The first day I have spent in the town started by debarking in a shockingly deserted platform. It genuinely felt like the end of the country. No people here. Just panting carcasses of trains that have carried the weight and hooliganism of thousands of bodies across a thousand miles (1,800 to be more accurate).
Now they stand panting, life hardly left in them as the passengers roll out with their belongings. All look equally befuddled. Where are we? Is this place real? Will we see other people beyond this point? Also adjusting to the sudden absence of the train’s wobbling. It’s oddly disquieting to be so still so suddenly.
Most of those who’ve reached this far are grey haired, weak kneed and slightly wobbly themselves. Packs of relatives gather with their luggage. I spot some prayer beads and one saffron drape with Om printed all over. There are also children of course. They walk faster and ahead of everyone.
A few moments are spent looking about uncertainly before we trudge to the exit. Them trolley baggers and me backpacker.
The sun’s brighter than what I’m used to. Delhi has a grey glare even in summers. Else, there’s that steely burnout. But here it’s about contrast. The blue of the sky, the green of the trees and the red of the sand and rocks – everything magnified by the sunlight.
I’m surprised by the closed Himachal tourism apple juice counter in the station archway that leads to the exit. I wonder why they won’t sell their marvelous apple juice in Delhi but all the way here!
Then all at the same time, I’m overwhelmed by the number of gajras I spot. And then immediately there are the dismissive autowallas. Where do you want to go? You don’t know? Huh? You alone? No room for single women in Kanyakumari. Only one place – the Grand with Rs. 900 per day. Take auto and go. Rs. 50.
I want to scream and run but it’s kind of hilarious at the same time. The way everyone’s so baffled at my sudden unplanned appearance. And how I’m expected to be so properly businesslike about arriving at a new location. A human has no identity without purpose, I suppose. It’s worse than not having a surname to say ‘I don’t know why I am here’.
For a beach city, Kanyakumari isn’t humid at all. It’s beautifully breezy and slightly chilly at night. Of course later it seems silly to expect anything else with the ocean on all three sides bringing in constant cool breeze.
I did find a cheaper room. 600 a night. But the clause is that I can’t sleep alone in it. I need to have company! Enter Pabla. Pabla Iraz of Pune. Pabla who’s been named after Picasso but hasn’t heard of Neruda. The 25-year-old who contacted me about two weeks ago on Couchsurfing. My one and only travel companion.
Pabla is a solo traveler too. She started her journey from Cochin and has been wandering around in South Kerala for the past two weeks. She is currently making her way from Trivandrum via a complicated route of halting trains and buses due to a strike in the state. She will reach much later at around 3.30 in the afternoon. But if it weren’t for her promise to meet me in Kanyakumari, I would probably have spent the night on the road figured something out.
I’ve never been this glad to get to a room. I’ve never been this grateful for a shower. And to the dried up hero of a butler who ferried cold black tea up to my room. Aah privacy and a clean bed. And even a miniature of an Onida TV hanging mid-air from an angle high up on the wall. So small you almost miss it.
My room’s window offers me a view of the road (that’s always noisy with wedding processions and tourists buses) and quite a bit of the ocean; interrupted in the middle by the imposing and glamorous white of Maadhini hotel – hogging on the best kind of ocean view (I can only imagine). Take it. Take everything Maadhini. No need to move an inch for that magnificent sunrise if you are rich.
I will make do with my half sunrises and my bisected ocean view from my mediocre Balaji lodge with its room delivery of food from that Bengali hotel I can see from my window. Order one thali and feed two people. But there is no two people at the moment. And I must throw away almost half of what has been delivered.
Ever since we entered Andhra Pradesh, I have had that growing feeling of getting closer to home. Quite like what I feel in Kolkata. The kashte hathuri symbols of CPM, the narrow residential lanes (like in the video below), the moss coated walls and the grilled windows and balconies. You can never be too safe.
However, I feel like the perfect tourist here. I‘m so pronouncedly an outsider that there’s no point trying to act cool. I’m her to get otherised, I decide. But o so pleasantly. Like the taste of that train halwa for example. Anand bought me a pack adamantly – “No, you must eat this.”
Three layers of difficult plastic packing reveals the gooey, ghee-y, heavy, tooth-aching sweet. One that makes you wish you had packed a spoon somewhere. It tastes strange in the beginning, like you don’t know what you are chewing but then grows on you till you feel you’ll get both diabetes and cholesterol in one day because you can’t stop returning to the pack.
There’s too much tourism in Himachal or maybe Buddhism and the mountains have made them too polite but the south couldn’t care less. Whether you feel comfortable or not whether they fit your standards of travel or not – here you fit in. You adjust.