There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 6 March 2016

North to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) and on towards Kollam: Part 12 of India's Deep South

Along Route 66 from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)

After breakfast we checked out and headed north, not that there is a choice of directions from Kanyakumari, along Route (actually 'National Highway') 66.

(Well it winds from Chicago Kanyakumari to LA Bombay
More than two one thousand miles all the way)

Sunday has no significance to Muslims and Hindus, but the British legacy includes a respect for The Weekend which transcends little matters like religion. Tour buses packed with day-trippers were already rolling into town.

But Sunday is significant to Christians, and Thomas, a devout Christian himself, was keen to point out the churches as we passed. Some were full to overflowing with latecomers clustering round the door.

Church in southern Tamil Nadu
 Tomorrow would be Maha Shivaratri (Great Night of Shiva) and in preparation for the festival gods as well as tourists were on the move...
Gods on the move
 …and so were their vehicles. Below, Nandi the vehicle of Shiva hitches a ride on a more worldly conveyance.
Vehicle on vehicle, Tamil Nadu
We left Tamil Nadu and entered Kerala, reaching Trivandrum around ten o’clock where we were reunited with Mr Fussy who had been so much fun yesterday.
Part 12: Kanyakumari to Kollam (almost)
The Horse Palace, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)

Trivandrum is now officially called Thiruvananthapuram, but Thiruvananthapuram does not roll of the tongue so nicely (or at all) and is far too long to write, so I am sticking with Trivandrum. With a population of just under 1 million Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Travancore, so appropriately enough, we started at the Maharajah’s palace.

The palace is approached past a banana plantation, which is hardly remarkable in southern India except that….

To the Horse Palace around a banana plantation, Trivandrum
…the bananas are red, which looks strange though I am assured they taste just like regular bananas.

Red bananas, Horse Palace, Trivandrum
This was the palace of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal Ramavara who reigned over the Kingdom of Travancore from birth to his death in 1846, taking over as ruler from his aunt in 1829 at the age of 16. This palace was built in the 1840s while yesterday we visited the 18th century palace of his predecessors at Padmanabhapuram. Maybe two very similar palaces in two days was one too many.

Swathi Thirunal, Horse Palace, Trivandrum
Travancore was lucky with its kings, who governed well and made it the wealthiest of India’s ‘Princely States'. When the British left in 1947 elements within the government favoured an independent Travancore but after a year of unrest and, with some reluctance, Travancore joined the Indian Union in 1948 and merged with the Kingdom of Cochin immediately to the north to form the Indian State of Kochi-Travancore. There is still a King of Travancore, though today it is a courtesy title only. The 1956 reorganisation of Indian States gave precedence to language. The Malayalam speaking north of Travancore, Kochi and some territory further up the coast  formed the new State of Kerala while the Tamil speaking Kanyakumari district joined Tamil Nadu.

Kuthira Malika - The Horse Palace - Trivandrum
A dozen times Mr Fussy told us the palace was known as Kuthira Malika (‘Horse Palace’), and every time he felt the need to explain why – an explanation required only by the terminally unobservant.
Tell me again why its called the 'Horse Palace'
He showed us the ladies’ quarters and bathing pools for their ‘gossip and chitchat’ but fortunately soon handed over to a palace guide. We went round with a group, the guide speaking first in Malayalam for everyone else and then repeating it for us in faultless English – far better than Mr Fussy’s though he was a qualified English speaking guide.

We liked the carved wooden ceilings and dark panelled walls – the small libraries were particularly lovely – but found the Belgian chandeliers, the thrones of ivory and Bohemian glass and multitude of Chinese vases rather over the top.
Guest Quarters, Horse Palace, Trivandrum
As at Padmanabhapuram, the coolness of the interior was striking. The low eaves and slatted windows were the same but here the floors were made from pounded charcoal, limestone and egg white, so they were smooth and cool to the touch (like everybody else we went round in bare feet so can testify to its effectiveness).

Swathi Thirunal was generally a wise and always a conscientious ruler and the stress, along with the deaths of his mother, wife and three children may have contributed to his demise at the age of 39. Afterwards the palace was neglected but the present king has recently had it restored and opened it to the public to pay for that restoration – I suggest he sells some of those Chinese vases.

Padmanabha Temple, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)

Next to the palace is Padmanabha Temple, Trivandrum’s main Hindu temple. The site has reputedly been used for worship for 5,000 years, but the white painted gopura is 16th century, so relatively new then. Like Suchindram Temple, men are required to remove their shirts, but unlike Suchindram, non-Hindus are not permitted to enter.

Padmanabha Temple, Trivandrum
This is as close as we were allowed, so I have no idea what is inside (though I expect it is not that different from a hundred other such temples).
Padmanabha Temple, Trivandrum - as close as non-Hindus can get
The Napier Museum and Other Landmarks, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)

Moving on we had a drive-by tour of some of Trivandrum’s most important buildings including The Kerala State Parliament…
The Kerala Parliament, Trivandrum
A rather ugly rectangular building with a traditional Kerala roof - not that the photo shows any of that!
 …. and the State Secretariat where the civil service carry out the decisions of politicians….
Kerala State Secretariat, Trivandrum
 …and halted at the Napier Museum, approaching it through a well maintained and colourful garden.

The Napier Museum garden, Trivandrum
The same adjectives could be applied to the building which was designed by Robert Chisholm, consulting architect to the Madras Government, whose work had been Renaissance or Gothic Revival before he became a pioneer of the Indo-Saracenic style. Opened in 1880 and named after Lord Napier, Governor of Madras 1866-72, the museum is Indo-Saracenic but there are clear nods towards Gothic while the roof shows local Keralan influence. It is often described as a ‘masterpiece’ but what I saw was a nerve-jangling clash of styles.

Napier Museum, Trivandrum
The collection is worth looking at and includes a temple chariot, ivory carvings, bronze castings of Shiva and other gods and various items of historical and archaeological interest. There is also an art gallery, but we gave that a miss. Inside the building works as a museum, and by the end I was warming to it, but more in the ‘so bad it’s good’ sense than as an architectural triumph.

The Napier Museum, Trivandrum
(I think it is worth a look from the other side)
Leaving the museum we drove around some more, gawping through the car window at Kerala’s State Central Library. Founded in 1829 during the reign of King Swathi Thirunal the library’s present building - also hailed as an architectural masterpiece - was constructed in 1900 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Kerala State Central Library, Trivandrum
And at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in 1873 and not the only church in Trivandrum to have a Hindu-style ‘god pole’ surmounted by a cross outside the door…

St Joseph's RC Cathedral, Trivandrum
...and also at the Palayam Juma Mosque, the most important mosque in Trivandrum. The current version dates from 1960 but the first mosque on this site was built for the British Indian 2nd Regiment in 1813.

Palayam Juma Mosque, Trivandrum
We dropped off Mr Fussy, drove a little further north on NH 66 (Trivandrum city looked oh so pretty) and stopped for lunch. Thomas chose a clean, modern roadside restaurant – he likes to remind us occasionally that India, for all its old palaces and temples (and occasional poverty and squalor) is modern, dynamic and forward looking. Designed to appeal to the growing and aspirant Indian middle class Red Salt had all the charm of a motorway service station – but we could not fault the vegetarian thalis.

The Fragrant Nature Resort, Kollam

After more driving we entered Kollam district but never reached the city, turning off NH 66 and bumbling along minor roads to the Fragrant Nature Resort beside Paravur Lake which would be the estuary of the Ithikkara River had a sandbar not turned it into a lagoon.

Get your kicks on NH 66
Indian National Highway 66
After checking in we were taken on a lengthy walk along the lakeside and past the Sunset Bar before finally reaching a comfortable semi-detached bungalow with bedroom, sitting room and balcony - an upgrade on the accommodation we had booked.
Our bungalow, Fragrant Nature, Kollam
Opening our mini bar we found two bottles of Kingfisher beer, suggesting Kerala’s prohibition was, happily, not absolute.

Leaving them there we strolled back to the Sunset Bar. Our request for gin was refused [update: spirits are available only in 5-star hotels (and the logic behind that?) and Fragrant Nature, sadly, has merely 4]. Our request for Kingfisher resulted in a smile and two bottles of beer.
A beer at the Sunset Bar, Fragrant Nature
 We watched a couple of fishermen on the lake…
Fishermen on Lake Paravur, Fragrant Nature, Kollam
…as the sun descended. It set a just round the corner so the bar did not quite live up to its name, but why quibble?
The sun sets just round the corner, Fragrant Nature, Kollam
We dined at the hotel, there was no other option, but the curried squid, mushroom masala and chapattis were just what we wanted.

Later we retired to a bed protected by a towel monster, but was it protection enough?….
Towel Monster, Fragrant Nature, Kollam

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