Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Land's end

It's an early start for a day of sightseeing on an official government tour. Breakfast at 7 then the Col. gives us a lift to the bus departure point.

The bus is a 12-seater minibus and there are 11 of us so fortunately S can stretch his legs. We set off during rush-hour and negotiate the madness of morning traffic in the state capital.

The other passengers are all Indian and from all parts of the country and as this would mean a number of different languages the guide speaks in English which is great for us. He collects the admission fees and cost of lunch for the day, it's 330rs each (approx £5)

Our first stop is Padmanabhapuram Palace which is stunning. It's a complex of 14 different palaces, all wood-built with intricate carvings and detail. The ceiling of the first part is carved flowers, every one is different and there are almost 100 of them.

The original sections date from 1550 and it is the largest wooden palace complex in all of Asia, not just India.

Room follows room of carving, and it's just spectacular. There are ivory inlaid beds, pictures, secluded areas for the women, a gallery with little spy holes for servants to watch the dancing, an amazingly decorated dancing hall - it's very beautiful. And it is in the care of the archaeological dept so is well looked after.

After this we cross the state border to Tamil Nadu and next stop is the Suchindram temple. The area is again a large temple complex with many smaller shrines and a lot of stalls and shops.

There is a large pool that is used for bathing although the water is a particularly lurid toxic green and looks very unsafe! In the middle is a small shrine.

The main temple has a huge towering gate - gopuram - which is bright white in the blazing sunshine. Men have to remove shirts to go in and S seems reluctant to do so, so we don't enter.

There are pilgrims, sellers and beggars and goats, the odd cow and some particularly mangy dogs, it's quite busy already, and the air smells of a mixture of spices and food from the stalls, goats, rubbish, pee - it's quite a nasal assault!

After about 40 minutes we board the coach and carry on.

The guide gets a little tetchy with some of the other tourists who don't seem to understand the itinerary and it looks like they keep asking him when is lunch or what are we doing next. To be honest, he's not a contender for friendliest guide of the year, his tour of the palace is very cursory - he's probably been tens of times, but it's an amazing place, I'd have liked longer there. It's a real whistle stop run through whereas the temple, at which there is less to see, is too long a stop, IMHO.

3rd stop is the wax museum in Kanyakumari which is at an amusement park. It is the first - and so far I think the only - wax museum in India. We could take the option not to go but it seems like it could be mildly amusing!

There are about 20 waxworks in all - mainly Indian politicians and celebs. However, the select westerners include Michael Jackson who looks like both a vampire and a zombie at the same time, the Pope, Charlie Chaplin and Einstein. They are recognisable mainly through dress rather than most faithful reproduction of the face. It takes about 10 minutes to see them all.

Then we have lunch at the government hotel, Kerala House. This is a big building with good views of the sea. Lunch is rice, sambar, avial, cabbage thoran, thinned-down yoghurt (which some treat as lassi and drink) a pickle and what I think is rasam. The sambar is particularly spicy and there is plenty. It's not the best we've had but it's perfectly decent. The service is more than a little soviet though!

After lunch we go to the Vivekananda memorial which we reach by boat. It's on a rock 400metres offshore. The boat is quite an experience, there's little number control, passengers each pick up a life jacket and when the pile has gone the boat departs. Children don't get a vest and people tend not to actually put them on. And at the other end you toss the jacket onto a heap for the next crossing.

Vivekananda was a Swami who meditated on the rock and the memorial takes the form of a hall, a small shrine with a foot-shaped projection where Parvati is supposed to have stepped (I think, that might be wrong) and a meditation hall.

The shoes-leaving place is free and the stone is hot underfoot but it is extraordinary to think that due south is Antarctica - no other land between here and the ice shelf.

Next to the memorial is another island with an enormous statue of a Tamil poet.

We return to shore and walk through the bazaar and past stalls then sit by the Ghandi memorial. Soon we are approached by a man who decides to give me beads. Now obv. nothing is free, and I have no idea whether what he gives me is of any value whatsoever so we give him some rupees. It might be too much or too little, impossible to know! Then he asks for English coins, pens, anything English - none of which we have. I don't think he believes us.

THEN we get corralled by a guide who shows us the memorial. We give him a tip of 100rs (nearly £1.50), and he hassles us for more, even though the book says 10rs is enough.

It's tiring being hassled for money all the time. Yes, we are apparently rich westerners, yes, the people here often have very little but the hassle can be exhausting.

We walk along by the sea - this is the place where 3 seas meet - the bay of Bengal, Indian ocean and Arabian sea.

There are stalls all along the seafront and stretch for a good mile or two. We look at clouds gathering and decide to back to the hotel where the bus is parked. Then we go to find some tea. As we do the heavens open and the rains come down.

We retreat to the hotel foyer. We are supposed to leave at 5.15, however a small group have decided that they don't want to leave yet and seem to be refusing to go. They want to watch the sunset over the sea. Even though it obvious that it is too cloudy to see anything. There is a faint glow behind the clouds but the possibility of watching the sun go down as if sinking into the sea will be negligible.

I get to thinking "if you can't beat them..." and we go up to the roof to see the view. There is the sun behind a cloud to the west and some very dark clouds to the east and the nothingness ahead to the south.

Eventually the others realise that there really is no chance of seeing a sunset so we go back and get into the bus. Much to the relief of the guide who I think is at his wit's end with these naughty passengers!

As we leave the end of the continent it starts to rain, and we embark on the 3 hour drive back. The seats are uncomfortable for this length of time and poor S is cramped with his long legs. But we arrive back at the appointed time and the Col. meets us.

We come home, change and have dinner. Chickpea curry, vegetables, paneer and potatoes and fish and chips! Once again it is delicious, the chickpeas especially so.

Then bed as it has been a long day.


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