Thiruvananthapuram, The Capital City Of Kerala
The state capital's mouthful original name, Thiruvananthapuram, explains why many people still refer to it by its British version-Trivandrum. A gateway to Kerala, thanks to its airport, many travellers pass quickly through Trivandrum on their way to the more popular beach resorts of Varkala to the north and Kovalam to the south. But it has enough going for it to merit a brief stay.
Thiruvananthapuram is an agreeably small and manageable city with most of the highlights clustered fairly closely together. It is also less frenetic than most urban metropolises. The passengers touching down at its airport from out of state or overseas will find it refreshingly lush and verdant.
Its tropical humidity signaling a more relaxed way of carrying on than in dryer climes. The laid-back living can also make Trivandrum a preferable base for those who find tourist hotspot Kovalam a little too bustling.
Another reason to slow down a while in Trivandrum before hitting the beach is its wealth of cultural attractions. The flagship one is the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The town has a historical charm, exemplified by the remainder of a fort wall, the vestiges of royal Thiruvananthapuram.
A humbler side of traditional Kerala is also on view, in the serpentine city back streets with their old-world commerce. Things centre on the M G Road, from which the main highlights are either walkable or a short rickshaw hop away.
Trivandrum's sand tend to get overlooked as sun-seekers hotfoot it to either Kovalam or Varkala. But if you're going to be based in the town for any period you can get in some beach time.
Clean, wide, calm and sandy, Shangumugham Beach lies to the west of the city, not far from the airport. There is a surprising amount of things to do here, including a roller-skating rink, indoor sports complex offering badminton and table tennis and a few refreshments outlets.
Shangumugham's most eye-catching feature is Jalakanyaka, a 35m long statue of a reclining mermaid by the highly rated sculptor Kanayi Kunhiraman. Another monument is the stone pavilion. Children will find plenty to entertain them at the Jawaharlal Nehru Park, while newly built walkways provide a nice spot for an evening walk.
If you like your beach experience to be more landscaped, another option is the Veli Tourist Village. It is a tourist- oriented park developed between Veli lagoon and the Arabian Sea. A thin sandbar separates the large boating lake from the sea. There are also water sports, picnic and restaurant facilities, and you can admire the large modern artwork of Kanayi Kunhiraman.
Things to See and Do
Trivandrum's Government Ayurveda College
To sample the massage and treatments of India's traditional healing system without paying high-end hotel prices, pop along to this local Ayurveda training school. You may have to wait, and the venue is on the no-frills side, but the treatment and prior consultation are free, performed by the students of the institution.
Trivandrum's long-established retail zone consists of the 2 km, road of the same name, which runs from east to west, and the series of narrow lanes that branch off it. Fruit and vegetables are the main game at this frenetic bazaar, but the abundance of small stock anything and everything from silver to saris, furniture to fish and cutlery to coconuts.
Puthen Malika Palace and Museum
This 200 year old royal residence is the fruit of five years of labour by some 5,000 workers. Today the blue bloods are long gone and their aristo-artefacts form the bulk of the museum.
Exquisite thrones, an ivory cradle, portraits of the Maharajas, a mini arsenal of weapons and glass imported from Belgium. Some exhibits cover the area's colourful involvement in the spice trade. The palace, with its serene gardens and carved wooden ceiling, is an attraction in its own right.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Trivandrum's iconic building is this sprawling temple complex which gave the city its name. Sadly for tourists, it's not open to non-Hindus. But the fantastic views from the outside alone merit a visit. Make sure to follow the path round to the right of the gate to enjoy the temple to its best effect.
If you happen to see it when it is lit up at festival time, the sight is breathtaking. Dominating the scene is the building's seven-tired gopuram (the monumental tower at the temple entrance), which rises 30m in to the air.
The temple's deity is said to be made up of more than 12,000 sacred stones that were transported by elephant from Nepal. The shops and small businesses that line the temple's distinctive approach road can round off the visit.
Zoological Gardens Complex
If your time in Trivandrum is short and you want to make the best use of it you can, swing by the Zoological Gardens Complex, a self-contained area with four attractions in one.
The biggie is the Zoological Gardens- 55acres of land that home to 75 species of wildlife, including endangered indigenous creature such as the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri tahr, Indian rhino, Asiatic lion and Royal Bengal tiger, as well as interlopers from Africa such as giraffes, hippos and zebras.
If you are trip isn't taking you to Periyar or one of the other wildlife hubs this is a good substitute. Flora fans will also enjoy the abundance of plant life.
If all these animals have piqued your interest, step into the Natural History Museum, in the southeast corner of the site. The models and stuffed animals might seem a little musty and old-fashioned to visitors used to newfangled, interactive Western museums.
The collection of skeletons and somewhat ghoulish-looking preserved embryos will grab you attention. There is also an ethnological gallery with costumes, picture and models of ships.
First established by the Maharaja of Travancore in 1855, the Napier Museum is one of India's oldest. It has been in its present home, an attractive, typically Kerala construction, for 130 years. The diverse exhibits, some of which date back over a millennium, run the gamut from sculptures, carvings, idols, handicrafts and instruments to religious paraphernalia.
Round off your visit with a peek inside the Sri Chitra Art Galley, one large room of mostly bright, modernist style paintings, although you will find older works among the predominantly Indian creations on display.
Taking a Break
Tel: 0471 2330789
Clean, popular and convenient if you're catching a train, this thali all-you-can-eat outlet serve fresh and tasty traditional fare. It can get busy and trying to customise your order Western style is a no-but the service is quick.
Indian Coffee House
One of the branch of the workers' collective Indian Coffee House, this outlet is as interesting from a cultural point of view as it is for a bite to eat. Enjoy your choice of South Indian snacks washed down with coffee or tea while watching the sun set over the sea. Other outlets can be found opposite the Zoo and on Central Station Road.
Local branch of the hip student hang-out. The coffees are good-as the name would imply-and there's also a decent selection of Western-style snacks such as sandwiches and chips.
Opposite the Secretariat
This centrally located 'meals' restaurant serves up high-quality, low-cost vegetarian staples from both North and South India. It is clean, air-conditioned and service is friendly. Wash your meal down with a delicious juice.
Manjalikulam Cross Road
This pleasantly decorated restaurant at Hotel Regency, with wooden furniture and cheerful yellow walls, serves up Indian, Chinese, European and regional food. It is just 500m from the station, the service is quick and they serve beer. On balmy evenings try Bageecha, the roof garden.
M P Appan Road
If the spices are getting too much for you and you're missing a taste of home, head straight for this Swedish-run pizzeria, restaurant, cafe, cake and bread shop (which does in fact serve Indian food too). Warm, bright and welcoming, the design, food and ambience all win plaudits.
The South Park
Cut-above-the-rest red-brick hotel restaurant which dishes up Indian, Chinese and Continental far buffet style to the strains of a live band. The hotel also has a British-style pub, round-the-clock coffee shop and rooftop barbecue grill.
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