Sunday, March 16, 2014

India: Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Napier Museum & Padmanabhapuram Palace in Trivandrum, Kerala

Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Thiruvananthapuram was the capital of the kingdom of Tranvancore, which covered southern Kerala. It's the current capital of Kerala. Since its name was quite long for the British colonial rulers, they called it Trivandrum, hence the two names. Aside from the popular beaches and backwaters, Trivandrum has a a colorful local culture and built heritage dating back hundreds of years.

Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple dates back to the 7th century. But it is believed the area has been a place of worship for thousands of years. The foundation of the present gopuram was laid in the 16th century. It is said to be the richest temple in the world owing to its vast collection of gold, silver and precious stones offered by many generations of the Travancore royal family, amounting to trillions of US dollars.

Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Only Hindus are allowed to enter the main temple. And there is a strict dress code. Men have to wear a mundu with their shirt off. While women have to wear a sari or long skirts. So we only got to walk around it. Photos are allowed only up to a certain point.

Napier Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Driving around Trivandrum, we could see that the city had a very interesting collection of colonial buildings. To bad we couldn't stop to take photos. We did pass by one though, the Napier Museum, an Indo-Saracenic structure built in the 19th century. The Napier Museum houses a collection of Kerala artifacts dating back hundreds of years.

Napier Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Napier Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Around the museum is a garden and a band stand built at about the same time as the museum.

Thuckalay, Tamil Nadu
Before Trivandrum, the former seat of Kerala's Travancore kings was Padmanabhapuram Palace. It is however in Thuckalay in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. When India was divided into states, based on the language spoken by the majority of the people, the palace was included in Tamil Nadu. But because of its historical association with Kerala, it remained a property of the state. So the entire palace, while a property of Kerala, is totally surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu.

Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
So we had to cross over to Tamil Nadu to visit the palace. It was a two-hour drive. And I realized that they take state borders seriously here since our Kerala local sim went on roaming once we entered Tamil Nadu!

Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
Built in 1601, Padmanabhapuram Palace is located at the foot of the Veli Hills, a part of the Western Ghats. One of the most ipressive teak wood structures in the world, it's a sprawling complex of different structures. Since the palace closed exactly at 5 p.m. (and note also that it's closed entirely on Mondays), we didn't have much time to explore. There is a fixed route to follow, and as we left a sector, the staff and Kerala police were closing the windows and doors behind us.

Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
The main structures of the palace include the Mantrasala (King's Council Chambers), Thai Kottaram (Mother's Palace), Nataksala (Performance Hall), a central building housing the king's chambers, the treasury and the Upparikla Maliga or worship chamber of the royal family among others, and the Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace).

Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
Padmanabhabapuram Palace, Kerala, India
How to get to Padmanabhapuram from Trivandrum
The palace is a must visit for anyone interested in history and heritage who is visiting Trivandrum. The best way to visit the palace is to join a tour of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC). They have an office near the Trivandrum Bus Station. It includes visits to Padmanabhapuram, Suchindram and Kanyakumari. But if you just want to visit the palace, you can take public transportation from Trivandrum. Get on a bus to Nagercoil and get down at Thuckalay. At Thuckalay, it's a 1-kilometer autorickshaw ride to the palace. Make sure to be there before 4 p.m.

Vivanta by Taj Kovalam
G. V. Raja Vattapara Road, Kovalam
Trivandrum, Kerala 695527
Tel No. 0471 661 3000

Back in Trivandrum, I checked-in at the Vivanta by Taj Kovalam, a sprawling resort right beside Kovalam Beach. The property is divided into two parts, a hill area where the reception, rooms, villas, pool and main restaurant are located, and the backwater area which has Kovalam Beach and a lake within the property of the resort. Too bad we arrived in the evening. My room had a balcony with a forest view.

Kathakali at Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam, Kerala, India
We were treated to a short Kathakali performance before dinner. I'll talk about it when we visit the Kathakali school in the next few days. But as you can see, the dance drama is know for its colorful make-up and elaborate costumes.

Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam, Kerala, India
Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam, Kerala, India
Dinner was at Bait, the beachside seafood restaurant of the resort. The next morning, I made sure to wake up to take a photo of a small lake within the property of the resort. Yes, it's a property of the resort. And it's stunning!
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