Of course you can spend more days exploring Kerala, going for a cruise on the backwaters or try an Ayurvedic cure for which the state is well known, but if you have less time just like me you might want to try the below itinerary.
I am writing this post about things to do in the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala, while I am still in Thiruvananthapuram, waiting at the airport, for the flight that is going to take me to my next destination (surprise!). I had just a day to explore the city and here are my recommendations.
1. Discover Padmanabhaswamy Temple & Travancore Heritage Buildings
Start your day with god’s blessings at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The darshan timings (benedictions during which the room where the gods’ statues are placed are open to the public) start from 4am till noon. I reached there by 9 am and it was not crowded. The architecture of the temple is a mixture of Tamil and Kerala style. It is not as colourful as the Tamil temples but all golden plated instead. The temple is dedicated to the hindu god Vishnu, depicted laying in meditation (yoga nidra) on a snake. The god was and is still the principal deity of the Travancore royal family.
The dress code is strict : you can buy or rent a lungi (mandatory for men) at the entrance for 50-150 rupees. Men have to be shirtless and ladies are only allowed with sarees or long skirts (you can wrap a lungi too if you are wearing a pant). No photographies, mobile or electronic items are permitted inside the temple.
Unfortunately, no foreigners (or non-hindus) are allowed in the sanctum sanctorum where one can see the statue of the god. Anecdotally, the name of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam translates to “The City of Lord Ananta”, referring to the god Vishnu of Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Many people believe that this is the richest temple of India, but it could also probably be the richest in the world. Indeed, the chambers/vaults have been kept closed for years before the Supreme court authorised archeological research that revealed the presence of gold coins dating back from 200 BC, precious stones and other gold items and artefacts, worth US$18 billion.
Attached to the temple complex, you can also visit Kuthira Malika (or horses palace) and the Puthenmalika Palace Museum (100 rupees the entrance per person, photographies not allowed inside!). The Kuthira Malika was built by one of the former Maharajah of Travancore, Svāti Tirunāḷ Rāma Varma, in the 19th century under the British rule and was left unoccupied after his death. It was then turned into a museum and it exhibits an interesting collection of artefacts from all around the world that belongs to the personal collection of the royal family. The ceilings and the wood architecture inside and outside are quite impressive.
A music lover and a musician/composer himself, the former Maharaja had an interesting collection of musical instruments and a large music/dance hall.
A guide will take you through the palace to explain you all its secret.
15 minutes by car from the temple and palace is the Napier Museum, situated in the middle of a large garden. The entry is just 20 rupees. The hall inside displays several artefacts. Unfortunately it is not very well organised and unless you have a guide it does not make much sense.
From outside, the building is looking beautiful with its red bricks and mosaics. It reminds us of the European architectures… Indeed, the building was designed by the British architect Robert Chisholm in the 19th century.
2. A royal lunch at Villa Maya
As a continuation of the discovery of Travancore’s royal heritage, head towards the Villa Maya for a refreshing mocktail followed by a lunch. This historical place converted into a restaurant is really a haven of peace when you come from the busy city. It has got a terrace and 2 floors. The entire place is decorated with artefacts and the garden – where you can also eat – has been designed in a asian/balinese/chinese style with many ponds full of koi fishes and artificial cascades. Even the washroom/toilet that is surrounded by water and lotuses looks pretty.
Many local artists have also contributed to beautify this old house that used to be the home of one of the former Maharani of Trivancore. Every room has a special touch and history, in the queen’s room for example, you’ll find a small window where the queen used to light a lamp for the gods as she was not allowed to go out.
As far as the menu is concerned, try the Kerala traditional cuisine, I found everything I tasted, very good! (For 2: 2000-2500 INR).
3. Pray at the white churches
In every corner of the city, you’ll find a church. I visited St. Joseph’s Cathedral and St. Thomas church Valiaveli. Both white immaculate, facing the sea.
If you come during the prayers timing, you’ll hear the locals singing Christian songs in the local language, Malayalam. Everyone is allowed inside the church, you will just have to remove your shoes just like in the hindu temple; you can even take as many photos as you want.
4. Watch the sunset at the Beach
You can’t leave Trivandrum without taking a walk along the beach. The sunset time is particularly beautiful. I heard, the city is doing a lot to keep the beach clean but you’ll still find a lot of trash and plastic here and there.
Despite that, the golden colour of the sand and the multiple colourful fishing boats set the decor. You’ll find a lot of locals in the late afternoon, enjoying with the family, playing cards, cricket and other activities. It’s joyful and authentic, not commercial, not touristic.
5. Relax with an ayurvedic massage
After a long day walking under the sun, it’s time for a good full body ayurvedic massage. Here again, you’ll find plenty of options. I opted for Somatheeram Ayurvedic Village, a well known brand. Ayurveda is a traditional holistic Indian medicine (5000 years old). After a good one hour massage, I stayed back to chat with the ayurvedic doctor that supervise all the massages in the center. She explains me that Ayurveda is based on three doshas (principles) : the mouvement, the transformation and the preservation. We call them « vata », « pitta » and « kapha ». Doshas have a direct impact on our life (food, climate, mood etc.) and it’s a must to find an equilibrium to allow us to regulate the mind and body. Naturally, every person has these three doshas but two of them generally have a greater influence on us (depending on our physical composition and personality).
My day ended with a nice ayurvedic tea full of local spices. I soon fell asleep dreaming of maharajas, gods, fishes and coconuts… an interesting mix!