Saturday, November 12, 2005
Kanyakumari and Beyond
It has now been close to a week since ending our journey through South India. The last leg of our journey consisted of visiting many famous and pilgrimage sites. However, the first place we went after our houseboat adventure in Kerala was all the way to the southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari. It is where 3 bodies of water merge-The Bay of Bengal, The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Here we witnessed incredible sunsets, a beautiful island where the statue of famous Vivekanand stands (picture above) along with a peaceful temple, and sandy beaches with fishermen always hard at work (picture also above-those nets look heavy). After spending a couple days here, we started our journey to the north. The city of Madhuri (back in the state of Tamil Nadu) is well known for the Sri Meenakshi Temple (picture above), which is an amazing temple complex. It has 12 highly decorated gopurams (gateway towers) and was completely covered with carvings of various deities and animal figures. After Madhuri, we went to the city of Rameswaram, which is actually considered one of the most holy pilgrimage centers for Hindus, and is considered one of the 4 sacred sites. It was quite a unique experience. In order to do darshan (prayer), we first had to go to the temple at 5am, then we had to “bathe” (dunk ourselves) in the river at sunrise (we actually saw the sunrise, as we dunked ourselves fully clothed), and then walked around the entire temple (dripping wet, mind you) as we were “blessed” (dunked with) with holy water from 22 different wells. Afterwards, we left for the cities of Tanjore and Tiruchirappalli (known as Trichy), which also had fascinating temples, filled with ornately decorated walkways, doors and shrines.
We next had a religious hiatus and headed for Pondicherry, a city completely different from other Indian cities. Although the French rule left 50 years ago, the remnants of a former French colony is easily seen within the architecture, ambience and even some of the local food. We had a chance to visit the infamous Aurobindo Ashram, where many devotees stay for weeks. However, we just enjoyed the food, the clean streets and relaxing by the seaside.
The final leg of our journey was that of going to Tirupathi, which is actually better known than even the Meenakshi temple. It is said that there are never fewer than 5,000 pilgrims at any one time, and in fact in a single day,the number may reach 100,000. (this is according to Lonely Planet, our bible). In fact, it said "it is said the number of people who come to worship eclipses the Vatican, Mecca and Jerusalum". It was an incredible experience to say the least. We arrived in the evening time on the day of Diwali, and we already had gotten some advance darshan tickets. Our waiting time of 2 hours was nothing compared to the 12 hours that some wait, and others who actually walked the 14km hill barefoot to come to the “holy hill”. When we actually entered the temple, we could literally fell the energy and the faith of the people crowded around us. I was moved by the lengths and depths that some of these people, who probably were quite poor, had come to make this pilgrimage.
The last few days of our trip was spent in Bangalore…no more gardens, tea plantations or even temples…basically, Tarak and I went nuts at the malls…HUGE export warehouse sales!!! Anyway, we were are now in Gujarat and await the Patel clans’ arrival in the next few days.