Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reaching the Tip of the Subcontinent

Asian black bear at the zoo
Since we were afraid of losing all forward momentum if we stayed in Varkala any longer, we got up the next morning with the intention of moving on to Kanyakumari with a stop in Trivandrum to visit the zoo.  We both enjoy an opportunity to view to native animals, and this zoo was supposed to be one of the best in India and have a number of tigers.  The ride to Trivandrum was hectic (I was ready to turn around and go back to Varkala within fifteen minutes of leaving), but we made it there before noon, found a spot to park, and joined the crowds of people who also planned to enjoy an afternoon at the zoo.  We wandered along with everyone else, stopping to watch the animals do their things.  We spent a couple of hours there and were impressed overall with the conditions of the habitats.  The large animals (cats, bears, rhinos) had good-sized, grassy and tree-shaded areas with cover and places to climb if they wanted.  The aviaries were also pretty nice with a good variety of birds.  After we'd seen the animals, we got back on the bikes to continue to Kanyakumari, the southermost tip of India.

Of course it took longer to get there that we anticipated due to another load of extremely heavy traffic and nasty pavement.  While trying to make our way through some unknown town, I did, however, see my first elephant being moved in the bed of a truck.  At first I thought it was a hairless, oversized cow or water buffalo, but when I got right behind it, I saw that no, it wasn't mange, it was wrinkles, and it had much larger ears than any cow I've seen.  You just never know what you'll encounter here. 

epitome of serenity yellow walls
Once we got to Kanyakumari, the sun was setting and I went walkies to look for a place to stay.  I managed to score a room with a beautiful sea and temple tank view from the balcony, and it was painted the most serene shade of yellow imaginable (see pic).  After we'd checked in and dumped our crap in the room, we went got some dinner (a really tasty but fiery hot veg thali) and then looked around the bazaar.  Kanyakumari has a large temple which attracts many pilgrims along with the people there to see the southern tip of India, where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal meet, and they were all out shopping that night.  It was like a carnival between the lights, the neon colors of the chetsch and strings of seashells for sale, the snacks frying on the steetside, and the children with money in their grubby paws, running around trying to decide how to spend it. I do not understand the prevalence of polarfleece and sweaters being sold.  This is the tropics, not Alaska, but people here certainly have a different idea of what exactly cold is.

view from our balcony with evil church
The next morning we were rudely awakened at 5am by the horrendous noises coming from the PA system of the Catholic church nearby.  Apparently they are trying to convert the local population through sleep deprivation and caterwauling (I am unable to come up with a more plausible reason for the very ungodly (to my ears anyway) sounds).   I understand the make a joyful noise bit and that my idea of melodious may be different from others, but does it have to start before the sun rises? I found our earplugs, we stuffed them in our ears, and eventually went back to sleep.  Once we got up,  we went out and had masala dosai and delicious milk coffee for breakfast among the tables of pilgrims and walked down to the southernmost tip of India for a photo op.  We were unfortunately unable to get the bikes down there for a group portrait, so the snapshots of Colin and me will have to suffice. 

Colin at southernmost tip of India
Kanyakumari has a museum devoted to the Wandering Monk (with a very tasteful neon sign), Swami Vivekananda, which has an in-depth account of his journey throughout India on which he learned about the religions of India, picked up followers along the way, and developed a philosophy incorporating all religions and social justice to make India great and tried to spread it to the west as well.  Later, we took the ferry out to an island approximately 400 meters off shore, where the Swami meditated at the end of his all-India journey.  Here, his followers have built a memorial and temple to pay tribute to him.  The ferry trip was our first real introduction to the legendary queuing in India.  First, we had to get into a mile-long line to buy a ticket, all the while fending off latecomers who believe they want to get on the ferry worse than you do.  Then, after finally getting a ticket, we joined another mile-long line to board the ferry.  This line was inside the ferry building, and it was hot.  A family who was in line behind us shared some of their snack food (chaat) with us while we all waited, and of course, it was spicy.  After nearly an hour from the time we first joined the line, we finally got on the boat for the five minute ride to the island.  After touring the first island, you queue again to get back on the ferry for the 100 meter ride to the next island to see the 133-feet high statue of the Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar.  We didn't really want to go to this island, but that's where the boat went.  We would have liked to have stayed on the boat and gone back to the mainland, but no, you must get off and get in another line in order to get back on the next boat.  By now, the temperature was 95 degrees and we were dishrags.  Fortunately, while we waited for the next ferry, I was able to score two cups of vanilla ice cream, which melted as fast as we ate it.  The ferry finally made it back to the mainland, and we only had to queue once more to drop our life preservers in the pile before FREEDOM!  Now it seems to me that this entire scenario could be avoided by building a footbridge.  Rather than taking a day and a half in various lines waiting for tickets, boats, etc, people could just walk the 400 meters to the island, have a look, then walk across a footbridge between the two islands, then walk back.  Save petrochemicals, save the environment, make people exercise, seems pretty win-win?

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