Located 58 km south of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, the quaint fishing village of Manapad is truly the place to head to if sand, surf and serenity are on top of your list.

Manapad in coastal Tamil NaduManapad, Tamil Nadu
Features Travel Friday, October 22, 2021 - 17:03

As I set out on an early morning stroll to the promontory, it was refreshing to see the glistening turquoise sea under the orange rays of the sun. Manapad at sunrise and sunset is a veritable visual delight rivalling the views in Kanyakumari. Peering down from the elevation, the steeples and spires of a multitude of churches dotting the landscape amid the brick-red roofs of the whitewashed houses was indeed a sight to behold. It is no wonder that Manapad has earned the sobriquet ‘Chinna (small) Jerusalem’. Being in this hamlet is pure bliss as the sacred churches and blessed waters exude a sublime aura. I was overwhelmed by the unique ambience, quietude and beauty of this quaint fishing village, located 58 km south of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.

If sand, surf and serenity are on top of your list, Manapad is truly the place to head to. From the height, the view of the clear blue seas, shallow lagoons, fishing boats docked in the tiny islets of the sea was breathtaking. Thankfully, it is off the regular tourist radar and has a laidback air. The picture perfect beach has also attracted several film crews over the years. While a major portion of Mani Ratnam’s Kadal was shot here, Tamil blockbuster Singam and Shoojit Sarkar’s Madras Café were also filmed on this picturesque beach.

Steeples and spires dot the Manapad landscape
This tiny fishing hamlet abounds in myriad stories. In 1540, a Portuguese ship while sailing around the Cape of Good Hope is believed to have been caught in a dreadful storm, which led to the splitting of its sails and snapping of its hind mast, leaving it at risk of collapsing. The captain vowed to construct a cross from a portion of the splintered mast if everybody on his ship escaped alive, and have it installed wherever they alighted safely. After drifting for several days, it is believed that the ship washed up on the shores of Manapad. The captain had a cross planted atop a hillock, reminiscent of the last journey of Christ on Mount Calvary. The local fisherfolk claim that victims of cobra bite and leprosy have been miraculously cured after touching the cross, which still stands tall on an elevated platform atop the hillock.

Exploring the small hamlet itself is a delight what with its cluster of houses wedged just between the main road and the seafront. The best way to enjoy one’s stay at Manapad is to allow its tranquil environs to set the pace for you. As we sauntered around the hamlet, we noticed many of the cottages that still retain the Chettinad opulence. Their distinctive features can be attributed to the fact that several local residents who used to work in Sri Lanka built these palatial mansions on their return with marble embellishments, Burma teak, wide inner courtyards, spacious rooms and well laid out gardens.

Manapad has a unique coastline that is formed by multiple layers of lava accumulated over hundreds of years. This gives it the rare distinction of witnessing the best wave formation throughout the year. Arun Miranda and his wife, Francina, an enterprising couple who run a heritage homestay here are promoting Manapad as a surfing destination. Popular surfing guide website Magicseaweed.com lists Manapad as one of the best surfing sites globally.

A local lad surfing
“Currently Manapad is a great destination for all types of aqua sports like surfing, kayaking, kite-boarding, stand-up-paddle and kite boarding. Manapad Point, with reported 400-meter-long waves and a reef bottom, has potential for world class surf. Manapad has also hosted aqua sports festivals,” says Arun.

Our church-hopping spree started with the Church of the Holy Cross which is associated with St Francis Xavier, the missionary whose embalmed body is currently in Goa’s Basilica of Bom Jesus. The story goes that the saint came to Manapad in 1542 and lived in a sandstone cavern on the seaward face of a cliff. It was then known as Valli’s (Lord Murugan’s consort) cave as she is believed to have hidden here while Lord Murugan chased her in disguise.

The cavern on the seaward face of a cliff where St Francis Xavier lived

The sandstone cavern
A couple of years later, St Francis Xavier initiated missionary activity on the coast, preaching the gospel to the fisherfolk, supposedly from this cave, roughly 10 ft from the sea. At the entrance is a stone tablet with an inscription that reads: “This dwelling of a Saivite Sanyasi has been sanctified by the prayers and penance of a lonely hermit, St Francis Xavier, who had a thirst for austerity and renunciation.”  Locals claim that the water in the well inside the cave has healing properties.

Holy Cross Church, home of the relic of the True Cross of Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Cross, built close to the sea on a hilltop in 1581, in honour of St Francis Xavier, houses at the altar a relic fragment believed to be from Jerusalem. The cross is publicly displayed for hordes of pilgrims who attend the Exaltation of the Holy Cross festival, held between September 1 - 14 every year. It is described as a thanksgiving for the recovery of the True Cross.

St James Church
Our next stop was St James Church, known as ‘Peria Kovil’ (Big church), where the main altar is made out of teak. Equally impressive is the Holy Ghost Church, situated right opposite St James Church. Though it is as enormous and opulent as St James Church, it is known as ‘Chinna Koil’ (Small church). An engraving of ‘The Last Supper’ in marble chips and the marble altar grabbed our attention.

Holy Ghost Church
Before we wrapped up our trip, we stopped by the Palm Leaf Weavers Cooperative Society. It was amazing to watch the fisherwomen create crafts using dried palm leaves. The women’s group at Manapad use every part of the palm tree. They make baskets, boxes, mats, trays, purses, hats, handheld fans, toys and a whole lot of craft items that are sold through this cooperative society.

Getting there: Manapad is located 18 km from Tiruchendur and 58 km from Tuticorin (Thoothukudi).

All photos by Susheela Nair.

Susheela Nair is an Independent Food, Travel & Lifestyle Writer & Photographer contributing articles, content and images to several publications, travel portals, guide books, brochures and coffee table books.

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