Finally! I get to visit Kanyakumari!
16 February Kanyakumari
From Tiru, I left via taxi for Chennai around 21:30. It is a four hours journey. Since my scheduled flight is at 05:55, I wanted to get there early enough to change my ticket two days earlier than the original scheduled date. This is an exemption for me to arrive at my destination at night. My ETA to Chennai is 01:30. I made friends with the driver and conversed with him. His name is Shakti (it means destruction) and he spoke English. Again, the minute I got in the taxi, I laid in the backseat and dozed off. My eyes were closed but I felt he was going fast on a smooth surface. I looked out and sure enough, he was driving on a freeway, four lanes, two on each side and a divided island. There are not many of those here in India. The route from Bangalore to Mysore is one of them. I do not know how long we went this way because I was sleeping. Then he pulled over and stopped. With my eyes shut, I asked what he was doing. He said he was going to sleep for an hour. “What?” I exclaimed! Somewhere in the middle of nowhere he was going to sleep? I looked outside and it was a stop point (rest area) because there were others who were parked side by side sleeping. I would rather he slept than continue driving sleepy. It is both for our safety. But I did not know that ahead of time. It’s a good thing I planned to arrive early. He set an alarm for one hour. I could not stay awake to be vigilant. I just covered my face with my scarf so the people won’t recognize that I am a foreigner.
It costs Rs100 just to enter Chennai airport. I told Shakti to drop me off anywhere outside and walk to save the Rs100. After all, it is me who will bear that cost. It is a little past 02:00. The counter for Jet Airways was open. That is my flight from Trivandrum to Bangalore that needs to be changed. So I went there and made the arrangements. The penalty was Rs500 ($10). Then my flight for today needed to be changed with Air India. The counter was closed and will not open until 05:00 I was told. No, my flight is at 05:55. I never liked Air India and I avoid flying with them every possible time. Now I needed to go inside for toilet and to avoid mosquitoes. I talked to the guards who instructed me to leave my big backpack outside. I was relieved. This is the old airport. The facilities are so old, deficient, dirty and smelly. The Indian style toilet was borderline adequate for my needs but no soap or drying for hands. I went back outside to retrieve my backpack. I needed to wait inside until the Air India counter opens because of mosquitoes. I cannot afford to get more bites. I explained this to the guards that I am on medication for a swollen leg. Like many other Indians, they didn’t care. Indians may be flexible in their bodies but generally have very linear reasoning. No luck for me this time. Three hours of waiting outside? I cannot even continue dozing off. With a two hours battery time, I turned on my laptop. Wow! There was a very strong signal for a 3G connection. After all, I am in Chennai, the capital, a major city. I uploaded many things, checked my mail and then the battery died. Then Air India counter opened. It was past 04:00.
Twelve hundred rupees more to change my flight. The flight itself was only Rs450 more but Rs750 was tacked on for penalty. One of the reasons I do not like Air India. Off I went to check in and obtained my boarding pass. There are no seats at the waiting area. It was almost time to board. I was so sleepy and hoping to stay awake until we board. Luggage checked, boarded and off I dozed again. They served breakfast. I took the sandwich as I do not know when will my next meal be. We arrived in Trivandrum, Kerala, another remote town within 30 kilometers to Tamil Nadu border. I was supposed to go by train from here to Kanyakumari (KK). Because I am arriving two days early, no advanced train ticket and no immediate on the spot tickets available. I opted for another taxi for another two and a half hours journey.
KK is famous for the rock memorial built in honor of Vivekananda Kendra. That is the reason I am here. It is located at the southernmost tip of India. Vivekananda Kendra was the real Indian who popularized yoga in the west. He attended the seminar in Chicago at the Conference on Religion and Sciences in 1893. He used to meditate on the rock three days at a time. He died at the age of 39 but he accomplished a lot prior to his death. The main Vivekananda Kendra ashram originated here. Dr. HR Nagendra from Bangalore who is now Vice Chancellor once served as President of the trust here. We personally met last week at the yoga events.
You can immediately identify a different ambiance that this is a tourist town. There are hotels, tour operators and souvenir and artifact stores everywhere. It was not a challenge to even find a place to stay. I checked in a place on the third floor where the balcony overlooks the rock, about a stone throw away. The rate was 2.5 more than Tiru. It was around 10:00 am. There was no power but the hotel had a generator. I needed a rinse badly. I learned right away that the bathroom was not piped for hot water. You have to request for a bucket. I called one of the staff who was walking down the hall. He told me to ring the bell. I obliged. Ten minutes later, no staff. I repeated this about half a dozen times, no staff. There was a staff sitting down the hall but he just looked at me. After I was fully unpacked, still no staff. So I held the door bell until someone came. He was so annoyed and in broken Taminglish, I figured he said something like you should not do that, we are running on generator. I said garam pani and signaled pouring it over my head. He understood my request. Amazing how language works. Somehow it works its way where you can figure out something even if you did not speak the tongue. You really don’t need hot water here as it is hot. It is more for disinfecting then rinse with cold water to refresh. I used the hot water to pour over my swollen leg. It was hot enough to feel but not to burn. The calf is still swollen but not as itchy and heavy. The hot water relieved the itching a lot. The non complacency of the staff validated my opinion of the Indians being linear in their mind. It is soooooo true everywhere but seems not as often for the higher educated ones. I do not know if it is culture or it has to do with education. Well, I am in India.
It was time to climb the rock. I walked to the docking site where the ferry took around 100 people at a time. Queuing was not rushed and the boat was not overloaded. It costs Rs20 for up and down (we refer to as round trip) and Rs 10 to enter the rock. At first it was hot but there was a breeze and soon it was comfy.
Removing shoes to enter temples is a given. I walked a good distance at the Aranachula temple in Tiru and now here. If you pay attention to your feet, it actually gives you a tingling sensation. It turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. I got to meditate at the rock for over two hours. I came back to town and there was still enough time to look around and plan for day two. I inquired at the tour operators how to best use my brief stay. I head back to Trivandrum the day after tomorrow and stay there one night because my flight to Bangalore on Sunday is again on early morning. I heard there is not much to see in Trivandrum but I might spare some time to head north to Varkala beach.
Since this is a tourist town, I am certain there are places to eat that are safe with decent choices. In the evening, I headed to an open dining place two buildings from my hotel. I ordered a veg kolfa curry and plain naan. The curry was so salty I swear they boiled the water from the Indian Ocean and desalinated it putting all the salt on this dish.
Day two in Kanyakumari:
Day two it is, a visit to Vivekananda Kendra Ashram, Guganatha Swamy Temple (1,000 years old), Ramar Temple and Suchindrum Temple; a temple for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and an 18 foot tall statue of Hanuman. I was instructed to show up at 08:30 and that I complied. The guy who helped me last night did not say a word. It was like an unspoken agreement that I know what to do, wait. Then he stepped outside. Thirty minutes past and he signaled me to follow him. An older bus with 20 people capacity was parked not far. He waved his hand for me to step in. There was an Indian couple seated. I was the third person on the bus. I am glad I was not the only one. Not long after, the bus was filled, 18 of us and a guide.
It is not your typical scenario of a guide speaking on a microphone, greeting, instructing, orienting, etc. We took off. Within ten minutes we stopped and everyone got out. I said to the guide, “Hey, you can at least talk to me. I do not know what is going on.” Though it is partially true. I do know what is going on. Perhaps I just wanted a little bit more social interaction, my own culture of communication.
We stopped at a first temple called Arulimigu Shree Guganateeshwarar. It is very ancient and tiny. A statue of Nandi was the first one we saw on the front. The guide said Nandi pointing at the statue. “If you need anything, hold his ear and he will listen.” He assured me. I entered all the way in where a swami had a tray in his hand with the basma, mustard oil lamp with some rupee donation. I gave some rupees and he “bindified” me. It was a ten minute stop.
The second stop was at Ramar temple at Kottaram. There was no narrative and I was in and out so quick. I did not go in the main temple at the back. The guide was surprised. I am not a Hindu and though I respect their beliefs, I cannot totally connect like they do. He looked so disappointed. I can tell already what to expect (or not to expect) from this trip. It will be quick, no asking questions and all temple visits. The next stop was about 16 kms. I fell asleep again in the bus. The ladies in the bus were chanting. Sure thing, the overall trip was as dry as can be, no interaction whatsoever. They did not speak English, I did not speak Tamil.
The Suchindrum Temple stood in the middle of a village. From the road the ornate statues were visible. As soon as the bus stopped some, removed their footwear and left in the bus. It’s a good walking distance. This is one of those traits they do that I imitate but could only do it for so long. I decided not to go in. I have enough of taking footwear off and my leg is still swollen. Then we stopped at Vattakottai Fort. It reminded me of the fort in Bekal where all the structures are standing but serves only the purpose of memory and reminder of bitter war. There was nothing spectacular about it except the panoramic view of Bay of Bengal, some windmills inland and Indians swimming. The final stop was at Vivekananda Kendra’s ashram. It was pointed out to me that the large portrait of the Swami at front, the feet moves to your direction when you move. Indeed it did. We circled the exhibitions where all excerpts of his speeches were captured and archived. He was a very noble man who died at the age of 39. I was told that his cause of death was fatigue. Perhaps it is so true. One of his slogans is Arise, awake, do not stop until the work is done (or something to that tone).
It is my last day here. I leave tomorrow for Trivandrum by bus. I am not sure if there is anything worth writing about there. Even if I decide to go to Varkala beach, it is only a beach. From Trivandrum, I will catch an early flight back to Bangalore where I will complete all my last minute shopping and a visit to Sri Kantaiah’s office to determine a future connection either for yoga studies or employment.
I will finish my writing here. Upon arrival at home, I will only have one day to rest and unpack and then I will move again to join my two older sisters for a week in Arizona. Last year when we went to New Orleans, we decided that we will do an annual “sisters bonding” around the 18th of February to celebrate the oldest sister’s birthday. They were kind enough to postpone the trip until I return. Life is short. Always live it at its max.
For other trips planned in 2012, I am doing the Inca Trail again in July with a yoga retreat to Puno at the end of the hike. Then I will head either to Chile and Ecuador or Chile and Argentina. I have so much accumulated miles. Australia is within reach but not enough time.
So until then, Shalam, Namaste.