Colourful Kanyakumari, South India: Life at the pointy bit of the ‘v’
Matilda, Glynn and their three-year-old son Noah have been travelling through India for nearly two months on the first leg of a round-the-world trip that will take them across Asia and Down Under. They have zigzagged across Kerala and Tamil Nadu in South India. Here’s a taste of life at the very most Southern point…
As a family of Londoners we’re used to seeing faces from all races and backgrounds. So walking through the ancient and colourful streets of Kanyakumari, where houses are painted bright pinks, yellows and zingy greens, and boats gleam with an azure lacquer brighter than the the natural hue of the water, it was surprising to find ourselves apparently the only caucasions for miles around.
In fairness it is low season, so it’s possible that more Westerners reach the very furthest point of India, the pointy bit of the “v”, during more popular months. But walking through the crowded markets, finding ourselves swept up in the masses headed to the Kumari Amman Temple, we became a point of interest with people pointing and nudging each other to draw attention to us.
At the Gandhi memorial (some of his ashes were scattered here, the rest distributed at the most north, east and westerly reachers of India), I descended some steps to find a whole class of schoolchildren gazing apparently disbelievingly, slack-jawed in our direction, some later trying to grab my hair. Noah, with his pale brown mop and cheeky grin, now believes himself to be a celebrity because he is high fived, pinched, tickled and asked his name by everyone we meet. He’s started behaving a little like Kardashian toddler, saying: “No more pictures” to the selfie-hungry crowds.
Kanyakumari is a huge tourist destination for Indians as it’s such a spiritual place. The sea clashes onto the dark, jagged rocks and swirls around two offshore attractions: the Vivekananda Memorial four hundred metres out to sea, a temple built on the rock where the famous Hindu apostle Swami Vivekananda meditated for 48 hours in from 25 December 1892; and the 40ft stone Thiruvalluvar Statue which looms inland at us to the right of Vivekananda, looking like it’s been there for generations, but which was actually erected in 2000.
The people here are remarkably friendly, especially given that foreigners seem to be a relatively rare sight. Every traveller should have a smiley toddler with them, it’s like a golden ticket into places you’d never normally be allowed.
Rite of passage
Noah was invited into the home of a woman who lived on the sea front and his presence helped us squeeze into a boat laden with passengers headed to the Vivekanda memorial. We found ourselves the only non-Hindus allowed into the inner chamber of the Amman Temple, a dark space of worship carved out of rock facing the ocean. Legend has it that the sea-facing door of the cavernous, candle-lit space where you can hear the crash of the ocean stays locked to prevent the glimmer from the goddess Kumari’s nose ring from leading ships astray.
We removed our shoes and Glynn had to remove his shirt like all the other men and we waited in an ante-chamber for an inner sanctum in the 3,000-year-old temple to open. We were pushed inside with the surging bodies around us to find icons of Kumari, a manifestation of the Great Goddess Devi, lit with flames, flowers and incense. It was quite overwhelming, but even Noah stayed quiet and respectful as those around us drank in the smoke from the flames and washed their faces in it. Outside beggars with distorted bodies and missing limbs were a sobering contrast to the bright beauty of the temple and the landscape.
Where the three seas meet
There is an eeriness to Kanyakumari. Like Land’s End in Cornwall (although very, very different) it is a place you have to try pretty hard to get to – and it proved quite difficult to leave, too, with the few trains that head North packed to bursting.
It is the only place in the world where, at certain times of the year, you can see the sun set and the moon rise simultaneously. For road-weary travellers it is quite refreshing as you simply have to stop and taken it in because you can’t go any further south without swimming.