The Southern Sojourn I : Kanyakumari

The first thing which I did after getting my hands on a 2016 calendar was count the number of long weekends. With 26th January being a Tuesday, I just could not resist the temptation of applying for a leave on Monday and making it an extra long weekend!
The urge to visit the southernmost tip of India had always been strong, especially once I had started off with motorcycle touring. Rameshwaram, which boasts of the iconic Pamban Bridge and the eerie ghost town of Dhanushkodi, is just 300-odd kilometres away from Kanyakumari. Hit up the usual group and asked if someone would be interested in joining us. Most of them had other commitments, but AarCee agreed to join us. A few days later, he also got his cousin Cyan to join the group, so now we had four people and three motorcycles. Extended weekends usually mean greater difficulty in getting accommodation at reasonable prices – we had to search for a while before we managed to get something that seemed decent and did not charge exorbitant rates.
So, the tentative plan looked something like this :
Day 1 : Bangalore to Kanyakumari
Day 2: Kanyakumari local attractions + start off towards Rameshwaram in the evening
Day 3: Visit Dhanushkodi and other local attractions
Day 4: Rameshwaram to Bangalore

Day 1 :

Getting a good night’s rest before a motorcycle trip is not something I have been able to master yet. We were supposed to meet up at Attibele at 4:30-ish in the morning, but things don’t always go exactly as planned, especially when you are sleep deprived. After a couple of hours of pointless tossing and turning, just when I had started getting comfortable, the alarm goes off. By the time the packing was done, it was already 4:30. AarCee called up at 4:45 to inform that they too had missed the alarm, and would be late by atleast 30 more minutes. In the meantime, we had already reached the meeting point, and decided to carry on at a leisurely pace, hoping that they would catch up. The last trip (to Hyderabad) had taught us a good lesson about how chilly it can get in the early morning – we had taken the precaution of adding extra layers of clothing. By the time we reached Krishnagiri, somehow both of us were somewhat drowsy and extremely hungry. We stopped by one of the Sarvana Bhavan eateries that was still open at that hour – filled ourselves with piping hot Pongal and refreshing filter coffee, and continued onwards. The next tentative stop would be at Salem, where we were supposed to have our breakfast. But due to the delay in starting off, AarCee and Cyan had stopped in Thoppur for breakfast, while we continued on towards Madurai. It was almost after Dindigul ( around 400 kms from Bangalore ) that we first saw the CBR250 fly past us. At the next toll booth, we found Cyan waiting for the others to catch up. AarCee arrived about a few minutes later, and finally the entire group was together. A short introduction followed (we had not met Cyan before, it was AarCee who invited him to join our trip), and then we pushed off to find a restaurant where we could take a pitstop. We stopped at Hotel Fantasy , around 40 kms before Madurai – and it was a surprisingly good choice. They had ample parking space, clean restrooms and lot of open space. The restaurant itself had a good variety of Indian and Chinese cuisine – we ordered garlic chicken and mixed fried rice, while AarCee and Cyan only ordered starters. They reasoned that travelling on a lighter stomach would be more preferable ( a wise decision, in hindsight ). Chicken 009 (nought-nought-nine, as they called it) was a great revelation for us here!

After lunch, we were back on the road – the CBR and the KTM revved up and surged ahead in no time, while we kept cruising along at our own pace. The NH7 is excellent on this stretch, the roads were smooth and not too much traffic. To be honest, sleep deprivation, the thump of a Royal Enfield, and smooth roads add up to a really dangerous cocktail of comfort and drowsiness. We tried switching rider and pillion positions a couple of times, just to shuffle things up. We managed to keep going, occasionally cursing ourselves for not carrying along a few RedBull cans. Finally spotted a CCD outlet – but unfortunately there weren’t any RedBulls in stock! Had to make do with a couple of cups of coffee and a pack of pineapple flavored biscuits from a roadside eatery.

Post Tirunelveli, the road turned exceptionally scenic, with scores of windmills dotting the skyline. The winding NH7 and the windmills lining up beside the roads – it was a great photographic opportunity! The NH7, after traversing a major part of the country’s length, finally ends in Kanyakumari – so we crossed several boards mentioning “Road ends after x km” on the way.

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Finally, reached Kanyakumari and managed to navigate our way to Hotel TriSea, which is just a 5 minute walk from the Kanyakumari beach. The KTM and the CBR had already reached sometime back – so we parked the bike and hauled our luggage up. The room was a small basic double bed – with no windows, and somewhat claustrophobic. Just as we were about to unpack, received a call from AarCee – they had negotiated with the hotel management and had managed to get an upgrade to a terrace four bed room with a awesome view of the Kanyakumari beachfront. This room was really nice and spacious, and had a killer view. Got an opportunity to finally utilise the DSLR – the hotel had its own sunrise/sunset viewing platforms on the roof. We went up, enjoyed the breeze and clicked a few pictures of the sun setting down behind the vast expanse of the ocean.

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lighthouse_zpszwtdncqyOnce we were done with unpacking and freshening up, went out for a short walk along the small market by the side of the beach. Enjoyed the seaside breeze for sometime, gazing out at the silhouettes of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar statue across the water. As exhaustion was slowly catching up – we decided to head back towards the hotel. Dinner was a really ‘jolly’ affair – as we stuffed ourselves and debated on the finer points of motorcycles – while Tamil music blared on in the background, at the Jolly Pub. Most of the debate was, as usual, based on whether the KTM RC is a suitable touring machine, or not – this is bound to happen when AarCee is present!
Post dinner, we returned back to our hotel room – and then everyone decided that we should utilize the big terrace and enjoy the breeze. Though it was a good idea, somehow my sleep deprived body did not hold up much longer – and after sometime, I just picked myself up from the terrace and plopped down on the bed. Sheer bliss.

Day 2 :
I wanted to get a good click of the rising sun, so was up by 5:30 AM. Joined a few other hopefuls from the hotel, who had taken the trouble of getting up early and climbing up to the viewing platform. Unfortunately, the skies were not adequately clear, and the sunrise was not too spectacular – the clouds obstructed most of the vision and by the time the sun was visible, it was already high up above the horizon. Somewhat dissappointed, I returned to the comfort of the blankets and slept off again. Needless to mention, the plans of starting out early did not materialize. It was well past 11 when everyone was finally done with their packing and preparations. We checked out, requested the hotel guys to keep our luggage safe for sometime, and then left off towards the beach. Decided to have lunch at the restaurant next door, and then moved towards the jetty.

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The Vivekananda Memorial and the Thiruvillar Statue

The Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a tribute to the great Indian philosopher, Swami Vivekananda – it is said that he swam through the waters and on this secluded piece of rock, he meditated for 3 days. It was here that he is supposed to have attained enlightenment through his meditations. As a memorial to him and his philosophy, this memorial had been constructed on that very rock. The Vivekananda Mandapam was added to the rock memorial – it consists of several mandapams ( meditation rooms, assembly and prayer halls). The Vivekananda Kendra, which is an organization dedicated towards spreading the gospel of Vivekananda, also has its established headquarters here.
There is a to-and-fro launch service from the mainland to the island. The tickets are pretty cheap – and the queue is equally long. We reached the jetty only to find more than a hundred people waiting ahead in a long, twisted queue that snaked through the busy marketplace outside the jetty. Fortunately, one can jump the queue and opt for the premium tickets – which cost almost 4 times the normal ticket ( and even after that they are reasonably priced! ). We got our tickets and proceeded towards the jetty where a pile of old, faded life jackets in various stages of decay and disrepair. Slip one of those on ( or you can even just hold on to it ) and you will be ushered towards the gently rocking launch. It barely takes ten minutes for the launch to reach the island – once there you need to submit the life jacket back ( throw it in a heap ) and carry on towards the memorial.

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ML Vivekananda – Our ride to the Vivekananda memorial island

The memorial is a simple, clean structure around which there is a platform which affords a good view of both the sea as well as the city of Kanyakumari. Apart from the actual rock memorial, there are smaller prayer mandapams, and a meditation hall. Visitors ( and their mobile phones ) are requested to remain silent inside the dark, peaceful room – and most people oblige. The room is pretty much silent, except for the shuffle of people coming or leaving, and the reverberating ‘om’ chant that keeps playing in the background. Apart from this, there were shops selling souvenirs and books – everyone got something or the other except for me ( as usual ). Unfortunately for us, the Thiruvalluvar statue was closed for renovations, so this was our first as well as last stop in Kanyakumari.

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Entrance to the main hall of the memorial, and 3 posers
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The memorial is built on the rock on which Swami Vivekananda meditated for 3 days
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Thiruvalluvar on his eternal watch over the town of Kanyakumari

The next stop on our itinerary was Rameshwaram, at a distance of roughly 350 km from Kanyakumari. We started of pretty late, it was around 1730 hours by the time we crossed Tirunelveli.

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Catch us if you can!

After that, the roads were mostly single lane state highways hugging the coastline – characterized by a distinct saline smell in the air. Not too much traffic on the roads, fortunately – but the flipside was that the route was not straightforward – there were a number of diversions and unmarked left/right turns. Cyan led the way as he was the fastest and had a tank bag which made using the GPS on his phone easier. The notion of riding on the ECR , at night, was appealing in theory, but practically it was nothing extra-ordinarily gratifying. Darkness shrouded most of the places, and the occasional patches of poor roads reduced the speed of the group. AarCee had a tough time negotiating the bumpy road on his KTM. We rode for almost a couple of hours without any major breaks, just taking short stops at every major deviation to regroup. Finally, as the hunger pangs started, we stopped at a small dhaba in the middle of nowhere. The reason for choosing this particular place – the board in front of the shop had, among a lot of other things, the picture of a chicken ( implying that non veg was available ). We had assumed that Rameshwara, given its significance as a holy city, would not have many non vegetarian options. It proved to be an excellent decision, and we gobbled down enormous amounts of kerela paratha and chicken. So much so, that one of the guys even offered us to taste another paratha preparation! It was a delicious discovery – something we liked so much that we rode back 50+ km on the next day just to taste this again ( more on that later ).
With our tummies happily satiated, we started on our way again – Rameshwaram was around 60kms away, and with literally zero traffic on the roads, we could carry on at a relatively faster pace. It started drizzling for a few minutes – but we decided to press on anyway – and fortunately the drizzle did not intensify anymore. There were a couple of checkpoints on the way, but I guess no one cares much about two wheelers and we were waved through without having to stop. The town wore a deserted look ( it was well past 11 when we reached ) – a few dogs welcomed us at the town entrance. The hotel was a few kilometers ahead, right next to the famous Agnee Teertham. Somehow, the hotel staff seemed to have no clue about our bookings. They had to be shown the booking invoice multiple times to convince them that we had booked and paid for the rooms in advance. Almost all of the rooms were already occupied, and they could only get us two left over double bed rooms ( probably the worst ones, going by the fact that those were left unoccupied ). We don’t consider ourselves to be fussy travellers, especially about hotel rooms in particular – but the state of the rooms really left us pissed off. It was a good thing that we were too tired to care about that – it took all my remaining energy just to haul the luggage up to the room, get out of the heavy and stiff riding gear and get freshened up. Promising myself that I would do something about the dismal condition of the room ( broken cupboards, dirty restrooms, stuffy, stale air in general ) the first thing tomorrow morning, I drifted off to sleep.

P.S. : Read the second installment of this triplog here.

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