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Tour the Himalayas: India's Road Less Traveled
Kerala: India's Mystery Revealed 

If religion in India’s North is ethereal, it is down to earth in the South. At the South's tapering point, Kanya Kumari, The Arabian Sea, The Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean come together at one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here the celestial drama enacted in the Himalayas from time immemorial is repeated on another scale: subdued, within reach, as if it were a dream coming true, a mystery revealed.

The lush Kerala state, known to Indians as “God's own country,” lies along the southwestern coast. From the international airport in Thiruvanan-thapuram, the capital of Kerala, you can reach excellent hotels in 20 minutes by road. The hotels will arrange short tour options if you want, or you can contact the office of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation in the city for information or low-budget tourist packages.

In the protected wild sanctuaries you can see herds of elephants and other animals. You can live in houseboats, enjoy backwater trails, explore the area of Arundhathy Roy’s God of Small Things.

Artists from the West who are interested in music, theater, and dance live and learn in Kerala Kala Mandalam, Shoranur. Tourists in beach resorts enjoy Ayurvedic rejuvenation, an ancient herbal body-toning massage. Further north is a famous center that teaches martial arts. In short, you can choose your pleasures in Kerala to suit your interests. Keralites are a warm, friendly people who can communicate in English.

From Thiruvananthapuram, a road leads 60 miles to the tip of the Indian subcontinent. The jade-green Arabian Sea is on your right, the deep-blue Bay of Bengal is on your left, and the Indian Ocean swirls in white waves as the two seas meet and mingle in front of you. The line of curling white water stretches as far as your eyes can travel.

India’s Farthest Point

Rama, the God-king of Ayodhya, the hero of The Ramanaya, came to Kanya Kumari and bade the sea be still. He built a bridge across it to reach Lanka (the modern Sri Lanka) so that he might rescue his queen from a demon king. The sea parted and later joined. The swirl has gone on ever since.

Alexander the Great never reached here, though he conquered many a kingdom in the North. But Greek navigators rounded it in ancient times. They called it “the extremity,” the farthest point known to them in those days. They left a temple dedicated to the virgin goddess.

When I first came to Kanya Kumari, 30 years ago, I saw an enormous rock in its pristine purity, embraced by the waves. It was on this spot, that Swami Vivekananda meditated for months, then wandered throughout the length and breadth of India to assimilate Hinduism. Perhaps like the Buddha he needed social contact after enlightenment. After meditating here, he attended the Parliament of Religions in Chicago where he introduced Hindu philosophy to the West. Now another temple-like structure has been built among the waves on that rock, and hundreds of visitors cross in boats to be with the spirit of Swami Vivekananda.

In summer you can walk for miles and miles on the shore, the waves moving gently over your feet and soothing your careworn spirit. The breezes from the three seas cool the heat of summer, the blue sky is a canopy over your head. Although there are hotels and restaurants, ranging from posh to local cottages, take your lunch and water in your backpack. Waiting for the magical moment when the sun sinks into the sea, you walk on and on and climb dune after dune of sand and rock. The sun leads you like a vision, like a mirage.

The Coming of the Monsoon

At the end of May or early June, if you go to a nearby beach, Kovalam, you can experience the arrival of the Southeast Monsoon. The weather bureau of course predicts the exact day and the moment of its coming, but it is fascinating to watch the signs in nature. On the day before the monsoon begins the land is filled with waves of dragonflies, and in the evening the sunset leaves a fiery-red afterglow.

People from all parts of the country come to watch this unique event. Dark clouds, like mountains, rise from the sea. The clouds clash with the waves; the horizon disappears behind the inky mass of clouds. Lightening crashes into the sea. Peals of thunder cross the sky and the sea in towering ships of clouds. The winds go mad. Then, as if the sky were flying downward, comes a luminous blue, riding in a chariot of clouds towards the shore. The people on the shore stagger under the force of the torrent while other parts of India reel under drought and famine and people are dying of sunstroke.

December is the best time for visitors from the West to be here. The climate is ideal: cool winds and a warm sun.

A heavenly spectacle is waiting for you, something not seen anywhere else in the world: The yellow beaches, the blue waters of the seas, the white waves that swirl—all seem surreal. Their colors change every minute. The sunset is no longer a mirage. You stand on a hillock of sand studded with rocks, watching the sun sinking into the golden deep. The whole western sky is ablaze in orange and red streaked with blue and white. As you gaze, the rim of the sun slowly dissolves into a wine-red sea. You close your eyes to savor the glow and treasure it. . . . When you turn, you almost stumble into another world—a wonderland of silver! The full moon is rising from the sea in the east. The sky is now a deep lavender blue. And the sea is rising in silvery waves. What a heart-stopping magnificence!

In this mystical moment you understand in a flash the heart of everything. . . . Here is India, all her contradictions resolved, her mystery revealed. If the Himalayas are for the gods and the heroes, India also takes you down the stream to an exclusive performance of a celestial drama for lesser mortals—for you and for me.

For More Info

Tourism in Kerala: www.keralatourism.org

All about Kerala: www.kerala.com.

PADMA JAYARAJ is a professor of English literature at the University of Calicut.

 
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