The last time I visited here was in May-June 1977.
We had then driven , partially , down the west coast , via Kolhapur, Belgaum, Hubli, Dharwar, Mysore, Bandipur, Ooty, Coimbatore , Kochi, Trivandrum, KanyaKumari, and then back up the east via Pondicherry, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and back to Mumbai.
This time , it was a family social function being held at Kovalam Beach, and one acquired wings and flew.
There were family members who were accompanying, who were simply not born in 1977, and another trip to KanyaKumari was in order .
One of the things I remember from the previous trip , was how the entire trip from North Kerala to the Southern parts of Kerala, was down an endless highway , which was really a road passing through towns. You could never figure out where one town ended and another started. You watched shop names, schools and bank names, all from a moving vehicle and tried to figure out where you were. Just when you figured out how to pronounce the uniquely spelled names , with "z" sounding like a thick "L' , you would start seeing another city name.
This has remained unchanged over the last 38 years.
What has changed though, is the lovely traditional houses we had seen alongside the roads during our earlier visit. Lovely tiled house, with the typical red soil sit-outs in a kind of porch at the entrance, coconut trees and plantain patches thriving in a sometimes crowded garden .
Today, what you see 90% of the time is 2 storey bungalows , emulating Mumbai-Pune and similar styles. Zillions of shops, and minor malls. Yes, they still have gardens, and coconut trees and plantain patches, but it is not the same.
Closer to Kanyakumrai in the Nagercoil region, for some reason there was a profusion of huge hospitals. general hospitals, speciality hospitals, children's hospitals, orthopaedic specialty hospitals. It looked like land was available cheap, and people preferred to build their own hospitals. Kind of mind boggling for someone coming from a congested Mumbai, but it also said something about why so many hospitals had so much business to sustain themselves. This , in a land, where once upon a time, and possibly even now in certain parts, ayurveda was the system of choice. Which is not to say that ayurveda has disappeared. NO. It is very much there, but these allopathic hospitals seem to be proliferating , highlighting all kinds of diagnostic fancy checkups and stuff.
In 1977, the approach road to Kanya Kumari past Nagercoil was sparsely populated with buildings, but with many trees along the roads. Today you make your way southwards through a maze of residential , commercial, educational and other setups, with one ways and suddenly closed roads, hundreds of buses and two wheelers buzzing around, and the huge amount of eating places.
Kanya Kumari now clearly has a Skyline. Unfortunately.
I remember driving in our old Fiat, straight up to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Guest House almost right on the beach in Kanyakumari, and getting a place for an overnight stay. The room then was huge, AC's were not prevalent, and balconies looked out on to a clean beach. Today , the rooms have become smaller, you need AC to avoid mosquitoes, the beach has been fenced off , with random public structures erected on the beach , and there is now a very crowded promenade of sorts.
Earlier, you had small local stalls on the beach itself, selling cane stuff and shells, and shell products. Today the promenade has been taken over by folks selling Nepali Woollens, fashion street style teeshirts and dresses, and luggage . Way to one side of the promenade , is a profusion of shops selling snacks, or "Tiffins" as they are called, and evenings are all about walking in the midst of hot griddles sizzling with oil and water sprinkles, as dosas come off them one after another in various forms, watching buggies taking people across the already crowded promenade.
In all this what you remember is the folks.
Looking for a vehicle, to take us to visit a blogger friend , a native of Trivandrum, the hotel gave us a vehicle and a driver, who took us through a maze of roads, with a running commentary, and an indulgent stopping , for the daughter who , enamoured of red bananas, simply had to click entire hanging sets in front of small shops.
I didn't notice , but the daughter noticed; the car was an Audi.
( There is something that connects 5 star places and fancy cars , to me . Going for a blogger meet at the Leela in Mumbai , I took a ricksha and was stopped at the gate of the hotel. Rickshas were too low for the standards of the hotel. When I asked how one was supposed to traipse across a kilometre and why, they offered a ride in a BMW parked there inside, just for folks like me. It took some time for me to emerge at the hotel lobby from the chauffeur driven car with the sinking back seats. This time , the hotel was again the Leela , in Kerala, and the car was an Audi....
Aiyyo ! Sab "leela" hai..... ! )
When the Kerala tourism person was unable to tell us with clarity about road transport/cars one could hire for KanyaKumari, the hotel driver offered to help, and spoke to a bunch of accredited/approved drivers of cabs outside there, and fixed up with one gentleman who would take us to KanyaKumari and back. On the appointed day, he was there to ensure that the driver had come, and that we were on our way, and wished us well.
This gentleman, drove us to Kanyakumari, pointing out stuff on the way, then drove us in the afternoon to the entrance to the Vivekananda Rock memorial trip compound, and when we were hit by unusual rain , while disembarking , both at the memorial and later back on the mainland , he rushed in with a big umbrella, to the gates, knowing that cars were not allowed upto that point. And herded us back, as it were , to the car.
Next day, we were to go straight to the airport, after visiting the Suchindram Temple , and as is my wont, I always prefer to provide for sudden eventualities, and delays and reach early.
Suchindram temple , an amazing sight and we had an almost conducted tour of the internal temples, where we were urged to loosen the purse strings , all in the interests of ensuring favourable deity responses to all our troubles. The structures, and ancient sculptures were outstanding and the history very impressive , but we were a bit put off due to the blatant business like attitude of those purporting to communicate with the Gods. And then we emerged , after retreiving our cameras and phones, to see in front of us , a Narendra Modi Tea House, with folks having dosas and slurping sambaar .
We were only 2 hours away from the airport , when our driver urged us to do a short backwaters trip , in Poovar, the area we were driving through. Clearly a very persuasive person, and aware of us two ladies travelling by ourselves, he guided us to a good backwaters trip on offer, which was replete with mangroves, backwaters, birds, old structures, with personal ghats/steps leading to the river; a ride out into the open sea, to see the golden beach at the junction of the river and the Arabian Sea, and a quiet ride past the many resorts that now dot the Poovar area.
It was a special trip with only both of us in the boat, and a perceptive boatman, who noticed the cameras with the daughter, and would guide us to the various banks with the engine off, so it wouldn't disturb the birds the daughter wanted to click. We admired a lovely pink wild flower hanging from one of the branches , and he actually reversed the boat, and plucked it for us.
A great trip down the length , of maybe 40 % of Kerala.
Watching the numerous schools and colleges, proliferating across the state, and kids in their special Sunday traditional clothes returning home from Sunday morning church sermons, assorted weddings at temples and other special occasions.
Trying to read and pronounce long names with a preponderance of "l", "k" and a "zh which was really a heavy L" .
Wondering at finding a huge Audi showroom suddenly in the middle of nowhere outside Nagercoil.
Enjoying , what we thought were potato chips and banana chips presented by our blogger friend, and enjoying them even more after finding out that they were arbi/colocassia-root chips.
Wondering, why South Indian filter kapi was not available in the TTDC hotel, and whether we should tweet to Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalitha about it.
And yes, the red bananas. hanging in clusters , on what are called banana plant "hands" .
We might have lugged an entire cluster home to Mumbai. But checking them on a flight and flinging them on conveyor belts is disrespectful, and the weight of the clusters may simply exceed the permitted 7 kg for cabin baggage.
But , on second thoughts , it might just be more fun, to visit Gods Own Country again .....