Vijayadashami Celebrations in Kanyakumari

My First Solo Trip: Kanyakumari – Madurai – Rameshwaram – Dhanushkodi

Every time my friends and I had to go on a trip, we planned extensively. When I say we, it actually was me checking starting from bus tickets to hotel room bookings to places to see. On top of this haggling, I had to take dates from everybody when they would be free for that particular trip and accommodate them. Basically, I was fed up and said “to eff with you all” and decided to go on my first solo trip for three days. Thankfully, it was Dasara holidays. So I didn’t have to negotiate with my manager to take leaves. I booked tickets and hotel rooms for myself, all for myself. On the evening of my 28th birthday, I left from Bangalore to Kanyakumari. IRCTC upgraded my ticket from 3A to 2A without any extra charges, thanks to the option they provide on their portal. Berths were comfortable. I had never ever found myself asleep by 8 pm in my life till then. With the sheer reason of no mobile network and nothing better to do on the train that evening, I dozed off early.

I woke up next morning to passengers bustling in and out at every station. I happened to see outside when my train slowed down in Valliyur, Tamilnadu and witnessed a beautiful view. It looked like a large blanket of cloud stuck at the top of a bald hill surrounded by windmills.

Hill-Hugging Clouds in Valliyur, Tamilnadu, India

Hill-Hugging Clouds in Valliyur, Tamilnadu, India

The cloud was not able to even go around the hill, just stuck there. There was still a lot of time left to reach Nagercoil junction, so I went back to my seat and started reading a book. After unaccounted hours, the train stopped at Nagercoil junction and people fell out onto the platform. I enquired with the station master for a bus to Kanyakumari and he directed me to a bus stop just outside the railway station telling there were frequent buses to and fro there. As said by the station master, I got a bus soon and it was a short journey from there to my destination. I must say the bus fares in Tamilnadu are cheaper than in Karnataka. I felt like I could save a lot more by travelling in that state of India.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue in the middle of the sea

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue in the middle of the sea

The bus stopped just metres away from the beach. Hopping down from the bus, I had to first find a good restaurant to have breakfast. After finding one, I had sumptuous onion uthappam and masala vada. Convinced that I was full, I started towards the beach to find a way to the ferry dock to go to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It was a pleasant walk in the curved pedestrian path by the beach that takes you from the cluster of local petty shops to the lane that leads to the ticket counter for the ferry. There was already a long line for tickets, so I walked to the end of the line only to walk for a good one kilometre. I stood in the line for two hours and listened to random tourists talking around me. I was astounded to see such a large number of Bengalis there at that time because for them their Durga Puja is more prominent than anything else. Anyway, it is their wish. By the time I reached the main gates of the building that housed the ferry ticket counter, it was already 11:30 am. That’s when I saw a board hanging from the gate. It read “Due to the closure of Vivekananda Rock Memorial for Vijayadashami festival, the sale of ferry tickets will be closed by 12:00 pm 22.10.2015.”

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My My Time Flies

That day was Vijayadashami and I panicked. Half an hour left for the closing of the ticket counter and still half a kilometre to reach there. I guess people ahead of me had the same thoughts and they started moving faster. It was five minutes to 12 pm when I bought my ticket and rushed into the dock only to see that it was just a continuation of the same line. Anyway, the dock was beautiful from the inside; painted in pastel colours and with floral patterned ventilators and marble floors.

Ferry Dock

Ferry Dock

We were given life jackets. The tourism department has to up their game by at least providing life jackets that are intact and serve their purpose. I was shocked to see the condition of them. Somehow, we boarded the ferry which was no less than a stampede and set off to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Once I reached the dock on the rock, I had to pay entry fee there again to go to the top.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Contrary to the name of the rock, it doesn’t only house the memorial, but also houses a shrine Sri Padaparai Mandapam.

Sri Padaparai Mandapam

Sri Padaparai Mandapam

It is just opposite to the memorial. You will have about one hour time on the rock to see the whole place. You can also spend some time meditating in the tranquil meditation hall beneath the Vivekananda Rock Memorial; that doesn’t mean it is under the sea. Next to the rock is the gigantic Thiruvalluvar statue.

Thiruvalluvar Statue

Thiruvalluvar Statue

Our ferry didn’t take us to his feet due to high tides issue. So, after strolling around Swami Vivekananda, I boarded the ferry again with other tourists to go back to the mainland.

From the ferry dock, I happened to pass in front of Bhagavathi Amman temple. It was Vijayadashami and the temple was so crowded that I didn’t dare to step inside it. I must say I missed being a witness to the renowned big diamond nose ring of the goddess. When I came out of that lane, people were preparing for the Vijayadashami procession. A group was dressed in costumes of gods and goddesses.

Isn't he scary?

Isn’t he scary?

People dressed as gods and goddesses

People dressed as gods and goddesses

There were teams ready with their range of percussion instruments. They were dancing and playing the instruments in sync, in rhythm. It was amazing to watch them move around.

Percussion Team

Percussion Team

I heard a fellow saying that all the teams would perform for kilometres together and reach Maghadanapuram where a fair was set and where the Ramayan would be performed. After clicking selfies with all the teams, I walked for about five kilometres to Our Lady of Ransom Church. I laughed at the usage of ransom. My bad. When I reached the lane of the church, I was surprised to see such a big area free from all disturbances in front of the church. I can say that the whole lane is a playground.

Our Lady of Ransom Church

Our Lady of Ransom Church

I walked into the church. There were people praying. I didn’t pry on their conversations with god. I sat in the last row and actually felt like taking a nap there because I didn’t have anything else to do until sunset and I was not yet hungry. After an hour, I went out from there. The procession that had started from Bhagawathi Amman temple had by then reached near the church. I took more pictures and had lunch in a restaurant nearby. After that, I freshened up again to wait for the evening.

Part of Vijayadashami Procession

Part of Vijayadashami Procession

Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari is not so well-known to people who are from out-of-town. It is like a small museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. You can either spend the evening there or go to the beach. It is said that the sunset is beautiful in Kanyakumari and whoever visits this place should not miss this natural event. I tried to find a good place to view the sunset from the Gandhi Mandapam, but it was so packed with tourists who were also looking for a place to seat themselves. So I had no other choice than going to the beach. I found a neat small rock at the beach and perched myself there to go on clicking the sunset in burst mode.

Sunset in Kanyakumari

Sunset in Kanyakumari

Also, don’t miss the light effects on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue in the evening.

Evening View of Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

Evening View of Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

From there I took a rick to go to Magadhanapuram to witness the end of the Dasara celebrations.

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Evening Celebrations at Maghadanapuram

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay until they burnt Ravan as I had to go back to Nagercoil junction and board a train that was to take me to Madurai. I bought an ice cream for myself and left the celebrations to the locals.

I hopped off the train in Madurai very early next morning. I had breakfast at one of the numerous eateries just outside the railway station and walked to the centuries-old famed Madurai Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple. Oops! It is a temple complex! Did you ask why? You will know as and when you read further. The grandeur of Meenakshi temple is hidden behind the crowded dingy buildings around it. You don’t get to see from far. You will only see it when you enter its lane. Before reaching there, I just knew it is a well-known religious place. It was only when I neared one of the “towers” of the temple that I realized how wrong I was about its stature. While I stood gazing at the South Tower, all of a sudden an elephant walked in front of me with its mahout.

Elephant with its mahout

Elephant with its mahout

It belonged to the goddess. Wishing it a very good morning, I kept my backpack and camera at the security counter and walked into the temple. Carrying camera inside the temple premises is prohibited. I had my One Plus One that captures beautiful pictures, so I didn’t fret. People need to revise their rules.

There was a really long line to see the goddess, Meenakshi Amman. Groups of ladies, chaperoned by one or two male family members for namesake, dominated the scene inside the temple. Just when I thought that I might get the Devi’s darshan soon enough, the line stopped moving and an announcement was made that we will get to see the goddess only after one hour. I tried my best to tune out the other kind of femme fatal around me and observed my surroundings. If you ignore the slight suffocation inside the temple complex due to not much ventilation, the ceiling in the hallway and walls are marvellously painted in traditional colours that will bring out its old world charms. Since it was just after the end of Navaratri, the arrangements of dolls were not moved yet and I could see their collection. The temple authorities had arranged the traditional dolls in the passage in such a way that from the beginning of the hallway till the entrance of the goddess’s garbhagudi for devotees to see. It consisted not only of tiny dolls but also life-size statues that required their own stalls for display. Some of the arrangements were meant to tell segments of mythological stories related to Meenakshi Amman. With all these observations, one hour easily flew by and our line started to move forward again. Dasara decorations were still not removed from the interior walls and we had to kind of wade through it to see the goddess. With the chants going on and temple bells ringing on together, the goddess appeared to be in her complete glory. Visible only in the light of the numerous oil lamps lit around her, she looked golden. I am an agnostic, so I cannot force myself to simply praise the grandeur unnecessarily.

Kalyani inside Meenakshi Amman temple complex in Madurai

Kalyani inside Meenakshi Amman temple complex in Madurai

After Devi’s darshan, since Sundareshwarar shrine was not accessible to devotees that day, I reached the kalyani where so many people, most of them were not devotees but couples, were sitting and enjoying the tranquillity. From where I was sitting, I could see three of the four towers. So I set off to see all the towers one by one from proximity. If you ask the locals, they will tell you that there are four towers to the Meenakshi Amman temple complex. What they mean to say is there are four major towers. Once you take a tour of the complex, you will realize that there are two sets of towers; first set in the outer perimeter and the second set in the inner perimeter.

Outer tower and inner tower

Outer tower and inner tower

Within the outer perimeter are the pathways and inner perimeter. Inside the inner perimeter are the temples, pond and the centuries-old marketplace. Yes, there is a full-fledged market inside the temple complex. Also, don’t miss Hall of Thousand Pillars there. This temple was originally built by Pandians, but the credit for its current look goes to Nayaks.

Marketplace inside Madurai temple complex

Marketplace inside Madurai temple complex

After strolling for another half an hour there, I came out to take a bus to Rameshwaram. Yes, I took a bus to Rameshwaram. I know I should have taken a train for the sea view, but since its schedule didn’t match mine, I took a bus. It wasn’t that bad. I crossed the famed Pamban Bridge to reach the Pamban island and enter Rameshwaram.

Pamban Bridge

Pamban Bridge

It was already evening when I reached this ancient town, so I reached my hotel room and quietly sank in my bed to call it a day.

Early next morning, I left for Dhanushkodi along with a Malayali family that stayed in the same hotel as mine. They were a family of five; father, mother, son, daughter-in-law and a grandson. I didn’t want to hire a separate vehicle only for myself, so I had requested the hotel receptionist to make Dhanushkodi trip arrangements for me along with a family who would willingly accommodate me. This family, unlike random strangers, was not pestering and didn’t ask me any personal question like how many children my parents have, whether I live in rented house or own house and so on. They didn’t even ask me why I was travelling alone! I was just happy to take this short trip along with them. The government is making a proper road to the tip of Dhanushkodi and will be completed by sometime in the year 2016. So as of now, tourists have to hire jeeps to visit the Ghost Town. Drivers of these jeeps know their way through the shallow waters by the shore, so it is better you hire them than experiment on your own.

Shallow waters at the Dhanushkodi shore

Shallow waters at the Dhanushkodi shore

Once prosperous town situated at the South-Easter part of India, Dhanushkodi was destroyed by a cyclone beyond repair. Not much could thrive on these shores later and since then has been called a Ghost Town. But it is not totally abandoned as locals are trying to make money from the tourists. How? By building a random temple there too. The main attraction here is the broken railway tracks. Just kidding! The glamour of this town is the ruins of an old church which is hauntingly beautiful. You won’t feel like moving away from it.

Church of the Ghost Town

Church of the Ghost Town

Hauntingly beautiful!

Hauntingly beautiful!

Apart from this, you will also see a floating stone that is supposedly used in the making of legendary Ram Sethu that once connected India with Sri Lanka. Feel free to read Ramayan to know more. This floating stone is caged in a sufficiently big container. So, you can poke it and see for yourself that it simply won’t drown.

Floating stone of Rama Sethu

Floating stone of Rama Sethu

After roaming around in the vicinity, we drove back towards Rameshwaram. On the way, our driver stopped at yet another temple. At the sea in front of this temple, people were performing rituals to a block of stone fixed inside the waters. When I asked one of the devotees what was the speciality of this particular worshipping place, she said this is the place where Ram Sethu was built. I was shocked! I mean, how stupid can people be to believe and spread such things? Ram Sethu is at the tip of Dhanushkodi. These people were blindly praying a random stone. Thankfully, our driver called out to us to leave and I left that female without giving a piece of my mind.

After returning to the town of Rameshwaram, I went to the Ramanathaswamy temple. I didn’t have a pleasant experience from here. I can say that. It was raining by then and roads were waterlogged. You can’t see where you are stepping. Local authorities have made this pilgrim place a disappointment. When you make a rule that you cannot wear footwear into the temple, then you should arrange for a place where devotees and tourists can leave their footwear till they come out of the temple. The government should develop this historical place which also has mythological importance if it wants to keep the local economy thriving. It is not only the outsides of the temple but also the insides. There are 22 holy wells from which temple-appointed people draw water and pour on people who go and stand in front of them. These drenched people leave a water trail wherever they go within the temple and make the whole premises wet and muddy. All these 22 wells are not in an order, so you will find people lost looking for the next temple. Securities there are also not much helpful. The chaos inside the temple, which is supposed to be a holy peaceful place, takes a toll on you. At least, it took a toll on me. I left the temple immediately without bothering to see the god. I was fed up of the place.

I went back to my hotel room, rested there for a long time. When time was up, I checked out of my room and went to have lunch at Daiwik hotel. They had a vegetarian buffet spread for only Rs.500 and was about to close at 3 pm. I went in at 2:55 pm. Once inside, they wouldn’t throw me out before I finished my lunch, so I ate slowly and peacefully. Just a few metres away from this hotel is the main bus stop of Rameshwaram. After lunch, I went there and spent my time listening to music till the clock struck 6 pm. My bus to Bangalore came. I caught a last glimpse of the view from the Pamban Bridge and again slept early.

Boats call it a day

Boats call it a day

Before I tell you where I stayed, I would like to tell you it is not easy to find a hotel room for a single female traveller. Whatever maybe the reason, it seems like these hotel owners would rather leave a woman looking for a place to stay on the roads than give a room in their premises. I was lucky enough to find a place to stay after too many calls from Bangalore to Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram. In Kanyakumari, I stayed at Ferdin Homestay which you will find on your left-hand side when you walk up the lane from Gandhi Mandapam. The hotel is clean and cosy. Since I am not finding its website link, I will be sharing its manager, Mr. P George’s contact number here. His number is +919865823026. In Rameshwaram, I stayed at Hotel Harish. This is again a neat and comfortable. Both the hotels are single-women-friendly.

This whole trip did not cost me much. Train and sleeper bus tickets together cost about Rs.2500. It all depends on your comfort level. I need to stretch my legs and sleep well even while travelling. If you are fine with sitting and travelling and sleeping, then you can opt accordingly and that will cost you lesser than what I have mentioned. The hotel rooms where I stayed were of the “affordable” range since I couldn’t get TNSTDC rooms; 12 pm check in to 12 pm check out type and were about Rs.1200 each for 24 hours. Since the choice of food is up to you, the food cost also depends on you. For me, it didn’t go more than Rs.300 per day. Including entry fee, ferry fee and misc expenses, my total trip cost didn’t go beyond Rs.6000/-.

About the travel, I booked train and bus tickets as soon as bookings opened. Prior planning as always good as long as you don’t intend to hitchhike. You can always change your plans about which place to see after reaching the destination, but you need a destination to begin with.

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