A chance detour leads Soma Basu to a memorial and a balmy day at the beach at Kundakal
Rameswaram is a pucca holy town swamped by pilgrims round the year. There are numerous temples that dot the coastline that make it even more popular. I leave Madurai with warnings that the beaches in Rameswaram are dirty, with no activities or adventure tourism to speak of. I hope the waves, the wind and the sand will make it worth my while. After all it is flanked by the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It has to be an inspiring experience.
It turns out to be just that, and I almost miss it.
Next to the town’s check-post, beside a huge flexboard, is a small — and almost invisible — board which says ‘Vivekananda Memorial’. I decide to investigate. After about three kilometres down a narrow winding path, I spot a brightly painted building in red and orange standing tall, right on the golden beach. The liquid blue ocean is in the background and all I hear is the lap of waves. It instantly feels good. This is the village of Kundakal.
An old man sits alone on a wooden bench and waves me inside the memorial, after selling me a five rupee ticket. Inside the high ceiling hall is a tall bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda and on the walls are stories from his life. The village and this memorial are significant as it is here that Vivekananda entered India after addressing the World Religious Parliament at Chicago. The tour of the memorial does not take more than 15 minutes, even if you are meticulous and go about it in a thorough way. It is a good feeling to pay homage to Vivekananda. Outside, a feast awaits the senses.
The sea creates a spontaneous sense of peace. The memorial and the pervading agarbatti fragrance around this unexplored and unrecognised stretch of sea line creates an almost spiritual ambience. The beach is clean and the water a lovely blue. It is not difficult to spend the entire day here in solitude, watching the endless dance of the waves against the shore. A huddle of fishing boats bob silently nearby. Two tiny islands in the distance complete the scenic backdrop. The sand feels soft as powdered sugar underfoot.
The old man from the memorial reappears and explains how the sea is always calm here and home to a variety of coral reefs, marine algae, sea cucumbers, starfish, sponges and crabs. May be that is why a small marine museum has been constructed next to the memorial. It is scheduled for inauguration next month.
As the sun comes down, seagulls swoop down. The colour of the water darkens and there is a spectacular sunset. I have no regrets about not making it all the way to Rameswaram. The unplanned detour to Kundakal was perfect. I return home humming Led Zeppelin’s ‘Down by the Seaside…’
Rameswaram is well connected by road, air and train. The nearest airport is Madurai, 174 km.
Where to stay
There are several low budget hotels in Rameswaram town