Having heard a lot of stories from Amma’s early childhood unfold against the backdrop of this city – dotted with historical sites and structures known for its glorious past, the charmingly scenic beaches and the famous zoo Amma and her three brothers frequently visited, more for the tall glass of orange juice they got to drink (at a juice shop beside it) with a spoon full of khus khus (sabja seeds) floating in the brim than for the excitement at seeing some rare and exotic wild species there – I had to grab the first opportunity I got to visit the place. This thought became the elixir that gave me all the enthusiasm to explore the city that weekend.
What we saw!
Though the summers in Trivandrum is generally characterised by bearable heat, the weather wasn’t too favourable even after me being there way before the warmest season should have ideally decided to slowly set in.
Before entering the temple, I had to see the ‘Methan Mani’ (an old clock tower mounted on the eastern side of the road leading to the temple) that I remember my mother so fondly talk about.
The clock tower had a simple face of a bearded muslim man (methan) with two goats on either sides. Every one hour, the goats would lean towards the man’s face and hit him on his cheeks. This impressive beauty that majestically faced the Padmatheertham Pond is believed to have been built in the early 1800s to mock Tipu Sultan at his failed attempt at invading the princely state of Tranvancore.
When I finally looked up to see it, I think I felt the same eagerness Amma had felt when she craned her neck to catch a first glimpse of the masterpiece as a six year old girl.
After keeping the phones and sandals in the locker, we joined the queue that was moving towards the main entrance to the temple. Since it was way crowded than we expected it to be, my friend went ahead and took two special entry tickets for us. This cut the waiting time to half an hour. Finally, when we got to the sanctum sanctorum, we saw Sri Padmanabha reclining on the five-hooded serpent Anantha and his right hand placed over the Shiva Lingam.
It is said to be the only temple in the world to have the principal deity in this pose.
Legend has it that this idol was made in black stone and adorned with eye-catching precious stones embedded in gold.
When they got the news of Tipu Sultan approaching their kingdom to loot them, the then king, instructed his men to cover the entire deity in black soot.
Though the kingdom of Travancore was a target for Tipu Sultan and his army for the longest time, they were never successful in conquering their empire.
Puthenmalika Palace Museum
The visit to the Puthenmalika Palace Museum, popularly called the Kuthira Malika, felt more like a trip that took us back to a different era. Built by Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma in the 1840s, this two-storeyed structure has 80 rooms of which 15 rooms have been open to public.
Located in close proximity to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, this building was constructed in such a way that it gave the people standing at the palace a direct view of the temple. We loved walking through the reading room with wooden shelves and carved ceiling, the music hall where Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma, who was also a wonderful musician, composed songs, and the upper galleries with the palace collections, paintings, Belgian mirrors and other exhibits.
Swathi Thirunal unfortunately died at a young age of 33, after living at the then newly constructed Kuthira Malika for just about a year. The royal family decided to not stay there after his untimely death and his successors continue to stay at the Kowdiar Palace.
Though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the palace, we managed to take some shots of the building and its surroundings from the outside.
Spread over 55 acres of land in the heart of the city, the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo beautifully achieves the combined goal of protecting the fauna while not forgetting about the flora. There are a variety of plants and trees in the premises surrounded by lakes and lawns.
Want to see successful models, smoking hot and compassionate at heart? Across the narrow space between beams, we saw them. Some of these animals living in captivity made me feel that they aren’t always unhappy with us for staring at them or disturbing them with our presence. We spent more than 2 hours under the green canopy admiring the animals and walking through the garden, while managing to spot a naughty lion-tailed monkey, a white tiger restlessly pacing his cage, a sleeping lion, a tired leopard, some poisonous and non-venomous snakes, and a lot of calm looking deer.
This zoo also taught me that white tigers live longer in captivity, that monkeys don’t run away if they get really comfortable in an environment, and that the smallest snake can be even smaller than the palm of your hand.
Shri Chitra Art Gallery
The art gallery was beside the zoo, but not seeing a lot of people go this side, we were a bit reluctant go in to begin with. We decided to enter anyway and from the moment we stepped in and walked from one hall full of beautiful artworks to another, we enjoyed every bit of it. The gallery featured paintings, both traditional and modern, of the famous Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Nicholas Roerich and Svetoslav Roerich to name but a few.
Nicholas Roerich was a Russian painter and globetrotter who fell in love with India and lived his final years at the Kullu Valley. Svetoslav Roerich, like his father Nicholas, was fond of India and her people.
Svetoslav went on to marry Devika Rani Chaudhuri who is popularly known as the first lady of Indian cinema. They were happily married till Svetoslav passed away at the age of 88 in Bangalore in 1993.
From Ravi Varma’s classic paintings of the royal family to Nicholas Roerich’s enigmatic depiction of the mountains probably recorded on canvas during his Indian expedition and his son, Svetoslav Nikolaevich’s landscapes and portraits, every single painting spoke volumes about the unique styles they had.
Where we ate!
For a city that appears to shy away from getting into the fast-paced bandwagon and continues to stay away from having tall buildings that aim towards the sky, she has wholeheartedly opened her arms to embrace food joints, big and small, with their great tasting food.
Devi Juice Shop
My friend and I were finally walking towards the car after a long day of loitering around the city, when we found this gem. Fortunately, we had 30 bucks in our wallet and could buy one huge mug of fruit sarbath. You would agree that nothing pairs with a hot summer day better than a scene where you picturise yourself sipping on a refreshing fruit drink, that cools down the body heat and quenches your thirst all at once.
Villa Maya Heritage Restaurant
This heritage restaurant is an Arumana Ammaveedu converted into an elegant eat out, painstakingly restored into what we see there today. The royals of Travancore belonged to the matrilineal society where the family legacy was passed on through the female heir. As a result of which, the men in the family married women from the Nair community and gave them a luxurious life at what was called the Ammaveedu.
The decision to have at least one meal over the weekend, at Villa Maya was there in the back of my mind. The wooden furnishing and well-tended garden blended perfectly well with the sun-soaked courtyard, the graceful-looking teal and beige coloured curtains, and the limestone rock walls.
It was extremely soothing to watch the fish move in harmony as if they were on a mission, as if they were patiently engraving musical notes on water.
Having dined here earlier, I loved the idea of enjoying food at a magnificent mansion which was once filled with music, dance and rich heritage. We ordered one portion of Beef Lasagna and Kerala Kozhi Roast with Parotta from the wooden multi-cuisine menu book.
I have always been on a journey towards finding the perfect scoop of ice cream. Though I haven’t really found it yet, Paul’s Creamery serves some great tasting flavours of ice cream in their shop at Kowdiar. The interiors are tastefully done and theme of the place and its lighting will definitely give you positive vibes.
Thank you, Trivandrum, for the wonderful two days, clean streets, pretty palaces, magnificent temples and tasty treats. Saying goodbye… until we meet again!