In the mild sunshine caressing Kerala- ‘God’s Own Country’, the humble city of Thiruvananthapuram has a blissfully contrast ambience. The lush green landscapes and attractive beaches, the scenic beauty, the aroma of spices and the hospitality allure a tourist but the metropolitan hue and flurry life is also relatively prominent. Built across seven hills and pulsating around the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, it is a worthy capital of Kerala and is drenched in tradition, folklore and literature.
Thiruvananthapuram gets its name from the word Thiru-anantha-puram which means ‘Abode of Lord Anantha’, the serpent Shesha on whom Lord Vishnu reclines. Ancient Thiruvananthapuram was a trading centre of sandalwood, ivory and spices. The Ays were the early rulers of this exquisite city, followed by the Vaynad kings. But the most commendable rule over Thiruvananthapuram was that of King Swathi Thirunal and Ayilyam Thirunal. It was during their rule that research centers and schools were founded. Thiruvananthapuram has treaded a long path since 1036 BCE to be what it is today- a modernized metropolis bustling with techies, epitome of education in the entire state of Kerala and a prominent centre of the trading traditions dating back to 1000 BCE.
As you walk through the winding lanes of Thiruvananthapuram, houses shaped like Pagodas with typical red tiled roofs and small cafes around the corners come into picture, a telltale of original and retained Kerala lifestyle. Known as one of the most beautiful and green cities of India, Thiruvananthapuram is worth exploring.
The most dominant feature of Thiruvananthapuram is the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. This 260 year old temple has been the erstwhile guardian of this city since a long stretch of time. Spreading along an area of over 2400 square meters, it is made up of 10,000 salagramam or sacred stones that were specially transported from Nepal loaded on elephants. The main entrance is 30 meters tall; it’s a seven tier gateway or Gopuram. Open officially only to the Hindus, it is one the most sacred shrines all over India.
The Puthe Maliga Palace Museum was once the royal residence of the Maharajas of Travancore. Today, it is converted into a museum that exhibits beautiful paintings, unique and valuable collections of the Travancore royals. Exquisitely carved wooden ceiling are the specialty of this museum. Each year, in the months of January or February, a Classical Music Festival is held here, artists from all over India attend this musical extravaganza and visitors are charmed by their breath taking performances. For those who have a taste for music must make it a point to attend this Festival. A visit to this museum can be clubbed with that of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Demonstrating a rare collection of archaeological and historic artifacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments and ivory carvings is yet another museum, the Napier Museum. Established in 1855 it is a famous art and natural history museum that is thronged by tourists. The Sri Chitra Gallery (Art Gallery) is adjacent to this museum and contains renowned works by Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich. There are also works of the Mughal and Tanjore Art.
In the grounds of this Museum is a Zoological Park. It was established in 1857 by the Maharaja of Travancore for recreational purposes. It is home to 82 species of different animals from all around the world. Animals like Lion-tailed Macaques, Nilgiri Langurs, Indian Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tigers and Leopards can be seen here. African animals like Giraffes, Hippos, Zebras and Cape Buffaloes also occupy this park. It is a treat to watch these animals wander freely around the open enclosures in a natural habitat. A snake farm in vicinity exhibits to its visitors both poisonous and non poisonous snakes. Huge trees like Frangipani and Jacaranda dot the area.
Another tourist attraction in Trivandrum is the Shankumugham Beach. Proximal to the Airport, this beach is away from the chaos of the city and its serenity is contagious. A 35 meter long, giant sculpture of a Mermaid or Jalakanyaka made by Kanayi Kunhiraman adds to the attraction of this beach. Across the beach is a restaurant by the name ‘Starfish Restaurant’, shaped like a starfish. It is popular for food attributes and is always crowded. It boasts also of an open air theatre and good parking facilities. A relaxed evening at the beach side watching the sunset can be pleasant.
At a point where the Veli Lake merges with the Arabian Sea is a well known picnic spot, Veli Tourist Village. It is located around 12 kilometers away from the main city. Exploring this small stretch of beach in paddleboats or speed boats can be a great experience. Sculptures by famous artist Kanayi Kunhiraman can be seen here. Also, there is an open air auditorium, which is a great venue for cultural activities and art festivals.
Apart from being an unpretentious capital, Trivandrum has more to its name. Its fertile soils help grow rarest of rare herbs and it has a perfect blend of hills, plains, winding rivers that meet the oceans and lush green forests that have helped Ayurveda flourish. A holistic approach to healing, Ayurveda has been an added attraction of this city. Therapies and massages done at various Ayurveda clinics have been tremendously well received by the domestic and foreign crowds, thus increasing the tourist influx by manifolds. A rejuvenating retreat on your holiday, the Ayurveda clinics are like a perfect ad-on.
Serenity personified as it is, Thiruvananthapuram has its own benign charm. The greenery, simplicity and particularly the typical Kerala touch that entwines its existence, makes it a unique destination. Aligning your tours so as to include this place will only add to the joy of visiting what they call the - ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala.