Kanyakumari Guide: Beaches, Temples & Tri-Coloured Sands

The southernmost tip of India's mainland makes for a quirky weekend getaway.  
Kanyakumari Tamil Nadu India
The rock atop which the Vivekananda memorial is situated, is chockfull of Hindu legends. Devotees believe this was where Goddess Kanyakumari meditated to please Lord Shiva, seeking to marry him. Shripad Parai, a projection on the rock, is venerated as the foot of the goddess. Photo: Jaume Juncadella/Age Fotostock/Dinodia

My earliest memory of Kanyakumari is of an old palm reader selling packets of coloured sand on the beach. I was then a wide-eyed 12-year-old collecting seashells when the old woman asked me, “Look at the oceans. Can you see a mix of red, black, and blue?” She told me the red was the Indian Ocean, the blue, the Bay of Bengal, and the black was the Arabian Sea. All I could see then was a vast azure expanse.

Several years later, as I visit the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland where the three water bodies converge, those memories come flooding back. I am fascinated by the sands from the three seas, tinged in various shades of ochre. A sea of vendors is selling everything from stories to souvenirs. I am reminded that in Kanyakumari two moments are priceless: sunrise and sunset. With luck, I might catch the moon rise just as the sun is setting.

I get away from the crowd on the beach to a small fishing hamlet close by for an exclusive appointment with the sun. I am just in time. In the distance, windmills covered by a veil of ocean spray dance to the tune of the sea breeze. The sun eventually makes an appearance only to be swallowed by the dark twilight clouds hanging over the horizon.

The sea lures me back to the beach, which wears the colours of dusk. At the main bazaar overlooking the Kanyakumari Amman Temple, the energy is pervasive. Conch painters and rice engravers are everywhere, but I make my way towards the temple of the fierce virgin goddess who has lent her name to the coastal town.

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Gods and Mortals

Kanyakumari Tamil Nadu India

The architectural style of Gandhi Mandapam resembles that of Odisha temples. The height of the central dome is 79 feet, representing Gandhi’s age when he died. Photo: Nick Williams/Moment/Getty Images

The Kanyakumari Amman Temple is dedicated to the young maiden incarnation of goddess Parvati. It is believed that Lord Shiva stood her up on their wedding day because of a plot by the other gods who wanted her to kill a demon as prophesied. She did kill the demon, but vowed to remain a virgin throughout life. Infuriated, she cursed her wedding preparations, including the rice and the grains, which are supposed to have turned into shells and conches. The turmeric and vermilion that were left behind colour Kanyakumari’s variously hued sands. I am told that the deity’s diamond nose ring glows so brilliantly that many a passing ship has assumed it is the beam from a lighthouse (daily 4.30 a.m.-12.30 p.m. and 4 p.m.-8 p.m.).

A few minutes from the temple is Gandhi Mandapam, a memorial that marks the place where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were stored in an urn before being immersed into the sea. A local tells me that I should visit on 2 October, when the sun’s rays fall directly at the spot where the urn was kept. I promise myself that I will visit again (daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free).

A ferry from the Kanyakumari jetty takes visitors to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The philosopher came here to meditate and legend says that he swam 200 metres to the rock. The ferry begins early in the morning, and although it’s just a ten-minute journey, the ticket queue is often so long that it can take hours to get on board. I spend a few minutes at the memorial’s meditation centre but it is the sea that brings me peace even as the restless waves lash against the rocks (daily 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; entry ₹54).

Around Town

Temple Kanyakumari Tamil Nadu

Thanumalayan Temple in Suseendram, about 12 kilometres from Kanyakumari, has intricate frescoes and murals depicting episodes from the epics, but it is an 18 foot statue of Hanuman and four “musical pillars” that draw most visitors. Photo: Lakshmi Sharath

After a day around the coast, I head to a fort that extends into the sea. Vattakottai in Tamil means “circular fort”. Located 8 km/15 min northeast of Kanyakumari, this 18th-century granite structure was built under the supervision of Eustachius De Lannoy, a naval commander in the Dutch East India Company. De Lannoy led a charge against Travancore’s Maharaja Marthanda Varma, but was defeated at the Battle of Colachel in 1741.

The king, impressed by De Lannoy’s bravery, appointed him a commander in his own army. The Dutch officer then trained the soldiers and helped them defeat local and European opponents. Despite the fascinating backstory, the fort itself is neither imposing nor formidable. Yet, the sky and the sea merge into an uninterrupted fabric of blue, and the silence is music to my ears (daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free).

The beautiful Padmanabhapuram Palace is 35 km/45 min northeast of Kanyakumari. The wooden palace is nestled inside a fortress, ringed in by the Western Ghats. Built in 1600 by King Ravi Varma, Padmanabhapuram was the erstwhile capital of Travancore state. A 300-year-old clock tower, which still functions, offers a vantage point from where to consider the many structures within the complex. The Mantrasala served as the chambers for the king’s council, while the Natakasala was the performance hall. A small room of solitude, Ekantha Mandapam, opens into another room full of jackfruit wood pillars, brass lamps, and a singular cot made of 60 pieces of wood from medicinal trees (Tue-Sun 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-4.30 p.m.; entry ₹50 for Indians,₹100 for foreign nationals; extra charges for cameras).

My next destination is an olfactory roller coaster. A riot of colours blinds me at Thovalai Flower Market, one of the largest floral bazaars in south India (20 km/30 min north of Kanyakumari). I reach around auction time, at 7.30 a.m., when mounds of marigold vie for attention with rose garlands. But Thovalai’s pride is pichi vellai, dewy white jasmine blossoms. I watch as bargains are struck and sparrows have a field day hopping among the buds.

Stay & Eat

As a prominent tourist destination, Kanyakumari is full of resorts and hotels. Some travellers prefer to stay in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and make a day trip to the southern town. However, if you’d like to explore Kanyakumari and its surroundings better, it is advisable to stay there. Rack rates during peak season (mid-Dec to mid-Jan) vary vastly from off-season rates, so always remember to ask for discounts.

Sparsa Resort has the advantage of a great location; it is right on the beach at Sunset Point and offers fine views of the sea. The resort has 46 rooms and two villas. The facilities include a swimming pool and health club (04652-247041; doubles from ₹5,400).

Tamil Nadu Tourism Corporation’s Hotel Tamil Nadu Kanniyakumari is one of the oldest properties in town. Its spacious rooms, great views, convenient location, and competitive prices make it a favourite among tourists (Light House Main Road; 04652-246257/91769 95850; www.ttdconline.com; doubles from ₹2,100).

Gopi Nivas Grand is located a few minutes from the beach as well as Kanyakumari Amman Temple. The hotel’s facilities include a swimming pool, gym, and complimentary Wi-Fi (near seashore; 04652-246161; www.thegopinivasgrand.com; doubles from ₹2,000).

Most hotels have restaurants that serve palatable south- and north-Indian fare, but if you look a little further, you’re certain to find a cuisine of your choice. The Seashore Hotel’s Ocean Restaurant (East Car Street, 04652-246400; www.theseashorehotel.com) and Sparsa Resort’s Aroma Restaurant are recommended for fresh seafood. For vegetarians, Triveni Tourist Home (Main Road; 04652-246161; www.trivenitouristhome.chobs.in) has a pure vegetarian restaurant that serves nice idlis and dosas.


The Guide

Map: Urmimala Nag

Map: Urmimala Nag

Orientation

Kanyakumari is a coastal town located on the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland in Tamil Nadu. It is about 700 km/11 hours southwest of Chennai and 90 km/2 hours southeast of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The closest town is Nagercoil—20 km/30 minutes away—which is also the administrative capital of Kanyakumari district.

Getting There

Air The closest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, connected by daily flights from major Indian cities including Bengaluru and Mumbai.

Rail Kanyakumari is a major railhead, and is connected to several cities by train, including the Kanyakumari Express that departs daily from Mumbai.

Road Buses connect Chennai and Kanyakumari. The journey takes a minimum of 12 hours and the one-way fare is approximately ₹700.

Getting Around

Taxis are the preferred mode of transport, because unlike buses, they can take you to the town’s nooks and crannies. Autorickshaws are also available. Most hotels can organise transport.

Seasons

Kanyakumari has moderate weather for most of the year, making it an ideal tourist destination almost all year round. However, summers can be a bit hot and humid, especially between April and May, when the average daytime temperatures hover around 25-33°C. The monsoon begins in early June, and the constant drizzle makes it very pleasant. Winter (Nov-Feb), is a great time to visit as well, because the landscape is lush after the monsoon showers, and temperatures rarely cross 25°C. The town is prone to cyclones, so always check weather information before heading out.

Appeared in the July 2014 issue as “Southern Comfort”.

Photo: Lakshmi Sharath

Unique Experience

Vadasseri Temple Jewellery
I am in a sleepy lane behind a bustling jewellery market in Vadasseri, Nagercoil, about 20km/30 min northwest of Kanyakumari. After knocking on a few doors, I locate the goldsmiths who have been crafting temple jewellery for centuries. The men are busy making garnet-studded earrings (jimmikkis), hair ornaments (raakodi), and the traditional sun- and moon shaped pieces which form the netichutti.

Temple jewellery—crafted in silver and gold leaf—was traditionally designed for deities, but is today worn by classical dancers. I come away dazzled by a swan studded with colourful stones, and a bejewelled snake.

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    Lakshmi Sharath is a travel writer and blogger from Bangalore who quit her corporate career in media to travel. Her passion is all about exploring the nooks and corners of the world and telling stories.

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