Bengaluru: As magnificent as it is touted, Kanyakumari is the southernmost tip of mainland India, bathed in sunshine, which is hemmed by waters on three sides.
Also known as Cap Comorin or Kumari Munai, Kanyakumari is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
If you’re a geography-conscious traveler, like Kashmir, Kanyakumari should be central to your idea of India. Both destinations are where India begins and ends. Both destinations are equally popular among travelers. Although Kashmir attracts more romance, Kanyakumari is not too far behind, especially if you are a fan of sunny beaches and groves.
Famous for its resplendent dawns and dusks, it is the only place on Earth where you can witness both sunrise and sunset from the same location. Not only that, if you plan your city tour on full moon nights, you can also witness the rare spectacle of moonrise and moonset at the same time.
Rarer still is the annual spectacle of Chitra Pournami, the magnificent April-May moonset and moonrise, when the sun and moon face each other on the same horizon.
Unfortunately, during our visit, the sky was not clear enough for us to witness the epic in all its glory. Nevertheless, the experience was still magical.
As the sun set in the cool winter breeze, the horizon shifted from scarlet and crimson to turquoise and purple, the clouds of fire rolling in to make the atmosphere ethereal.
Favored by tourists throughout the year, due to its natural beauty, which is enhanced by the confluence of two seas, the Bay of Bengal and the Laccadive Sea with the Indian Ocean, Kanyakumari offers a wide range of visitor experiences.
Apart from the beautiful sunrise and sunset, the small town has many popular tourist attractions including the soothing Gandhi Ashram, the towering statue of Thiruvalluvar, the adjacent Vivekananda Rock Memorial, both located off the coast on tiny twin islands, and the azure beach of Cape Comorin. .
The twin attractions of Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the 41-meter-tall statue of the legendary Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar are filled with both tourists and pilgrims.
The memorial marks the spot where Swami Vivekananda is said to have attained enlightenment, while the 133-foot-tall stone sculpture pays homage to the Tamil poet and philosopher, with the height of each foot symbolizing a chapter of his work filled with virtue, wisdom and love. Both monuments are only accessible by government-operated ferries.
An ancient city, with a history dating back to Tamil Sangam times, Kanyakumari was mentioned by the Greek scholar Ptolemy and the medieval Venetian traveler Marco Polo in their historical accounts.
Located at the confluence of the western and eastern coastal plains rising towards the initial formation of the Western Ghats, the city and the eponymous district are rich in natural wealth, including an abundance of wild herbs used for herbal medicine.
A short hike through the forests and into the hills gives avid travelers ample exposure to the aromatic herbs as well as a serene meditative experience. The panoramic view of the sea from the hills is also breathtaking.
Although Kanyakumari is the smallest district in Tamil Nadu, it is the second most densely populated administrative block in the state after Chennai.
It lies on the border with Kerala and hence closer to the state in terms of geography, topography, climate and culture.
Just like Kerala, this small district is also known for its pristine beaches, adorned with innumerable coconut groves, rubber plantations and vast expanses of verdant rice paddies.
The easiest access to the city is also from Kerala, with Trivandrum being the nearest major city and the nearest international airport.
Considered an auspicious place by many religious denominations, pilgrims flock to Kanyakumari, especially during winter, for a sacred bathe at the confluence on their way to or from the Sabrimala Temple in Kerala.
During this roughly 45-day period, from early December to mid-January, the beaches and bazaars of Kanyakumari are at their busiest, attracting not only shoppers but also vendors and hawkers from all over India.
But, what caught our attention the most was the temporary bazaar facing the sea along the main promenade which is packed with customers all day until late at night.
From jackets and sweaters to trinkets and accessories, the bazaar is the place to shop for discounts if you know how to haggle.
Amidst all the sightseeing and shopping, don’t forget to try the mouth-watering local seafood delicacies, it’s a paradise for fish lovers.
However, the only thing that bothered us a bit was the weather. Even in the depths of January winter, it was sweltering, especially from noon to 4 p.m.
But despite the weather, this ancient capital of the kingdom of Travancore deserves a visit at least once in a lifetime. Have a good trip !
–Shafaat Shahbandari is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of thousand shades of india