Every year we go to Vailankanni in January. It is a sort of a New Year pilgrimage. My parents came here soon after they were married and then with each one of us, as we arrived. Since then we have been coming here every January. I must confess that I am addicted to this place. Apart from the visit to the shrine this place is an amazing world in itself. The whole family looks forward to the trip.
Since the beginning we have always driven down to Vailankanni as having your own transport is ideal for a family like ours, that likes to explore. The drive till Trichy is uneventful. From Trichy the sights change suddenly, as banana plantations line the road on either side of the way. Somewhere along the way, the river Kaveri joins you. It flows calmly and steadily along the way and the sight is beautiful. We always take the bypass from Trichy, which means narrow well-maintained roads via green paddy fields and more banana plantations. After you reach Thanjavur, the rice bowl of India, you enter a sea of green paddy field broken only by the narrow road. The drive is sheer pleasure and you feel you are going back in time as you rapidly leave civilization and enter a very sparsely populated agrarian region.
As you near Vailankanni, the geography changes. You can smell the sea air and the earth looks like a lumpy green blanket dotted with lots of small ponds. The bird population too changes and you see a lot of fish eating birds. The land is empty save for a few cattle grazing here and there.
There is a variety of accommodation here, our favorite is the MGM Resort bounded on three sides with green paddy fields and the main road in the front. The view from the room is breathtaking. The IT boom can be seen here too. Air Conditioned busloads of families from Kerala coming in by the hour. Last year a big family joined us as we sat with our drinks on the lawns and it became a big pot luck party. They were a group of techies from Bangalore who had joined together and taken their families from Kerala and come here. And you know when Achayans get together what happens!! Some serious vellam adi :p
An hour of driving towards the south of Vailankanni takes you to Kodikkarai also known as Point Calimere. It is bounded by Bay of Bengal on the East and Palk Straits on the South. The wildlife sanctuary here is home to bluebuck, spotted deer, wild boar, semi wild ponies, bonnet macaque, water birds like flamingoes, ibises, herons and spoonbills. Also some of the endangered reptiles like olive ridley turtles, starred tortoise, vipers and marsh crocodiles. If you go around the evening, you can see the birds returning to the beaches and scrub forests to their nests. A truly wonderful sight, and they are quite tolerant of humans.
The drive itself is a delight. You drive through a forest road with an occasional village in between and on the way you suddenly come across clearings, with the sea on both sides. The sudden appearance of the sea takes your breath away. There is intense security checking here due to the proximity to Sri Lanka. You also get to see a rock with Rama's footprint, as he is suposed to have traversed these forests during his Vanvaas.
What strikes you about this place is the silence...save for bird calls and the sounds of the sea. We stopped near a scrub forest to photograph some birds and saw an old man patiently catching small fishes for dinner in the backwater. He caught about five fishes and then folded his net and walked away. My brother who was talking to him gave him ten rupees, which he declined politely. With a straight face he told my brother that if accepts the ten rupee he will drink and hence reach home late with the fish and then his wife would beat him up :)) If you know Tamil, then you get to enjoy yet another aspect of this land…Tamil humor :)
All around you see birds, that you get to see only on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel… and silence, blessed silence all around. You feel like you are the only people on the planet.
We take the hour-long drive to Point Calimere every year. The year of the Tsunami devastation was the only time we didn’t visit Vailankanni as it was not advisable due to the outbreak of diseases. Somehow down the years, going to Vailankanni has become more than a pilgrimage. It is a time of family bonding and having our otherwise busy Dad all to ourselves. Nothing like walking with him on the beaches of Kodikkarai, listening to his gyan or just being one with Nature’s silence.
(Ideal time of year to visit:December and January)