Plan your next road trip to the pristine coasts of Tamilnadu
My eternal love for Southern India always sends me back there. We keep missing each other terribly and every time I go back there, it feels like re-uniting with an old lover. Each time I am there, things change a bit; but the essence of it still remains the same. The smell of the filter-coffee, spices, fresh flowers in the temple and sun kissed beaches. And when Northern India is freezing in the winter, for me it is time to escape to Southern India for its soothing tropical climate.
Tamilnadu, the southernmost state of India is known for its grand temples, splendid architecture, Indian classical dance- Bharatanatyam and soulful Carnatic music. But I was in for a surprise, when I travelled through the coasts of Tamilnadu during my last visit and explored numerous fishing villages and miles of uninhabited coastal beauty.
Roads covered with coconut trees and banana saplings, elegant churches on the coast, flourishing fishing villages and adventure water sports; there is something for everyone on this pristine coastal stretch. This the route I suggest for two weeks long itinerary through the coasts of Tamilnadu : Trivandrum- Colachel- Kanyakumari- Manapad – Dhanushkodi- Rameshwaram- Madurai. Let me tell you more about the unique beaches on this route and their glorious stories along with my recommendations on where to stay and eat.
So here is why you should plan your next road trip to the pristine coasts of Tamilnadu and what you may see-
The coasts of Tamilnadu were important part of the spice route to India and hence, are home to many ancient ports. The Greeks and Romans were frequent visitors here for the spice trade. Later, Portuguese and British found their way to these coasts which were also known for pearl oyster farming. One such important ancient port was Colachel.
The array of boats painted in the stripes of red, yellow and blue carrying a symbol of cross on its deck caught my eyes while taking a stroll on the Colachel harbor. The fisher men were busy painting their boats and weaving the nets for the next sail. A few men were occupied playing cards on the sand after a tiring day at work while children caught fish on the shores with bare hands.
As the beach turned golden in the evening, the gentle waves kept washing my feet as I walked along the shores. Soon the local young boys arrived to play on the clear white sand to make use of the remaining light of the day. The flickering light from the lone lighthouse added to the scenic beauty of the beach.
Just 13 kms away from Colachel, resides an architecture marvel- Padmanabhapuram Palace which was said to be built in 1550. Known for intricate carvings on the pillars made of jackfruit wood, the palace complex is huge and is a great place to learn about the history of Travancore Kingdom. Not too far from the palace, world’s oldest church structure exists which gives the sign of early Christianity in India. Thomas the Apostle is credited by tradition for founding this church in 63 AD called, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church or known as ‘Thomayaar kovil’ locally.
The nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, which is located 42 miles away in the northwest direction. Driving along the State Highway SH 179, one might also visit the famous Kovalam beach.
The nearest train station is Nagercoil which is 15 miles away from Colachel in the Northeast direction. Nagercoil has plenty of homestays and guest houses which cost around 1,500-2,000 INR per day. If you fancy living in wooden cottages, amidst the rubber plantation then Anantya resort is the place to be, costs 4,000-6,000 INR per day. The fine dining restaurant here faces the Chittar lake and offers authentic Malayali and Tamil cuisine. Due to to its proximity with Kerala, there are plenty of road-side eateries on the way which serve Puttu-pappadam (a rice and coconut based recipe cooked in bamboo) with banana, a common Malayali breakfast for locals.
At the confluence of Western and Eastern Coastal plains, and the meeting point of three water bodies: Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean; lays the divine land which is known as the abode of Gods and Goddesses. Thousands of devotees come from different parts of the country to pay their offerings to virgin Goddess after whom the city was named Kanya Kumari (virgin girl), which is one among the 52 Shakti Peeths (the goddess-focused Hindu tradition) in India.
Kanyakumari offers the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. It’s not everywhere that you can watch the sun rise from the sea in the morning and, later in the evening, plunge back into it. Because of its rocky terrain, Kanyakumari beach is not suitable for swimming or fishing. Just 4 miles away from Kanyakumari is a solitary sand beach called Vattakottai if you wish to swim.
I took a shared ferry from the beach (costs 35/- INR) to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial which is said to be the place where Swami Vivekananda attained enlightenment. At the rear of the monument, the land truly ends and all I could see is the vast ocean all around me.
High on coconut and spices, Kanyakumari food is known for its lip-smacking flavors. The Ocean View restaurant serves delicious sea-food with astonishing sea view from its 7th floor. Fish sizzler, mussels fry and Appam (pancake made with rice and coconut) with stew are the must-try items on their menu. For vegetarians, Sarvana Bhavan serves authentic Tamil cuisine- Masala Dosa and Pudi Idli which can make anyone fall in love with South Indian food.
Just a mile away from the Railway station is the sea facing Vaiga homestay which provides basic facilities (starts from 2,000 INR per night). Alternatively, for more comfortable options Sparsa Resorts is a beautiful property by the sea and has a giant swimming pool, costs 3,500- 4,500 INR per night.
Kanyakumari is 23 miles away from Colachel towards South if you drive along State Highway 179. This is the southernmost tip of mainland India and we literally take a wide U-Shaped turn to go further on beach to our trail towards Northeast. Kanyakumari is well connected with all the metropolitan cities of India through air as well as train.
The coasts of Tamilandu are dotted with remnants of a Christian past and decorated with elaborated churches. However, nothing can match the beauty of natural sea cave overlooking Indian Ocean. Manapad is home to the cave where St. Xavier lived and proselytized for two years (1542-1544 AD) and I am totally convinced with his choice to live right at the beach and watch some of the most stunning sunrises from here.
As the story goes, a Portuguese sailor reached the shores of Manapad in 1540 after drifting for several weeks in the vast ocean after a deadly storm. Considering this as a miracle of Jesus, he consecrated a Holy Cross at the hillock and later the church of Holy Cross was built here which possesses a relic of True Cross.
From this elevation of hillock, the panoramic view of vast shoreline looks breathtaking. The unique coastline of Manapad was formed by multiple layers of lava accumulated over hundreds of years; due to which one can witness high waves formation throughout the year. Manapad is one of the emerging destinations for surfing in India. And apart from surfing one can also try sailing, crab hunting at night, wakeboarding, snorkeling, Scuba diving and other leisure water activities like dolphin watching trips here.
Built in 1927, ‘Villa De Joseph’ in Manapad is a heritage homestay with all modern amenities; they also arrange adventure sports and boat rides for the guests. Apart from this, other budget homestay options are available through Airbnb. Not far from the guest houses, one can shop for products made out of the leaves of the palmyra trees at the Manapad Palm Leaf Weavers Co-operative Society.
Manapad lies along the State Highway 49, popularly known as the East Coast Road (ECR) in Tamil Nadu. It is situated about 45 miles away from Kanyakumari along the ‘Thoothukudi-Tiruchendur-Kanyakumari’ Road. There are also direct flights from Chennai to Thoothukudi (also known as Tuticorin) which is 30 miles away from Manpad. There are trains departing and arriving from Chennai and Bangalore to the Tuticorin Railway Station; one of the oldest railway tracks in India.
Dhanushkodi is a ghost village, which is just 15 miles west of the pilgrimage town of Rameswaram. Bordered by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, it’s a sliver of land jutting into the sea. Like the two seas, the same duality is seen in the lives of people when they fish six months of summer in Bay of Bengal and the rest of the year in Indian Ocean when the wind changes its course.
Fishermen call Bay of Bengal- Penn Kadal, which means a ‘feminine sea’ as it is calmer than Indian Ocean, which always has choppy waves. However, the Bay of Bengal chooses to forgo its calmness once in a while and causes destruction. It did so in 1964. A massive cyclone changed the fate of this place forever. It destroyed Dhanushkodi, killed nearly 1800 people and swept away a train called Boat Mail Express.
The entire area of Dhanushkodi is covered with sterile white sand and uninhibited stretches of land, and can be reached either on foot along the seashore by the sand dunes or in jeeps and vans swinging on the sand along with azure blue sea. The ruins of railway line, post office hospital, church and the old school still foretell the story of this flourishing town during the British Raj.
The area attracts a lot of Hindu pilgrims who come to perform the rituals for their loved ones. The road to Dhanushkodi has recently been opened for the tourists and they can drive on their own till the last point, Arichal Munai where both the seas meet. Dhanushkodi is a little paradise where nature can be seen in its very raw form along with the lives of fishermen which revolve around it.
Due to its close proximity to Sri Lanka border which is just 15 nautical miles away, one is not allowed to stay in Dhanushkodi at night. Daiwik Hotel is a pilgrim hotel at Rameswaram which comes with all modern amenities costs 2,500-4,500/- per night.
If you wish to indulge in adventure sports, you could sign up for activities such as sea kayaking, kitesurfing and snorkelling with Quest Expeditions on Kathadi Beach. There are a few basic rooms available to stay in as well which start from 2,000/- INR per night.
From Kanyakumari, you can drive approx. 200 miles on East coast road to reach Rameshwaram. There is no direct train route from Kanyakumari to Rameshwaram, but it is well connected to Madurai by trains and buses. Madurai is the nearest airport and as you exit from the circuit; a day visit to Meenakshi temple in Madurai is a must.
I would love to hear about your experiences of traveling in Tamilnadu.
Also, read about The Chettiar mansions of Tamilnadu