87.TAMILNADU (2). Around Kanyakumari

Leaving behind the fort at Udaygiri, we move towards Kanyakumari via Suchindram and Kottaram, small but important places on the coast. The landscape of this area is quite interesting and beautiful. It is green all around and the granite boulders of the last hillocks of the western Ghats add a touch of glamour to the place.

Our night halt is at Kanyakumari but before we close the day we find time to look around the place. It is all too familiar. We have been here before. The place attracts a very large number of visitors. It is billed as the place where three seas meet. The Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It is not easy as that but let us concede a point to the tourist establishment of the place so that they can earn their living. We do not intend to spend a lot of time here. Just to take some pictures and move on.

The two memorials in the sea are now easily visible. The first and the older one is for Swami Vivekananda, and the taller and the recent one is for Thiruvalluvar. Going by the geography, Thiruvalluvar has a better claim to the rocks, being the son of the soil who did not go to Chicago, US, which Vivekananda did and called there everyone ‘Brothers and Sisters’ which is incorrect. Anyway, everyone in India loves Swami Vivekananda and nobody knows what he did or said except for what I have just said.Not many know Thiruvallavuvar.

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Apart from the Memorials on the Rocks, temples and the church continue to function from the shore. They are doing brisk business like the hotels and lodges around.

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The Lighthouse at Kanyakumari is easily accessible. It is on the roadside. If you are reading this blog, you would have noticed that we make special efforts to visit lighthouses on the coast. It is not that we are studying their functioning or the technicalities. They serve to make sure that we do not miss many places along the coast.

Fort.Vattakottai. Heard of this? Even if they did, most people will casually mention that this was a Dutch fort. No, sir. It was not. It was built by the Travancore kings with the assistance of their Dutch (or Belgium or Flemish) prize captive De Lannoy whom we met in the last post. The Travancore state’s emblem is very much at the entrance.

Vattakottai means ‘circular’ or round.The shape does not seems to be round. However, this fort ranks among the best of the seaside forts of India. One should walk around the fort which projects into the sea and has a good view of the waters all around.

The insides of the fort are well-maintained and clean. You can have very nice view of the seas around. I believe it is the Arabian sea or the Laccadives Sea, not the Indian Ocean and certainly not the Bay of Bengal.

Inside the fort you wil find this ‘windswept’ tree, as they call it in Bonsai. I am not sure if this shape is caused by the winds.

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‘Windswept’ Neem Tree.

When in Kanyakumari, please make it a point to visit this fort. Not many people do. Not even 5% of the tourists visiting Kanyakumari come here.

Having done with the Fort we move on to another place in the vicinity, driving through the beautiful landscape.

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Manakudy is a seaside place which is said to have been badly affected by the 1974 cyclone which destroyed Dhanushkodi.

Manakudy is on both sides of ‘lake Manakudy’ which actually is an estuary and on both sides of it you will find a number of pretty churches.

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St Thomas Church

Cross this bridge and a mangrove forest and you are into the western part of Manakudy.

The western part has a long beach and th St Andrew’s Church. By the time we are here, it is midday and it is very hot. You can see it in the pictures below. We decide not to proceed further up north or north-West and return back to Kanyakumari.

People going up to Kanyakumari please note something important. Most of the people go and see the rock and the memorials and move on. You are missing a land of exquisite natural beauty.

In this area around Kanyakumari you will find this interesting species of bird called Openbill or Openbilled Stork. The shape of his beak has been subject matter of study by many eminent biologists including the great Sir Julian Huxley.

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Openbill Stork

ThWe are almost dome with the places around Kanyakumari and our next stop is Thiruchendur which is in Thoothukudi diustrict. We drive through the district of Thirunelveli without a stopover. I said almost because we have decideed to drive upo north of Kannyakumari and two more places which have come to our attention at the last moment.

The first one is a market. Thovalai Flower Market is one of the biggest in Tamilnadu and a major supplier of flowers to consumers in Kerala. This little village is at the foot of a hill and is a very interesting place.

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Thovalai Flower Market.

We are delayed by an hour or so and miss the auctions. This could have been a bonus, although we would not have understood the language in which the auction takes place. The market deals with the loose flowers brought in by the farmers in early morning ( or perhaps the previous evening). Later on the other, related activities take place. Here are some of the lots already purchased and awaiting packing and despatch.

The packing material is fabricated on-site and is completely natural and enviornment-friendly, fully bio-degradable. Our enviornmentalists and the establishment should recognize, honour and encourage these traditional methods before plastic replaces them.

Apart from the loose flowers there is also a substantial ‘making’ activity on-site. Garlands of various sizes, types and colours.

Just outside of the markets are the retailers. Here you can buy one or two to felicitate the local politician on his son-in-law’s birthday.

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The type of flowers traded here amazed me. The flower below, you must have seen, grows wild all over India and is supposed to be the one to be offered to Maruti or Anjaneya. It is actually being commercially sold!!

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We now have to drive back towards the coast and move towards our next stopover which is Thiruchendur. We move accordingly. A few kilometers on the road, I see the signboard for a Christian shrine. As most things are written in Tamil and most people around do not speak any other language, I have to manage with the visuals.

We take the right turn as directed in the signs and end up at a place called Kottar and to the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier.

And here I come across the Dutch guy called De Lennoy once again. Eustachius De Lennoy was a Dutch East India Company army commander whose forces were defeated by the Travancore kings and he was taken a captive. Later on the Travancore kings appointed him the commander in chief of their army. You will find his grave in the Post No 86 of this blog. Now, this guy has another dimention to his personality. He was a devout Christian and converted the locals to his faith. One of those converted happened to be an official of the Royal Court by the name of Neelakanta Pillai. Records show that the Royal Court did not like this at all and Mr. Pillai was put to death for the crime of sedition. In course of time Mr. Pillai became the Blessed Devasahayam Pillai who is a step or two away from being St. Devasahayam Pillai of Kottar. I am sure I will benefit from this unplanned  visit in the remaining part of my life. Mr. Pillai has been credited with a number of miracles.

Before I close this post I would like to make a candid confession. When I saw the above picture I thought it was Jesus Christ of Nazareth. When I was driving back I started wondering if I had at anytime seen JC in chains. On Cross, yes but not in chains like this. That led to further reading. I must thank Mr. S C Kumar (9842184558) for the above catchy painting.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

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