Covering a beautiful green city and a historic town on the sea shore.
By Sudha Balachandran
If you have a slightly long weekend, say three or four days, at your disposal, you could visit the capital city of God’s Own Country, Thiruvananthapuram, and soak in the lush, green surroundings. You can leave behind the fast-paced, traffic-laden streets of Bengaluru and enter the slightly laid-back, beautiful city of Trivandrum. In fact, it reminds one of how Bangalore was nearly 15-20 years back – beautiful Victorian buildings constructed during British times with lots of open space and sprawling ground, plenty of green cover, fewer vehicles on the road, and people who are warm and welcoming!
Day-1 – Trivandrum – local sights and temple visit
My husband was already there in Trivandrum attending a conference; so my younger daughter and I joined him. We took the Bengaluru-Kochuveli Express on a Thursday evening (after my girl returned from school) and reached Kochuveli by 9 am on Friday. It is a smaller station on the outskirts of Trivandrum; and we took an auto and got to our hotel that was situated right in the heart of the city.
After settling in and freshening up, we decided to explore the neighouring areas until my husband joined us after his conference. Our hotel was on a street parallel to MG Road, one of the important and beautiful locations in the city. The Kerala Secretariat building was just a few metres away – a lovely, white building that reminds one of the Capitol Hill of Washington.
We passed the Corporation building – again, a relic from the British times – red coloured and with spires, bringing back images of a bygone era. We proceeded to the Central market called the Connemara Market, a land-mark building – vibrant with local fruits and vegetables. We passed the meat section and were surprised to see the head of a buffalo or maybe it was a bull. That was quite a sight and my daughter stopped in her tracks astonished by the sight!
The entire city is beautifully maintained, no trash lying around. There are plenty of trees lining the roads, offering shade and oxygen. All the sprawling buildings that we saw had vast open grounds with plenty of green cover, which added to the beauty of the place and the architecture was a throwback to the British times. Broad roads with fewer vehicles enhanced the charm of the place.
Later in the evening, after my husband joined us, we took a rickshaw to the famous Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple, about a two-km ride from our hotel. The temple authorities adhere to a strict dress code for all people visiting the temple – all men and boys have to wear a veshti or dhothi and remove their shirts/T-shirts; women and young girls need to wear a sari or a long skirt.
There is a shop right at the entrance to the temple which sells an off-white piece of mull cloth at a nominal price. My husband was carrying a dhothi but my daughter and I had to pick up a veshti each. Salwar kameez /chudidar is not recognised as temple-friendly wear for women!
Once we were set on the clothing front and had passed through security, we climbed up the few steps and entered the main temple. The temple itself is several centuries old; the pillars and grand stone interiors makes you marvel at the beautiful workmanship and the amazing skills of the masons and artisans. The huge figure of Lord Vishnu reclining on the bed made by the Snake Aadisesha is absolutely divine – and reminds you of the yogic posture of Anantha Shayanam or eternal sleep. The sanctum sanctorum is also very distinguished as it features the Holy Trinity of Hindu Gods – Vishnu as Anantha Padmanabha, Shiva as a Lingam situated right below the out-stretched hand of Vishnu, and Brahma is depicted as springing out of Vishnu’s navel, seated on a lotus. Another salient feature of this temple is that the sleeping form of the Lord is visible through three doors and he can be seen only in parts – first, the head, face and shoulders; next- the torso and thighs; and finally the Lord’s ankle and feet.
After the Lord’s darshan, we went back to our hotel wondering about the famed treasure chests that were found hidden in the temple vaults and several more that continue to be hidden. En route, we saw the illuminated Secretariat building and it looked stunning!
The next day after a hearty breakfast, we took a bus to the historic shore town of Kanyakumari, which is situated about 90 kms from Trivandrum. The bus-ride was painfully slow and we took a good four hours to reach the famous temple town at the southern-most tip of India. After a brief lunch, we walked across to the ferry from where we took a steamer to reach the Vivekananda Rock Memorial situated about 500 m from the mainland. Being a Saturday, the place was crowded and the queue for tickets was long. The watchman assured us that the crowd that day was significantly lower than on other national holidays! The spell-binding view of the Rock Memorial and the imposing Thiruvalluvar Statue kept us going. It is believed that Swami Vivekananda sat on these rocks and meditated for a good three days. He is supposed to have found answers to all the questions that plagued him and thus attained salvation.
The beautiful memorial that has been built here is remarkable and the huge statue of Swami Vivekananda, standing tall and erect is an inspiring sight. It is a tribute befitting one of India’s much-admired and respected philosophers / social reformers. The Meditation Hall built in the lower precincts of the building is cool and inviting, and offers solace and peace to the wandering mind. A walk around the outer platform is thoroughly enjoyable – the sea breeze is quite strong and refreshingly cool. One can spend a good amount to time just watching the lashing waves and enjoying the breeze as it plays around with your hair and clothes, gently lifting them and blowing through, providing the much-needed respite from the hot sunny day. The thought that we were standing on unique ground – surrounded by three different seas: the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, and right at the southernmost tip of India – added to the awe and magnitude of the experience.
We stood for a while and watched the majestic, 133 ft. tall Thiruvalluvar statue. Thiruvalluvar was a great Tamil poet and philosopher whose famous work, the Thirukkural is an important treatise on life and offers teachings on good conduct, morals and how to lead a happy and contented life. The poet wrote the 133 chapters (and thus, the height of the statue) in ancient times but his teachings remain true and relevant even to this day.
As we got back to the mainland, the lights were switched on at the Vivekananda Rock and what a sight it was! Truly remarkable and well worth all the wait that we had to put up with! The sun had set and as the last rays slowly vanished, the illumined lights of the Rock provided a fantastic view.
We then slowly edged our way to the main temple dedicated to the young-girl goddess Kanyakumari. The deity of the goddess was beautiful – like an adolescent girl wearing a long-skirt, blouse and a daavini, or half-sari. The story is that Goddess Parvathi took the form of a young, virgin girl to kill the evil Banasura, who had been granted the boon that he could be killed by no man but only by a young, virgin girl.
The ring adorning the goddess’s nose had a powerful glitter and shone lustrously. In fact it is believed that the bright light emanating from her nose-ring was so powerful that it could be seen from the seas. Several ships mistook this brilliance to be the lighthouse and sailed towards it and ended up crashing against the rocks. As a result today, the eastern side of the temple facing the sea, has been walled up to prevent such mishaps.
After a long day spent in the beautiful and historic town of Kanyakumari, we took the bus back to Trivandrum. It was nearly 11:30 pm when we got down at the bus stand but surprisingly, there were quite a few autos that were still out and about on the streets.
Day-3 Trivandrum – beach, park and zoo
The next morning, a good friend offered to show us around the city of Trivandrum. We first made our way to the Shanghumugham Beach for a morning walk. The sea was beautiful and the walk along the water’s edge was exhilarating. We stopped to watch a set of local fishermen pulling in the catch. This was an example of team activity at its best – one of the older men sang a beautiful, rhythmic song; the others echoed the last words of each line while tugging at the long ropes of the fishing net to haul the catch in, the muscles on their arms and shoulders rippling at the effort. The entire activity took quite a while and the lead singer’s folk tune in his baritone voice was very peppy and comforting. My little girl also joined the fishermen and pulled at the ropes for a few minutes and then realised it was not an easy job, though it appeared so.
After the leisurely walk, we then headed to the Botanical Garden of the Museum and Zoo Complex situated right in the heart of the city. What struck us most was that this complex housed a park, a zoo, a museum, an art gallery and acted Bengaluru as the cultural and entertainment hub of the city. The park reminded us of our very own LalBagh in Bangaluru. It was built on similar lines, well lined with several trees and lush greenery. We walked along the outer periphery and enjoyed the fresh air. We stopped at the Napier Museum – a tall, red building that was architecturally imperial in style with Gothic roofs and towers. The museum was not open, but we enjoyed the beauty of the imposing building, as it stood elegantly in the middle of all that greenery. This provided a great backdrop for our photo-op session.
After all that walking, we were quite hungry. Right outside the park entrance, we stopped for a freshly squeezed refreshing drink – made of beetroot, cucumber, ginger, lime and gooseberries. It tasted heavenly! Our friend then took us to a restaurant that served authentic and extremely tasty Kerala food – we had puttu and kadala curry, followed by idiappam with stew.
Visit to the zoo
Our daughter was very clear what she wanted to do during the second half of the day and so, after a quick shower in our hotel, we headed back to the Zoo Complex, to visit the zoo. This complex also houses an Aquarium and a Natural History museum. The tickets are all reasonably priced – `20 per adult, and `5 for children. The zoo had a good collection of animals from various countries, each of them housed in their native environment, given ample space to move about, and separated from the others with well-constructed moats. There were tigers, lions, zebras, rhinos, hippos, lion-tailed macaques, bisons, leopards. The anaconda was a big draw and our daughter was especially thrilled to see it. There were plenty of birds – colourful and beautifully hued, in all sizes and shapes – from the big ostrich to the small but brilliantly coloured mandarin duck. The well maintained zoo was a very satisfying experience. What was initially started as the personal menagerie of the maharaja of the erstwhile Travancore state was later thrown open to the public and this is definitely a must-see place in Trivandrum.
After the tiring day, we relaxed a bit in our hotel before heading out to the airport for our flight back to Bengaluru. The three-day trip was truly memorable and will definitely stay etched in our minds for a long time.