There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 4 March 2016

To the Very Tip of India: Part 10 of India's Deep South

We left Rameswaram in the morning, crossed the Indira Gandhi Bridge back to the mainland and turned southwest.

Today's journey, Rameswaram to Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari, at the southernmost tip of India, was 300km away and Thomas warned that the journey along minor roads across the coastal plain could take 5 or 6 hours. He had not travelled this way before and was not entirely convinced his satnav knew or cared about the roads of this poor, rural and remote region.

We caught occasional glimpses of the sea, but everywhere the flat land with its sandy soil clearly announced that this was where India petered out into the ocean.

We paused to watch a man tapping an Asian Palmyra Palm, generally known as a ‘toddy’ palm. The white cloudy liquid obtained ferments naturally to form the mildly alcoholic toddy or palm wine. It can also be fermented to make feni (as it is known in Goa, arrack in Sri Lanka) or boiled down to produce palm sugar as we saw on the Road to Mandalay in 2012.

Toddy tapping beside the road to Kanyakumari
The roads were better than expected and the traffic light so we made good progress, pausing for a cup of tea at the Happy Hotel shortly after 10. The word ‘hotel’ in India does not necessarily mean the same as in English; there was little possibility of booking a room at this roadside shack. They did, though, make a refreshing cup of tea in the local style, strong, milky, very sweet and frothy after being repeatedly poured from a great height.

A cup of tea at the Happy Hotel beside the road to Kanyakumari
 Few rural Indians are blessed with running water in their homes and must daily fetch water from a well, spring or tank. Lightweight plastic water jars make this task much easier, but it remains arduous and time consuming ….
Fetching the daily water, the road to Kanyakumari

…though sometimes it looks like a social occasion…

Companionable water carrying, the road to Kanyakumari

 … unlike the more solitary life of a goatherd.

Goatherd on the road to Kanyakumari

Further along, we saw a group of women carrying sickles and other small gardening implements. The state will employ any woman with no other means of support (largely widows whose children are too young to work) to tidy the roadside. They pay 200 Rupees (£2.10) a day, a pittance, maybe, but enough for basic survival. The idea is good - though I wish they would (or could) pay more - but it would be even better if the workers concentrated on litter rather than weeds; India is drowning in a sea of discarded plastic bags.

Near the ocean we passed an area of salt pans….
Salt pan beside the sea on the road to Kanyakumari

…and as the coast swung further south we kept straight on to join National Highway 44. NH-44 links Kanyakumari in the south with Srinagar, 3,745Km away in the far north.

We had a fuel stop at a garage which doubled as a home for retired petrol pumps.

Retired petrol pumps beside NH-44
The NH-44 has tolls….

Toll booth on the NH-44

 …and the little truck carrying rice straw seen from behind in the photo above looked even more dramatic from the side.

Rice straw on the move, NH-44
 We passed the last outbreak of the Western Ghats, the mountain range that runs down India’s western flank, and then a sizeable wind farm before arriving in Kanyakumari after only 4 hours driving.

The southernmost outbreak of the Western Ghats
Kanyakumari is a triangular town crammed into India’s triangular tip. Our hotel was on the northwest coast road a couple of hundred metres from the town centre. We checked in to our sea view room, had a light lunch (paneer pakora and a chicken 'cutlet') and hid for an hour from the heat of the sun.
Later we strolled into town along a sort of promenade.

The Promenade, Kanyakumari

There was a seaside atmosphere with stop-me-and-buy-one ice-cream vendors on bicycles and rows of stalls selling tee shirts, souvenirs and snacks to the day trippers who arrive by bus in huge numbers from the cities up the coast. Lynne was negotiating for some cinnamon when the popcorn salesman arrived.

Popcorn salesman at a food stall in Kanyakumari

At the end of the road we stood with the Indian Ocean in front of us, the Bay of Bengal to our left and the Arabian Sea to the right. Off-shore were two islands, one with a temple, the other a statue. They will feature in the next post, so I will say no more here.

Two islands off the end of India

I had broached the subject of our depleted supply of duty free with Thomas and he had promised to ask around among the drivers and locate the nearest ‘wine shop’. He was as good as his word and after our walk drove us to Kanyakumari’s one and only offie. It was just beyond the other end of the town, as though the city fathers did not want such a den of iniquity on their land. There was a small sign in Tamil and a heavy metal grid over a dark hole in a scruffy wall; no one would find it unless they knew it was there. Anyone would look furtive here, but in my shorts I look like a schoolboy (albeit a balding schoolboy) who knows he is misbehaving.

Looking guilty outside the 'Wine Shop', Kanyakumari

From the front, though, I think Thomas looked and felt more embarrassed. A brief negotiation produced a bottle of Old Monk Indian rum at a reasonable price. There was little choice, certainly no beer, and definitely no wine and it looked a place for people with a problem not social drinkers. Maybe the man who crept up beside us, wordlessly pushed 100 rupees through the bars and equally wordlessly received a half bottle of something brown was indeed a man with a problem.

I think Thomas looks slightly the more embarrassed.
'Wine Shop', Kanyakumari

Later we crossed the road from the hotel. Over the prom was a small park and we sat alone among the litter and watched the sun set in the sea, only it didn’t. As always seems to happen, it slid behind a bank of cloud several diameters above the horizon.

The sun fails to make it to the horizon, Kanyakumari

Back in the hotel we shared a biryani, prawn varuval (pepper fry), chana masala and rotis. It was all good, but the prawn varuval stood out, the heat and spices subtly enhancing the prawns’ flavour rather than obliterating it.
Part 8: Madurai
Part 9: Rameswaram



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