Archive for March, 2011

A Day in Trivandrum, Kerala

March 31, 2011

Our first stop in Kerala, in our recent trip through south India and Kerala (described in this post) was in the capitol city, Trivandrum (officially named Thiruvananthapuram – city of Lord Ananta, the Sacred Serpent upon which Vishnu reclines).  There is a major Vishnu temple we hoped to visit, as well as a major garden park, the Napier Museum.

History of Trivandrum (from wikipedia):

Thiruvananthapuram is an ancient city with trading traditions dating back to 1000 BCE. It is believed that the ships of King Solomon landed in a port called Ophir (now Poovar) in Thiruvananthapuram in 1036 BCE. The city was the trading post of spices, sandalwood and ivory. However, the ancient political and cultural history of the city was almost entirely independent from that of the rest of Kerala. The early rulers of the city were the Ays. With their fall in the 10th century, the city was taken over by the rulers of Venad.

The rise of modern Thiruvananthapuram began with accession of Marthanda Varma in 1729 as the founding ruler of the princely state of Travancore (Thiruvithamkoor in the local vernacular). Thiruvananthapuram was made the capital of Travancore in 1745 after shifting the capital from Padmanabhapuram in Kanyakumari district. The city developed into a major intellectual and artistic centre during this period. The golden age in the city’s history was during the mid 19th century under the reign of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal and Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal. This era saw the establishment of the first English school (1834), the Observatory (1837), the General Hospital (1839), the Oriental Research Institute & Manuscripts Library and the University College (1873). The first mental hospital in the state was also started during the same period. Sanskrit College, Ayurveda College, Law College and a second grade college for women were started by Moolam Thirunal (1885–1924).

Our very first stop in Trivandrum was a rescue mission for my computer. With the help of a Facebook friend, we were able to find a computer components store (Computer World, I think), where we could buy a replacement AC Adapter for my laptop. It is funny how dependent I have become on my computer. I have used one daily for about the last 25 years, and when my AC adapter blew up while traveling (with the wildly fluctuating AC that is available in India), I felt really handicapped.

After mitigating the computer crisis, we headed to our hotel. We stayed at the Wild Palms, a beautiful old house converted into a small inn. Quite nice, on a quiet side street.


The morning of the next day we headed out to see a bit of the city. The Napier Museum sounded interesting from the tour book, so we got a rickshaw to go there. The entrance is just ahead in the photo below. The rickshaws in Kerala are black and yellow. Each state has its own official color combinations for rickshaws.

Once we were in the gate we saw that there are many things to see here, including an Art Gallery, Natural History Museum, Botanical Garden, and a Zoo.


We walked in.


Nice garden grounds with big trees and plenty of space.


A couple sits together in the shade of a tree.


Here is the Napier Museum


The building is from the 1880s.


Its style includes colored tiles on the facing of the building and Moslem-type arches.


And wooden elements that look to be of the same Travancore-style as the Padmanabhapuram Palace.


The supports for the window are carved wood. They are fanciful figures, with elephants at the bottom, and some kind of tusked and fanged beast also with a trunk, entwined with that of the elephant.

The roof eaves are also supported by carved pieces of wood. The roof line reminds very much of the Padmanabhapuram Palace. Red clay tiles cover the roof.


I wonder if any of these windows are mica?


There are two of these tall towers, one on each side of the building.

We had to purchase tickets to enter the building and see the exhibits, just a few rupees.


I took this photo before we entered the building. Photos were not allowed inside.


I snuck a few photos anyway, from my camera inside the bag I carried.

Here is the underside of the roof, and one of the arches inside. I do not know if they were tile, or just painted. I think painted.


There were many interesting statues and murtis inside, including a collection of Balinese stick puppets. Here is a carved ivory figure, surrounded by magnificent tusks.


Looking up at the arches between sections of the building.

When we are back outside, we reenter the gardens. They are so nice, filled with bright flowers …


…and stately trees, many of which have couples sitting beneath them.


Men sit on the cement platform around this tree.

Here is another view of the Napier Museum. This building dominates this park.


Another big tree.


This great old tree in the photo below is a full-grown version of a type we have in our own garden, just a few years old. Ours has thick branches in sets of threes. At the right time of year, there are white and yellow swirling flowers at the end of each branch.


Our trees look nothing like these.


I never imagined even that this was possible. I wonder how old these trees are? (Do we need to wait 100 years for ours to look like this?)


We are now approaching some of the other exhibits.


We see the sign to the Art Gallery. It is closed, we find out. Too bad! We didn’t go to the zoo, either. I wonder what else we missed?


We approach the refreshment stands, with tables and chairs set out. You can buy food and drinks, and sit and enjoy yourself in the shade. Many families do this.


Looking again at the Napier Museum building from another view point.


Carol is under a flowering tree.


The blooms on this tree are amazing, about six inches across.


A Bodhi tree, with roots reaching down to the ground that will become new trunks in the years to come.


A line of pink rose bushes.

We step outside the gate, and there is a madhouse of people and rickshaws and vendors.


Lines of children form up outside the gate.


These are school children, boys and girls in their uniforms. Most have backpacks.


There is an annex to the Art Gallery. This is open.


Inside are paintings, done in the last few years, showing a history of the area’s rulers. One showed a successful attack by locals in small boats, fighting off the Dutch (I think) in a large sailing vessel. This would  have been a major victory for the Kerala  natives against a European invader.

We were not allowed to take photos in here either. I snuck a couple. Below is a royal carriage, made of exquisitely carved wood.

Behind it is a painting of the Raja being carried in such a carriage.


Outside the gallery is a topiary of carved shrubs showing two elephants.


More young people lined up. These are not wearing uniforms, maybe college kids?


Some of these girls look too young to be in college, like the girl in pink with a miniskirt with big earrings, who looks maybe 11 years old, going on 16.


School boys in brown uniforms are lining up outside the gate as we leave.


Back in a rickshaw, going through traffic.


We are going through town looking for a special veg restaurant that we read about in the Lonely Planet guide.


Here it is, on a back street, Pathayam, a “Natural-Health Food” place.


The walls are split bamboo, for a different atmosphere.


There are health food signs that line the walls, all in English.


We ordered a ‘special meal’. This was the first of two plates. Everything on this plate was uncooked.


The next plate had come with cooked rice, a chapatti, and some other dishes. Also four different things to drink. All in all, everything was good, and the meal was enjoyable.


That evening we headed out to the local big temple, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It is on the other side of this picturesque city temple tank. 


Here is the main entrance. We are getting excited about being able to see more of this temple.

But, when we get to the entrance, we are told, “Hindus only” and they do not accept our statements that we are Hindu. Wrong color skin, I guess.


We try again at a side entrance with the same result. This time someone tells us that we might be able to get permission to enter if we travel to some office at some palace, about 6 km away. Maybe he meant the Puthe Maliga Palace Museum? That is the only palace I can find in the guide book. It was getting late, so we did not go to this palace. Now I regret not going, not because of temple permissions, but because I have read of its great 200-year old Keralan architecture, and interesting exhibits of royal life. This palace took 5000 workers four years to build, and the maharaja only lived in it for one year.


Walking around the temple we saw this sign for a shop. Now we know where to go when we need our elephant decorated!


There was also a shop making papier mache statues. They are working on a finely rendered five-headed (Pancha mukhta) Ganesh.


Dusk is upon us. The reflections on the tank are nice, and the scene gives a peaceful feeling.


The sun sets to the west of the temple.


Trivandrum is a pretty big Indian city, the biggest in Kerala, at a bit less than one million people. The traffic and noise, while bad, seemed not nearly so bad as cities like Chennai. It was certainly worth a day’s visit. It would have been interesting for a bit longer visit had we been able to get into the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Since I got home, I have read in an Indian guide book that it is common in Kerala for non-Hindus to be excluded. I have also heard that in Kerala, the temple rites are done in an older, more conservative, manner. Maybe these two things are related (conservative practices and exclusion of non-Hindus.), I don’t know.  

The next day we will head north to Varkala Beach, about 50 km north of Trivandrum.


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