There is a joy in not knowing about things till you discover them and I believe it’s one of the reasons childhood is so wonderful.
At 5-6 years of age when I first saw a lighthouse, I didn’t know the science behind sending signals out to sea, but an incredibly strong beam sweeping the inky blackness of the ocean seemed no less than magic.
Growing up in Chennai, one of the things we looked forward to apart from chomping on the South Indian papad or ‘appalam’ at weddings, was a visit to Marina Beach.
It had all the usual trappings of beaches in Chennai from crashing waves, sand castles, and slices of raw mango to pinwheels, but it also possessed the biggest kid magnet of those days – a lighthouse.
My sister and I never tired of watching the beam of light and when my granny said the words children dread the most when they’re having a good time -“Chalo, ghar chalein”, meaning ‘Let’s go home’ – we used to literally dig our heels into the sand. It wasn’t just a light darting across the water over and over it was a source of mystery that set off many questions in my mind. Who lights the lamp? Would the light pick out a drowning man and help save his life? What would be happening on those ships whose outlines we could barely make out?
So on a trip to Ashtamudi, when the manager of our resort suggests a day trip to Thangassery Lighthouse, it just has to be done. Accompanied by friends, I set out seeking an object of childhood fantasy.
At the tower, I look up to realize its 41 metre height (the Thangassery lighthouse is the second tallest in Kerala) doesn’t intimidate me as it might a child, but the thought of climbing nearly 200 steps to the top does. Seeing a beautiful spiral staircase is temptation enough to get over that hesitation though.
I begin my ascent, squeezing past people on their way down and praying that I don’t get knocked off. The staircase opens out to the cramped confines of a ‘watch room’ or service room where the lighthouse keeper performs his official duties to this day given that this is an operational lighthouse.
I see half of the lens housing in the room, the rest extending above it into the lantern room. Shiny, polished brass knobs and fittings, wooden paneling, and an ancient clock give me the feeling of being inside a ‘Throwback Thursday’ kind of nostalgia-laden picture.
I step out of the room onto the walkway that surrounds the top. My legs immediately feel a little weak so I hold on to the railing and look out instead of down. Before me is the Arabian Sea with waves crashing against tide breakers, some ships and boats docked at the Kollam Port, the pristine white of the Infant Jesus Cathedral broken by red Mangalorean tiles, and coconut trees dwarfed by the height at which I am. I forget my fear.
FOUR REASONS TO VISIT THE THANGASSERY LIGHTHOUSE
- Get a glimpse of history – The lighthouse is part of a historic precinct called the Dutch Quilon which used to be a British Enclave.
- See how a lighthouse functions – Built in 1902, Thangassery Lighthouse is one of the few working lighthouses in India. Its light is visible as far as 48 km or 26 nautical miles out at sea.
- Getting there is easy – A lift has been recently installed to help older people or those with disabilities get to the top. So, you don’t have to climb that many steps any longer.
- The view – Once at the top, you’re rewarded with an unparalleled view of Kollam. Kites soar at eye level and you feel like one
PLACES TO SEE IN AND AROUND KOLLAM
- Infant Jesus Cathedral – Just a km away from the lighthouse is the Infant Jesus Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church established by Portuguese in 1614. When the Dutch gained control of Tangassery in 1661, the church was neglected and it began to deteriorate.
In 1789, the Carmelite missionaries renovated the church and named it the Bom Jesu Church, which means Infant Jesus Church in Spanish. In 2000, the old church was demolished and the present structure was consecrated on December 3, 2005.
2. Kollam Beach – Around 3 km away is the Kollam beach where you could spend an evening watching ships on the horizon, making sand castles, enjoying snacks that men ferry around on hand carts, or flying kites that colour the sky with their bright hues.
Click here to see what the beach is like
3.Thomas Fort – The Portuguese also built a fort called St Thomas Fort in 1517 to serve as part of a coastal defense system. However, time has taken its toll on the fort and only a 20 foot high laterite and lime wall remains standing now. The tourism department however plans to soon give the fort a facelift with landscaping.
4. Kollam Port – Kerala’s second largest port by volume of cargo and facilities, the Kollam Port is just 2 km away. Earlier called the Quilon Port, it was founded by Mar Abo in 825 as an alternative to reopening the inland sea port (kore-ke-ni kollam) near Backare.
Quilon became the premier city of the Malabar Coast region ahead of Travancore and Cochin. Be prepared for the smell of fish though.
5. Munroe Island – Formed by the backwaters of Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River, the island is named after British Resident of erstwhile Travancore State, Colonel Munroe. It’s around 30 km away from the lighthouse and you can enjoy a boat tour along the canals. See coconut fiber rope and coconut oil being made as well as different kinds of birds and plants.
6. Kottarakkara Mahaganapathy Temple – Again, around 30 km away from the lighthouse is a temple now called the Mahaganapathy Temple but originally named the Kizhakkekara Siva Temple. Visitors also come to enjoy ‘Unniyappam’, a delicious Kerala sweet.
It is believed that Kathakali originated here in a form called ‘Ramanattam’ first performed in front of the deity. As a convention, Kathakali dancers have their first performance in respect at this temple.
Read about the biggest festival of Mumbai, the Ganesh Utsav, by clicking here
The Jadayu Rock or Jatayupara Adventure Park– Nearly 42 km from the lighthouse is the Jadayu Rock or Jatayupara, a rock where the mythological bird Jadayu/Jatayu from the epic Ramayana is believed to have fallen after being slayed by Ravana. A 70 feet tall and 200 feet tall sculpture of Jatayu built here is the world’s largest bird sculpture.
It used to be a picnic spot with a great view, but now is a nature park. A cable car was expected to be operational in April 2017 while a virtual reality museum, a 6D theatre, and an adventure training center are expected to be ready by September 2017.
8. Kottukal Cave Temple – The name probably came from Kottiya Kallu or carved rock and it’s also called Kaltrikkovil. This cave temple, made of two caves, is believed to have been built between the sixth and the eighth centuries. You could pay obeisance to Ganapati and other Hindu deities. It is around 44 km away from the lighthouse and pretty close to the Jatayupara Adventure Park.
9. Palaruvi Waterfalls – These falls are nearly 83 km away but are easily accessible. It is believed to be a mild trek to the falls and you can experience the serenity of nature and see water falling from a height of nearly 300 feet, giving it the name ‘Palaruvi’ or ‘stream of milk’.
10. Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary – Google Maps doesn’t show the exact distance from the Thangassery Lighthouse, but it seems 90-100 km away. It’s worth visiting if you’re fond of nature but sighting of animals like elephants is not guaranteed. The sanctuary surrounds the Thenmala Dam reservoir and has been developed as an ecotourism initiative of the government.
See this link for more places of interest