| This cow and a dog were the only creatures on the beach at 7.30 am on Saturday, the hour the killer waves had struck. Picture by Sanjoy Mondol
PORT BLAIR: 7.30 AM
The sand and the sea, and two lonely beings.
One a dog, its paws thrust out as it lazed under the mild winter sun; the other a cow that chewed on seaweed.
Welcome to Corbyn's Cove, the only beach in Port Blair. Six days ago, it was teeming with at least 200 people when giant waves slammed ashore at 7.30 in the morning. Today, only two creatures basked in the warmth of the new year sun.
A year ago, at least 7,000 people were on the beach celebrating the first day of 2004.
Stricken by the tsunami, every person in Port Blair has decided to stay away from the water's edge. 'I cannot fathom what I am seeing now,' said Lekh Bahadur, the head guard of Peerless Resort.
The resort, with three others on the beach, is empty. Portions of the boundary wall have been smashed by the waves. The small wooden bridge that led to the beach from Corbyn Road no longer exists.
'There was not a soul last night and today has been no different. It is unbelievable in Port Blair that you won't have people on the beach on New Year's Day. If someone had said this before, we would have laughed,' said Liyakat, jobless after The Waves, a beach restaurant, closed down on December 26.
VELANKANNI: 9.30 AM
Leaves rustled as a sudden breeze blew across the street and a dog howled. In the early morning darkness, it sounded like a wail.
On the road leading to the beach, a few goats fed lazily on the grass.
It was 5.30 am and still dark, but lights had come on in St Joseph's Pilgrim Hall ' the first time since the ocean had gathered into a colossal tsunami exactly six days ago.
But if lights at the 16th century pilgrim centre was a sign that life was returning to normal, only a couple of hundred had gathered for the midnight mass a little distance away at the 'minor basilica' to the Lady of Health. Nothing compared to the millions who flock to the shrine between Christmas and December 31 every year.
'Never in the history of Velankanni has there been such poor crowds. Even before dawn, people had a dip in the sea and then came to the church for prayers,' said A. Arpudharaja.
It was only after the first rays of the sun had broken through the clouds that people began moving towards the beach, but mainly to stare at the now calm sea that last Sunday had swept away everything in its path.
Veteran visitor Mandaiyur Chidambaram was the first to bathe this morning, but missed the 'sea of heads'.
Anthony, a shop owner, turned hysterical as the 'strike time' ' 9.15 to 9.30 ' approached, but calmed down as he put a theological spin to the disaster. 'There is no such thing as tsunami,' said the devout Christian. 'It was only an undersea quake and God was still merciful to us as a land quake would have destroyed the whole of Tamil Nadu.'
A little distance away, some women walked up to the waves, bent down and sprinkled water on their heads ' in a silent homage to nature's awesome power.
KANYAKUMARI: 10 AM
As they shuffled out of the church at Land's End after the morning mass, the fishermen made the sign of the Cross.
A little distance away, people had queued up outside the temple of Devi Kanyakumari.
Fear had drawn the faithful to their gods. And if they had converged around the same time, it was because they remembered when the first tsunami hit the Indian peninsula at Triveni sangamam, the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, last Sunday.
Those who did gather on the beach to see the year's first sunrise were few. The teeming hundreds were instead in a school in Colachel village, 40 km from the confluence. At least 3,500 people are housed in the shelter.
Fr Antony Gomez, who runs the camp, said the church has buried 570 people. Another 1,100 are still missing.
A Tamil Nadu tourism official claimed that tourists have started coming back. 'The ferry will be seaworthy again,' said Subramaniam. Sources said the ferry service to the rock memorial, where Swami Vivekananda ended his three-day meditation, ironically on December 26, 1892, might resume in a week.
The despair on the faces of fishermen tells a different story. The tsunami has taken away the tools with which they eked out a living. They now squat in circles on the beach.