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Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Trivandrum Diary

I am smitten. This is my second visit to this exquisite locale, but the magical feeling which engulfs me when the aircraft starts hovering over Kerala still remains. This is truly God's Own Country.

And it is Trivandrum, the capital is where I pay my obeisance to. For me, it is a haven, a place which has become so much a part of me in just two visits.

Green queen

Four and a half hours in the plane is pretty tiring. So, by the time you are told that the flight is preparing for arrival to the Trivandrum airport, all you want to do is get up and run.

But hold on. It was just then that I happened to look down from my window. A poet would have found his muse from the sight which greeted me when I looked out. I was here, little below the clouds and in front of my eyes was this vast green blanket, engulfing a huge territory.

Soft, fresh and welcoming, the lush green layer seemed to call me and I was mentally responding to it. And there was the ocean. From the distance, only a sheet of blue could be seen perfectly complimenting the green blanket.

It was nature at its best. Something I thought we could see only on the Discovery or National Geographic channel. The best part is that the magic doesn't fade even when the flight is about to hit the ground.

True, the marks of civilisation are seen all over, but everything is in the lap of nature. So, all along the strip of land, you can spot trees, plants and water. Wow ... this is a real confluence of nature. This is my second visit and I'm sure I'll feel equally enamoured the third time too.


Be it talking or writing, I tend to get carried away at the mention of Trivandrum. I apologise.

Some introduction is required - Thiruvananthapuram, as it is now called is my sasural (husband's home). Well, I never knew all my talks with my mother about visiting Kerala once would be heard by someone up there and come true so soon... But they did and I visited Kerala not as a tourist but as a coy bride for the first time.

Funny, it may sound, but it felt like a homecoming for me. I was thousands of miles away from my family in a house full of strangers but as I walked into my husband's house with the traditional Kerala lamp in my hand, I felt completely at home. Strange. Probably, that's what God's Own Country is all about.

Water, water, everywhere

The Trivandrum airport is very strategically located. You get a rendezvous with the sea while heading towards the main city from the airport. The waves from Shankhu Mukham beach, which is a stone's throw away from the airport are ever ready to welcome all visitors.

As the cars wound down the beach, the waves lap up almost waving enthusiastically to you. "Come to play with us soon," they seemed to be telling me as I passed through the beach.

And I kept my promise. I had to.

The famous Kovalam beach was where I was first taken to. I was sensible. I didn't expect a Goa here. But I didn't regret.

The Kovalam beach is no water paradise. The white sand and blue water description is not applicable to this place. Unlike the breathtaking beauty of the Goa beaches,it is the greenery here that catches attention.

The coconut trees lining up throughout the coastline are the first thing to catch your attention as you park your car on the beach. I, like a foolish child wanted to run straight into the water. But I was warned. The sea at the Kovalam beach is quite rough and you have to be on your guard constantly while going near the water.

Unfortunately, even for all its popularity, this beach is hardly well kept. As expected, the beach was more frequented by the foreigners who didn't seem to have a fear of water.

And for these firang tourists are built those umpteen shops adorning the beach selling everything from clothes to jewellery. It hardly matters that they sell everything at a triple price. They are after all doing brisk business.

From here, we headed to the Shanghu Mukham beach, which I had seen from the airport. While it is considered a family beach, this place looked much more cleaner and safer than Kovalam.

We culminated our visit with a treat of a variety of eggs and mutton cutlets at the Indian Coffee House right opposite the beach.

Padmanabhaswamy temple

A trip to Trivandrum would have been incomplete without a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple. Wearing a yellow chiffon sari, I set out with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law to see Lord Padmanabha who ruled Travancore via the Padmanabha Dasa, meaning "servants of the Lord Padmanabha"(erstwhile royal family).

It took me a while to acclimatise myself to the temple surroundings. Around me, I could only see bare bodied men wearing the mundu (dhoti) and sari clad women scattered all around.

Some were probably tourists but there were many others for whom this visit was a routine. After walking some good distance within, we finally reached the spot where the main deity was seated.

The excessive crowd and heat was getting on to me but the devotees around me seemed hardly bothered. But when I finally got a chance to stand in front of the deity, I realised it was all worth the effort.

In front of me was probably the most majestic statue of a God I had ever seen in my life. All in gold, Swami Padmanabha was reclining royally in his chamber.

The statue was not lifeless - even in the lying posture, the Lord seemed to be talking to his devotees. The glittering golden miracle I witnessed almost seemed unbelievable. I was still reeling under the effect of the sheer size and carving of the statue when we walked out of the place.

All that glitters

Kerala is one place which seems to be blessed with the Midas touch. From the regal Padmanabhaswamy statue to extravagant weddings, gold is so much a part of life for Keralaites.

Here, gold is one of the criterion for gauging the prosperity of a family. As we drove down the roads of the city, I couldn't help noticing huge billboards saying, "instalments available for gold purchase."

But the real feel of the Midas touch can be seen at any of the traditional Nair wedding. Decked up with a minimum of 20 gold chains and two to three dozen bangles, an affluent Nair bride is quite a breathtaking sight.

So, I realised that one of the things that a tourist should not forget during a Kerala visit is to go to a good jewellery shop. Having some of the purest gold in the country, Keralaites also happen to be brilliant jewellery designers.

The multi-coloured stone ornaments or the aesthetically designed pure gold chains, Kerala may be best described as paradise for the accessory freaks.

Watch out for your waist line

Although my sister-in-law lovingly fed me with the best ghee roast dosas I have ever had, dosa is not a speciality of Kerala. This place is a paradise for those food lovers (especially non-vegetarians) who don't mind experimenting.

For starters, everything here is cooked in coconut oil. Hold on. Agreed, it is cholestrol rich food but believe me, you'll miss something if you don't indulge!

I was lucky. Being the pampered bahu, I got to taste some of the best dishes of the place. So be it puttu & Kadala, idiappam & kootu curry, appam & stew or of course dosa - I digged into everything.

Initially, I was served Basmati rice but gradually I also started eating the thick red rice, which is their staple food. The excessive use of green chillies burnt my stomach but there was something to compensate for that too.

There is an abundance of juice shops across the city, serving an assortment of fresh fruit juices, which are so easy on the pocket too.

The desi air

My 10-day stay in Trivandrum steadied my fast paced life for a while. The Capital of the State with hundred per cent literacy seemed so much at ease with their identity. Trivandrum is no mini-America.

It was a relief to forget the existence of Mc Donalds and Pizza Hut for those days. Unfortunately for old fashioned people like me, the Delhi, Mumbai effect is catching up here too. So, on my second visit I chanced upon a newly built Cafe Coffee Day here which seemed to be the hot spot of youngsters ...

Two visits are not enough to know Trivandrum, and I'm sure I'll get our readers much more to chew on after my third visit to the God's Own Country which happens to be my second home.

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