LAND’S END IN INDIA
It’s a strange, almost surreal moment.
Standing on the rocky shore looking south across the Indian Ocean, it is difficult not to feel a sense of awe bordering on the mystical. Behind me reaching across 1.7 million square kilometers is the vast seething sub-continent of India in all its diversity of language, customs, religions and peoples. And this is where it ends. Abruptly. Waves slap against stone steps and the surf breaks over boulders which jut stark and black against the glitter of blue-grey waters of three oceans – the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
This is Kanyakumari (previously known as Cape Comorin) at the southern tip of India
The eastern sky is flushed pink and mauve, and as the sun, an enormous flaming sphere, emerges over the misty horizon, it is greeted with a bray of conch shells, the tinkle of bells from the nearby temple dedicated to the goddess Kumari, and the chant of mantras over a loudspeaker affixed to a nearby pole.
The morning has a pale, fragile loveliness, but the light hardens quickly, bringing into focus two rocky islands. On one of them stands an incongruous, if not downright ugly 133 foot stone statue of Thiruvalluvar, a Tamil poet who extolled virtue, wealth and love. On the other outcrop some distance away, is a temple dedicated to Swami Vivekananda, a beloved Indian scholar, monk and philosopher. Early morning devotees swarm like small freckles at the entrance of the distant shrine.
Back at my modest little hotel I tuck into a typical South Indian breakfast: idli-sambar—spongy rice cakes that pair with a soupy lentil, and a masala dosa—a crepe shell stuffed with spicy potatoes and eaten with mint chutney. To finish off the meal, my waiter pours me sweet milky South Indian coffee in a tiny cup.
Hunger pangs allayed, I explore the town, strolling along narrow streets flanked by houses painted orange, green, purple and red. Local folks wave and smile, and a small boy insists on accompanying me as I emerge onto a fisherman’s beach, stacked with canoes. “Nice? You like?” he asks as I aim my camera.
Back near the spot where I was earlier this morning, the tide has ebbed exposing a stretch of beach which is now filled with happy tourists, wading, splashing and clicking group selfies. Children splash in the shallows and bare-chested fishermen harvest tiny crabs and eels from tide pools in a rocky outcrop.
Street cart vendors sell ice-cream, and newspaper cones filled with salted peanuts, stray dogs sleep in the shade of shop awnings, and bare-bodied holy men, their faces smeared with ash, sit cross-legged on the ground with their begging bowls before them. The sun throws sharp-edged shadows along the sidewalks, and the mid-day heat and humidity lies blanket-like against my skin.
Kanyakumari at first glance is a stronghold of Hindu temples, but India is a land of diversity – both secular and religious, and I come across Our Lady of Ransom Catholic church, looking like a white icing-covered wedding cake in the blinding sunlight. The interior is serene, and deserted except for a bent old woman kneeling near the altar.
The cool marble floor has an Escher-like geometrical pattern that tricks the eye—and at the far end a flower bedecked shrine encloses a statue of the Virgin Mary and Child. It is one of several churches and pretty little chapels that line the town’s winding streets.
At the close of day, I sit on a boulder at the western end of Kanyakumari’s sea front, watching the sun—a blood-orange disc in a sky swathed in purple and magenta—dip into the Arabian Sea.
A mile away from the bluster of the town a long tongue of sand interspersed with tufts of wild grass spreads out towards the water, and massive rock formations crouch like humped whales in the gathering dusk. It is a lonely, eerie spot.
Where the sea licks the shore, a pillar is silhouetted against the purple night sky. It is Kanyakumari’s Christian fishermen’s shrine, surmounted by a statue of the Virgin and Child. Inscriptions read “Stellar Maris – O Ra Pro Nobis”—Mary, Star of the Sea, Pray for Us. And the plea: “Save Us From Perils on the Sea.”
As the dusk deepens and the day sinks to rest, a finger-nail new moon rises in the vast star-studded night sky.
IF YOU GO:
Kanyakumari is accessible by air (Trivandrum airport), rail and road.
PHOTOS: By Margaret Deefholts unless otherwise indicated.
1. Vivekananda Rock Memorial By Ravivg: http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21131445
2. Thiruvalluvar By Docku: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6977283
3. Our Lady of Ransom Church
4. Shrine of Our Lady of Ransom
5. Our Lady of Ransom Church Interior
5a. Our Lady of Ransom Church floor design
6. Our Lady of Ransom Church chapel
7. St. Ignatius Church
9. Kanyakumari Street
10. Colourful house, Kanyakumari – Glenn Deefholts
11. Kanyakumari overview – Glenn Deefholts
12. On the Beach, Kanyakumari – Glenn Deefholts
13. Fishing boats, Kanyakumari
14. Fishermen’s Cove, Kanyakumar by Glenn Deefholts
15. Author watching the sunset, Kanyakumari by Glenn Deefholts
16. Stella Maris, Queen of the Sea Statue, Kanyakumari
17. Devotees at Stella Maris
18. Moonrise – Stella Maris
19. Sunset point, Kanyakumari
20. Twilight, Kanyakumari
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