Located at the southernmost tip of peninsular India, Kanyakumari (also called Cape Comorin earlier) in Tamil Nadu is a popular tourist destination. It is off the coast here that the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet. Named after the patron deity goddess Kanya Kumari, the town is also famous for its sunrise and sunset views (subject to a clear sky).
An early start
If you have arrived the night before, then check with your hotel about the time of the sunrise on the morrow. Be at the Kanyakumari beach before that. Be prepared to accept that others have beaten you to it and you may have to jostle with the crowd to get a vantage spot. Sunrise view is possible from a handful of hotels (open to their guests only though).
Either return to your hotel to freshen up or go to the temple of Kanya Kumari followed by breakfast. Many pilgrims prefer to take a bath in the sea before going to the temple.
Temple of Kanya Kumari
With devotees queuing up through the day, early morning is the best time to visit this temple (open to Hindus only) if you want to avoid the crowd. The temple is dedicated to Kanya Kumari or Kumariamman, an incarnation of Goddess Shakti, who decided to drop her marriage plans when Shiva failed to turn up by the appointed hour. According to legends, it was a divine strategy because she was required to defeat Banasura, a demon, who had unseated the gods from their heavenly abode. Entry is through the north gate. Time: 4.30am to 12.30pm; 4pm to 8pm. Men have to remove their upper garments before entering the main temple (a practice common to many temples in south India).
Next, queue up for the ferry that takes visitors to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, situated on a hillock inside the sea.
Vivekananda Rock Memorial
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Swami Vivekananda, way back in 1892, had bravely swam across the sea to reach the rocks which, according to legends, contained the footprint of Kanya Kumari. He meditated for three days and three nights and swam back to shore, determined to attend the World Religious Conference in Chicago (US). The memorial was opened to the public in 1970. Poompuhar Shipping Corporation runs ferry services from the mainland to the rock memorial. Here too expect a long queue. Separate charges for launch ride and entry to Rock Memorial (open 8am to 4pm).
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On the way back from the Rock Memorial, the boat halts briefly at this point. The 95 feet tall statue of famous Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar stands on a pedestal of 38 feet; the 133 feet tall structure is a symbolic representation of the 133 Thirukkural chapters composed by him. The statue was inaugurated in 2000 and is a popular tourist attraction. You can take a lunch break after returning to mainland. Depending on the time at your disposal, you may now go for a round of some of the popular attractions until it is time to visit the Sunset Point.
A memorial marks the spot where the urn containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi after cremation was kept before being immersed at the point where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet. Open 7am to 7pm.
A memorial in honour of the veteran Tamil politician K Kamaraja, who among other things, was the chief minister of Madras State (1954-63). Open 7am to 7pm.
Our Lady of Ransom Church
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An architecturally splendid Catholic church not far from the Kanyakumari beach. The statue of Mother Mary is said to have been brought from Italy.
Displays include sculptures from temples of southern India, including a 7th century bronze statue Nataraj (Dancing Shiva), and other galleries. Open 9.30 am to 5pm; closed on Fridays and second Saturdays.
Visitors have provided mixed reviews. While many find the wax figures of popular stars from the entertainment world interesting, some have complained about the ticket price.
Located near the town’s railway station, this 1000 year old temple was built by the Chola ruler Raja. Open 6am to 11.15am, 5pm to 8.45pm.
Headquarters of the Vivekananda Kendra founded by Eknath Ranade (who was instrumental in having the Vivekananda Rock Memorial built), it lies to the north of the town centre. Apart from the activities pursued by the Kendra, there are few things to see. There are two separate exhibitions – The Wandering Monk and Arise!Awake! – on Swami Vivekananda, his life and teachings. Another exhibition Gangtori talks about the life and teachings of Eknath Ranade. However, please check the timing of the museums; they may remain closed between noon and 4pm. The Gramodaya Park is a lesson on how to pursue sustainable living. The Kendra also has accommodation facilities for travellers.
End of day
A little before sunset, everyone makes a beeline for the slightly off centre beach where there is a viewing tower (ticketed entry). You may spend the evening visiting the temple or its neighbourhood, browse through the souvenir shops on the beach where you will find artefacts and ornaments made from seashells, and conch shells of various sizes.
Excursions on your mind?
If you want to escape the touristy attractions, then after an early lunch or soon after completing the boat trip, you can hire a car to take you to Padmanabhapuram Palace, about 50km from Kanyakumari. On the way back, you can pay a visit to Suchindram, about 15km from Kanyakumari.
Padmanabhapuram was the capital of Travancore Samasthanam until 1798. The wooden palace is known for its architectural style, carvings, and an assortment of artefacts. Open from 9am to 1pm and from 2pm to 4.30 pm on all days except Mondays. Entry, camera and car parking fees apply.
The 17th century Sthanumalayan Temple is dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are also four musical pillars, each 18 feet tall and carved out of a single stone. The temple is open from 4am to 11.00am and from 5pm to 8pm.