Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Invading God's Own Country - 2

Continued from

Day 3 – Jan ,2 2007

Got woken up by the squawk of the train superintendent on the PA system announcing the arrival of our destination Trivandrum Central. A few minutes later, we got off and took an auto to our hotel. My parents went off to see the famous Ananta Padmanabha Swamy Temple while me and bro chose to relax in the room.

Around eleven, we headed to the famous beach Kovalam, which in fact is a collection of 3 crescent shaped beaches dominated by a lighthouse. Kovalam, is infested with tourists of all shapes, sizes and colors and accordingly by hotels to suit their needs. The entire area around Kovalam and neighbouring beaches is littered by besuty centres and clinics promising an Ayurvedic massage to cure anything from acne to constipation and everything in between.

After the customary family photographs posing against the surf and the sand, we decided to pack up and head to Kanniyakumari instead. Our erstwhile rulers, the Brits had no hope in hell to get the name right, so they used to call it Cape Comorin. Trivandrum, er… should I say Thrivananthapuram is connected to Kanniyakumari via the NH 47. The road is just about the most ridiculous highway you would ever come across. Even the main street in Ghosipur would be wider than that.

Even stranger is the fact that settlement from Trivandrum to Kanniyakumari seems to extend in one continuous chain. You simply cannot tell where one town ends and the other starts unless you read the shop signs. In fact you would almost miss the border crossing into Tamil Nadu for a traffic check post !!

Had it not been at the tip of the sub-continent, or more importantly had it not been for Vivekananda’s urge to jump into the sea and meditate on the rock a furlong from the shore, Kanniyakumari would hardly have been famous. A garishly modern temple finished in 1970 stands as a memorial to the great saint on the same rock where the saint meditated for 2 days. A more recent addition is a huge statue of the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, erected on an adjacent outcrop. The statue, towers over the memorial and the surrounding landscape and also accessible by the same ferry which takes visitors to the Vivekananda memorial.

While the statue is pretty impressive, and would have made a pretty picture once it was lit up in the night – the more cynical of the tourists around me passed it off as an attempt the Dravidian’s to outdo the splendor of the Aryan monument right in their own backyard. However, for me the sight of an array of windmills a couple of miles to the east was far more impressive and interesting. It is good to note that India is beginning to realize the potential in harnessing wind power along its abundant coast line. Private sector companies should be encouraged to setup more such wind farms which can easily meet the energy needs of small and medium towns that dot our coast.

Another interesting sidelight is a wax statue museum (billed as India’s first) in a resort (curiously) called Baywatch (it actually overlooks the Arabian Sea side of Kanniyakumari). While some of the statues were life like, most of them let a lot to desire – though the place gets full marks for trying. Yours truly and kid brother had a gala time posing against politicians, film stars and even a sumo wrestler. After watching the sun extinguish itself for the night over the horizon, we made our way back to Trivandrum and crashed out as we had an early start the next day.

Day 4, Jan 3, 2007

In exactly 24 hours, we were back at Trivandrum station – this time to catch the Jan Shatabdi express to Allappuzha (formerly Alleppey). Alleppey is the gateway to Kerala’s famous backwaters along with Kumarakom and Cochin (Kochi). The train route from Trivandrum to Alleppey is very scenic and passes on the banks of many a gorgeous lake and crosses innumerable streams and rivers. The two hour ride was thoroughly enjoyable and more than made of for the disappointing breakfast served on board.

After the customary haggling ritual at the station with the auto drivers, we finally managed to make it to the jetty – my parents and bro in the auto, while I lugged it out in the city bus – which wasn’t too much fun considering the fact that I had a sizeable backpack with a tripod that was poking the locals much to their chagrin and to make matters worse, the roof ended exactly at my ears causing a neck ache in 5 minutes.

Alleppey is an old colonial town, and once very famous and prosperous especially for spice trade. It is slowly being taken over by ugly bazaars and the hideously ubiquitous glass and steel malls. However, it still retains its old world charm and not for nothing is it called the ‘Venice of the East.’ A network of canals and backwaters, interconnected with the lakes makes for a fascinating water transport system. The jetty has a boat station where one can catch a local or a intercity boat complete with its own number and a conductor with tickets !! To boot, even the horns are ripped off their land bound cousins (read buses) and with time in hand, one must explore them.

However, our foray into the town was only till the nearest restaurant to top up the breakfast and then made our way to our houseboat. I was really looking forward to this bit of the trip and upon the first glance the boat was straight out of my dreams – and yes the Kerala Tourism brochure. Christened, the ‘Orchid Blue’ – our boat was a 2 bedroom one, powered by a 6 cylinder Ashok Leyland marine diesel. Fore of the bedrooms was a lovely lounge from where we had the prettiest views of the backwaters leading to the Vembanad lake stretching all the way to Cochin, 61 miles away.


The Smokin' WDM2 said...

Incidentally I had been to Cape on Christmas day and I too liked the windmills very much. Did u notice a sort-of-building to the faaar east, off the windmills?

And yes, TVC-CAPE road is Sooooo fkd up.

Sidhusaaheb said...

Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know your opinion on how the Jan-Shatabdi compares to its rich cousin i.e. the Shatabdi Express.

The local and intercity boat-rides seem to be rather interesting!

Sriskandhs said...

If you have been on the Nagercoil-Tirunelveli line, you will observe a gazillion windmills over a stretch of about 20 odd kms. Damn impressive! And you have NEPC, Vestas, Suzlon ...all having windmills there. Harvesting Wind Energy is more tricky than it looks though.

Akshay said...

Hey man you have written the report so nicely that I am dying for the pics!!!!!

Perdy said...

Keep up the good work.