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Kanyakumari Travel Guide

Vivekananda Rock Memorial- Kanyakumari, Kanyakumari Tourism


Surface
Frequent bus service is available to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum, the closest major transport hub. You can also take a coach from Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai to name a prominent few.

Train
Kanyakumari has a well connected and serviced railway network to all major cities in the country such as Chennai, Trivandrum, Kochi, Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Coimbatore among others. The longest train route in India begins from Kanyakumari to Jammu.

Air
Trivandrum in Kerala is the nearest international airport to Kanyakumari with direct flights from the Middle East, Singapore, Maldives and Sri Lanka among other important destinations. After de-boarding you can take the train, bus or taxi which takes about two hours to get you to Kanyakumari. A private taxi charges around Rs 9-10 per kilometer which would be close to INR 1000. Alternatively, arrive into Cochin (the second nearest airport to Kanyakumari), Kozhikode, Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi or Kolkata, and then take the rail to Kanyakumari.

Kanyakumari Beach
Life in Kanyakumari revolves around this beach. It would be apt to say that Kanyakumari beach connotes the very essence of India’s southernmost city. On a holiday in Kanyakumari, you will end up spending most of your time on this beach as it is a brilliant burst of activity - a potpourri of traditions, legends, local culture and scenic beauty.

Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial
Begin with a boat cruise to the rock, about 500 meters off the mainland, on which is built the legendary memorial. While sitting in the steamer one wonders how Swami Vivekananda could swim this distance in a greatly tumultuous sea. Disembark on the rock and take the canopied flight of stairs to the huge windy terrace, in the middle of which stands the stone memorial hall.

Gandhi Memorial
Built in the memory of the ‘Father of the nation’ in 1956, the Gandhi Memorial or Gandhi Mandapam is a pink architectural building resembling an Orissa temple. Gandhiji was shot in 1948 and after cremation his ashes were to be sprinkled over different regions of the country. And the Gandhi Memorial at Kanyakumari was the place where the ashes were kept for public viewing before being immersed into the sea.

Kumari Amman (Kanyakumari Temple)
The bustling beach town is named after this temple dedicated to Kumari Amman or Kanyakumari. Sprawled regally on the coast overlooking the sea is the 3000-year-old abode of Devi Kanyakumari, the virgin goddess, who according to legend guards the shore. An important pilgrimage point in South India, the Pandiyans commissioned the building of the shrine in honor of the goddess in the 8th century. There was subsequent revamping by the Chola and Nayak dynasties.

Nagaraja Temple, Nagerkoil
Nagerkoil is a little town close to Kanyakumari, about 19 kilometers (12 miles) away, famed for the Nagaraja Temple dedicated to serpent god, Nagaraja. To get to Nagerkoil you can take a state bus from Kanyakumari offering frequent services. Nagaraja temple was originally a Dravidian Tamil Jain temple dedicated built to pay tribute to Lord Parsvanath. Legend has it that many years later the Hindus took over and converted it into a temple to mythological god Nagaraja.

Padmanabhapuram Palace
Just off the Nagerkoil-Kanyakumari highway lies an architectural treasure, Padmanabhapuram Palace made entirely of wood. Built in the 16th century, this historical structure has been the hub of the Travancore rulers. Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal was the architect of the palace; he ruled Travancore from 1592 to 1609. It continued to be the stronghold of the Travancore royals till the late 18th century.

Colachel Beach
About 30 kilometers (18.75 miles) from Kanyakumari is a pristine stretch of golden sand, Colachel Beach, tucked away in a breathtaking natural setting of plunging ravines of red soil and lush green scrubs. Drive through red rock cliffs and verdant gorges that succumb to a fine sandy beach. A lone lighthouse stands sentinel over the bay, adding to its scenic beauty. Your camera stays busy from the time you start the drive from Kanyakumari till you arrive at the beach.

Udaigiri Fort
Udaigiri Fort is about 34 kilometers (21.25 miles) from Kanyakumari on the Nagerkoil-Trivandrum highway at Pullioorkurichi. Its popularity as a historical landmark is somewhat overshadowed by the presence of the Padmanabhapuram Palace only a few miles from here. And at any point if you can’t find your way and consult a villager, in all likelihood he will redirect you to the famed Padmanabhapuram Palace.

Vattakottai Fort
About 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to the northeast of Kanyakumari is the granite Vattakottai Fort, an 18th century coastal defense fortification and barrack of the Travancore kingdom. The structure is circular and spreads across three and half acres of lush lawns. Its ramparts are about 26 feet high (7.8 meters) including the parapet which is some 29-foot thick (8.7 meters) from the front.

Tsunami Memorial
This uniquely colored 16-foot (4.8 meters) memorial stands as a grim reminder of the lives claimed by the Asian Tsunami, on the southern shores of Kanyakumari. On 26 December 2004, the giant waves of the Indian Ocean smashed the coast of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and other South-east Asian countries killing thousands and rendering many homeless.

Thiruvalluvar Statue
A recent piece of construction on the rock adjacent to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Thiruvalluvar Statue is a 133-foot tall (40.5 meters) stone sculpture of Tamil poet and saint Thiruvalluvar. The structure stands 400 meters from the coastline on a minor rock, in memory of this noble saint who gave golden words of wisdom through his philosophical work ‘Thirukkural’ – a treatise in Tamil on the Indian way of life.

Thiruparappu Waterfalls
A green Panchayat town in Kanyakumari district, Thiruparappu is known for its waterfalls, an ancient Shiva shrine and salubrious mountain air. About 60 odd kilometers (37.5 miles) from Kanyakumari, the place is a lovely drive through lush farm scenery. Thiruparappu falls originate from the Kodayar River and cascades some 50-foot down (15 meters) on to a rocky 300-foot-long (90 meters) riverbed. For about seven months in a year is the fall fully rapturous.

The Church of Our Lady of Ransom
From the shore where the fishing boats are moored you can see the three towering spires of this off-white gothic structure with a distinct Portuguese feel. The Church of Our Lady of Ransom is a more than 100-year-old building dedicated to Mother Mary. But what catches your eye first-up is the 153-foot-high (46 meters) central tower crowned with a Cross of pure gold. Truly a beautiful structure; the church looks particularly gorgeous against the molten-blue noon sky.

St. Xavier Church
About 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Kanyakumari in Kottar, the stark white spires of St. Xavier Church stand sentinel over this little coastal town. It was built around 1600 by St. Francis Xavier during one of his trips to Kanyakumari district from Goa. During his stay in Kottar, Saint Xavier used to worship Mother Mary in a small temple. He even averted the invasion of the Padagas on the people of Venad which was appreciated greatly by the ruling king.

Baywatch Amusement Park
Baywatch at Sunset Point is Kanyakumari’s first water-theme amusement park offering an array of interesting joy rides and a sneak peek into India’s first wax museum. The park’s degree of modernization is at par with its international counterparts making it worth considering. A lot of kids can be seen around enjoying a splash with their families. Locals find it an ideal relaxation zone for their kids on weekends.

Muttom Beach
About 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Kanyakumari, Muttom Beach is quite popular with sunset watchers. On arriving into this area you will be faced with a 100-year-old lighthouse from the British era standing sentinel (105-foot/31.5 meters) over a rough sea. Trek further down through the rock tops and take in views of an endless sea with giant white waves crashing against dark rocks speckled on the beachfront (some dipping into the sea).

Sanguthurai Beach
This is a very pretty beach resort about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Kanyakumari, characterized by a massive white column with a tiny black conch on top from the Chola dynasty. From this beach you can see as far as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial sharing space with the stone sculpture of Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. Away from the clamor of main Kanyakumari town, Sanguthurai is a quieter place to spend an evening strolling on the yellow sand and simply gazing at the sea.

Chothavilai Beach
This is about 10 kilometers (6.25 miles) from Kanyakumari, close to Sanguthurai beach. Chothavilai is a 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) stretch of fine sand and among the longest beaches in Tamil Nadu. After the havoc wrecked by the 2004 Tsunami, the beach was reconstructed and refurbished to attract visitors again. So when you arrive at the beach, you will pass through a recently erected entrance frame with motifs of seahorse and starfish among other fish and a white conch on the top of the frame.

Suchindram Temple
Suchindram is one of the few places where the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped together. It is the beautiful white gopuram (tower) of the temple that catches your eye first-up. About 13 kilometers (8.12 miles) northwest of Kanyakumari, Suchindram is an elegant structure with musical pillars and 22 feet, single-stone statue of Lord Hanuman in addition to a diverse collection of art from different periods.

Government Museum
Located in the heart of the city in Bharathidasansan Salai, the Government Museum is a treasure trove of rare bronze and stone sculptures from different dynasties that ruled Tamil Nadu. The place sees a lot of art and sculpture enthusiasts from within the country and outside.

Legends, tradition, culture and religion blend to form a brilliant potpourri that is Kanyakumari. It is India’s southernmost tip where the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea join the Indian Ocean. Sprawled out on the shore of this great ‘Triveni sangam’ is the Kanyakumari town home to an array of beautiful temples, most importantly the iconic Kumari Amman temple, a colorful beach bazaar and the Vivekananda Rock Memorial standing sentinel over the sea. The memorial is built in honor of Swami Vivekananda who swam in this rough sea to the rock and meditated for days. The town gradually came up around the famous shore temple dedicated to the virgin goddess, Kanyakumari.


History
Kanyakumari is an ancient city on the southern tip of India that takes its name from the shore temple of Kumari Amman or Kanyakumari. It is an important centre for pearl fishery. According to Travancore Consensus 1931, the Paravars ruled this coast and built the temple for their great reverence to sea goddess. There are many legends associated with the building of this temple. The most popular one has it that Goddess Kanyakumari, an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi was set to marry Lord Shiva who failed to show up on the wedding day. Infuriated she cursed the rice, sweets, ornaments bought in anticipation of the wedding, which turned into stones of different shapes, colors and forms. This is believed to be the reason for the multi-colored sand found on Kanyakumari beach. After this episode she pledged to remain a virgin all her life.

Since beginning Kanyakumari has been a big centre for art and religion, not to mention trade and commerce as well. The Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and the Nayaks ruled this region and left their imprint in the form of some wonderful architectural sites such as temples of exquisite beauty. Subsequently, Kanyakumari went on to become a part of the Venad kingdom with its capital at Padmanabhapuram. Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the monarch of Travancore extended his territory further north up to Azhva during his reign from 1729 to 1758. Following which the present Kanyakumari district came to be known as Southern Travancore. The Battle of Colachel was fought in 1741 between Marthanda Varma and the Dutch East India Company in which the Dutch forces were crushed by the Maharaja’s army.

Initially the Paravar kings ruled Kanyakumari, after whose downfall the Travancore kings took over. Their reign ended after Travancore joined the independent Indian Union in 1947. Under the Travancore state Kanyakumari district gained both socially and economically. Two years later, Kanyakumari became a part of the reconstituted Travancore-Cochin state. Soon an agitation among the Tamil-speaking majority gained momentum for the amalgamation of Kanyakumari district with Tamil Nadu. And in 1956 during the linguistic re-organization of states, Kanyakumari was merged with Tamil Nadu. A certain Kumari Thanthai Marshal Nesamony is said to be instrumental in this merger.

A wave of Christianity spread across South India around 52 AD through St. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. But Christianity flourished with the arrival of the European missionaries in the 16th century, pioneered by St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He used to make trips to Kanyakumari from Goa and stay here for sometime. During his stay in Kottar, Saint Xavier used to worship Mother Mary in a small temple. He even averted the invasion of the Padagas on the people of Venad which was appreciated greatly by the ruling king. And as a token of appreciation, the king allotted him a piece of land in Kottar to get a Catholic church constructed. The site already had a church in 1544 where the St. Xavier Church now stands.

It would be apt to say that Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Jainism have together contributed to the architectural and literary heritage of the region.

Getting Around
State buses and auto-rickshaws are popular modes of transport in this coastal town. You can hail an auto-rickshaw from the railway station and other places of tourist interest. Or request your hotel of stay to arrange you a private taxi to take you around.

Tourist Traps in the City
The fast-paced commercialization notwithstanding, Kanyakumari still remains a place where you needn’t be wary of anything. Locals are a calm lot and extremely god fearing (like most South Indian cities). So chances of your running into a tout are very less. Do strike a bargain while souvenir shopping from the local bazaar; the prices are hiked a little for tourists. If you are stuck anywhere, you can seek help of the locals who are generally friendly but might have a tough time in deciphering a language outside of their mother tongue!

Local Custom
The locals have a traditional outlook, so when visiting a temple or any religious site dress modestly and avoid wearing short or revealing clothes. There are a variety of beaches in Kanyakumari, but not all are suitable for sunbathing. The famous Kanyakumari Beach opening up to a rough sea is composed of coarse multi-colored sand, making it an absolute no-no for stretching back and soaking up the sun. Though, you can spend the whole day here sitting on the paved wall and watching the sea, or browsing the local beach bazaar.

Shopping
What Kanyakumari does with its seashells is something to be witnessed at the local beach bazaar. The array of curios from looking mirrors framed with millions of tiny seashells, lampshades, wall hangings, junk jewelry, trinkets, bags with shell designs, to conchs in different shapes and hues, make the experience of flipping through souvenir shops very fascinating. If nothing else, at least pick up a few trinkets made of seashells – they are one-off and a popular-buy here. The local bazaar on the outer fringes of the Kanyakumari beach is a hub to find shell-craft in addition to an assortment of artifacts made of bamboo, cane and teak, miniature paintings on palm leaves, textiles, fabrics and handicraft typical of Tamil Nadu. Palm leaf utility articles also make for a good buy. This local bazaar is an eclectic mix of little kiosks to proper shops selling South Indian silk sarees, coconut-shell souvenirs, colorful Kathakali masks, patchwork and embroidered handbags, batik dress material, paintings, fresh coconut nectar, seashell jewelry, seashell artifacts and many other fascinating bric-a-brac.

And if you want it all under one roof, head to Tamil Nadu Co-optex Sales Emporium, Tamil Nadu Crafts or Poompuhar. These are well-known shopping centres in the town from where you can pick up fabrics, textiles and handicraft for yourself and your loved ones back home.

Within the Kumari Amman temple premise too there are handicraft shops selling attractive seashell souvenirs. At the memorial shop of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial you get to choose from many interesting books on the life and philosophy of Swami Vivekananda and other related mementos.

 

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