s Tamil for “temple.” One of them is built around a “natural rock protrusion, brownish in colour, that resembles a human foot.” So you go in and they have indeed built the fucking thing around this rock shape and they’ve covered it in glass and people have thrown money at it. I guess it does kinda look like a foot. It’s missing its toes though but they’ve taken care of that with little round things that look like Cheerios. According to the sign, an incarnation of Parviti did something or other on this spot to win Lord Shiva’s hand so that’s why it’s an important place. I have no idea what she did. They got all glarey when I got the camera out to photograph the sign.
The other mandapam is built where Swami Vivekananda meditated. It’d actually pretty cool inside and there’s a statue of the Swami and the pillars are made from what looks like black marble and covered in engravings which are white. It’s all very 80’s.
Fifteen minutes later and I’d walked around the island about three times. Slowly. I joined the massive line for the ferry back. As I stood in the queue I realised that I had no idea if the ferry was going to take us back to the mainland or onwards to the other island, the one with the 133ft tall statue of Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. What if I had no choice in the matter? What if I’d be forced to disembark and surrender my footwear and wander around the island and queue for yet another 50 minutes for another ferry? What if I’d inadvertently committed to a whole motherfucking sightseeing extravaganza as soon as I’d joined that queue on the mainland? It was like that time I went to Ikea in Croydon and nearly had a breakdown because they’d laid it out so you were forced to walk a certain route. As soon as you walk through the door you instantly lose all free will to roam as you please and are cunningly steered past ALL of their things whether you wanted an understated yet stylish lamp or not, but at least Ikea had a shortcut to the cafe with all those amazing Swedish meatballs in that incredible sauce and the ridiculously cheap 250ml bottle of white wine. Aaaaand that’s kinda the story of how I accidentally got drunk on my own in Ikea one time.
As the line shuffled forwards I saw a sign that read, “Due to low tide, ferry to AyyanThiruvalluvar rock has been temporarily suspended.” I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be told I can’t do something before. I was so over being a tourist for the day. All I wanted was to stand under a cold shower and not sweat for the four minutes after stepping out of said cold shower before the humidity kicked in again and relieved my cells of their fluid.
And in other news, I finally got some deep fried chillis in my life. I waited until I got back to my hotel room before I ate them though because whilst Indians swear they’re not spicy, I don’t trust their judgment when it comes to shit that could possibly melt your palette and I didn’t want to cry in public. Turns out they’re not spicy at all. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not my favourite street food, I prefer a bit of a kick with my potential gut rot, but my sphincter will be pleased I didn’t insist on setting fire to my digestive system three times in one day.
Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India
Stayed at: Hotel Narmadha