I had the time of my life this December when I visited Kerala, India as part of the #ComeToKerala contest hosted by the state’s tourism ministry. Nine travel bloggers, and photographers participated in the tour that took us from Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) to Kochi in 9 days.
Our itinerary was packed since the organisers wanted us to experience the most of Kerala during our short visit. We stayed in posh hotels, experienced everyday life in the villages, and ate authentic Indian food.
Through backwaters, rivers, and highlands, I traversed Kerala with one thought in mind – why do they call this place “God’s Own Country?”
As the tour went along, I understood why. In the next few weeks, I’ll share stories on my experiences in Kerala and some tips on foreigners planning to visit this state at the tip of India. This blog is about Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital, where we stayed in the first few days.
Arriving in Trivandrum
After getting our tourist visa on arrival in Trivandrum International Airport, we were escorted by friendly gentlemen from the Kerala Tourism Ministry. They gave us brochures and travel guides, and got our luggage even before we cleared the immigration.
We headed out of the airport and behold, I was in Kerala, India, where backwaters are the stuff of legends, where traditional martial arts and dances are way older than their counterparts in the world, and where the Arab sea clash with the rich Indian soil.
We stayed in the Turtle on the beach resort, a few kilometres outside of the city center. It was a luxurious, well-maintained resort with a beautiful view of Kovalam beach. After checking in and settling, we were served with traditional Indian food in the restaurant. Today’s the first day of the tour and we were given free time to roam around after meeting with the organizers.
Chasing sunsets has become a must-do for me whenever I visit another country. In Trivandrum, where better to do it than in Kovalam town?
From our hotel, we only had to walk a couple of meters to experience the world famous beaches of Kovalam. This beach is open to the public, hence it’s a famous destinations for tourists and locals alike. It was Saturday when we arrived so the beach with was full with locals basking in the Indian sun.
Kerala faces westward so the waters in Kovalam are actually from the Arabian Sea, not the Indian ocean. The waves were high and strong and sands are a mix of black and brown. The 17 kilometre coastline is actually divided into 3 beaches – Lighthouse beach (where we were), Hawah beach, and Samudra beach.
Walking along the coast was very relaxing. You can hang out in one of the bars along the coastline and grab a beer if you want to chill. You can also check out one of the souvenir shops in the area.
The locals in Kerala are very friendly and the state has one of the highest literacy rates in India, so language would not be a barrier.
We snapped a couple of photos of the sunset and got back to our hotel. The manager opened a tab for us and I got to taste India’s famous Kingfisher beer for the first time. Not bad for a first day!
Places to visit in Trivandrum
The next day, we were set for the city tour. We visited 3 sites in Trivandrum and I highly recommend them to any tourist planning to go.
1) Padmanabhapuram Palace
Padmanabhapuram Palace is actually located around 50km outside Kerala, in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. It was once the former capital of the Hindu Kingdom of Travancore, a big part of which in now Southern Kerala. This is why the temple is still in the care of the Kerala Tourism Board.
The palace was constructed around 1601 AD and is made mostly of wood. This sets it apart from other palaces in Asia like Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace, which are primarily made of concrete.
The palace’s name is also interesting. Sree Padmanabha, a form of Lord Vishnu, is the royal family’s deity so the palace literally means “City of Lord Padmanabha.”
Everyone entering the temple grounds is required to walk bare feet so as not to damage most of the wooden flooring.
The design and intricacy of the palace is amazing. Everything from the pillars to the ceilings have been beautifully carved in place. One interesting place is the king’s pool and relaxation hall. Walking down the steps, I can imagine how the royals of Kerala lived in the past.
We entered this big hall which used to be the palace staff’s dining hall. Kerala kings in the past believed that feeding people is the best way to satisfy them so they would feed at least 2,000 people every day.
We also saw the influences of early Chinese traders in the palace. Some of the preserved furnitures and hallway designs were of ancient Chinese design, like the ones I saw in Nanjing!
A building was also constructed for Western guests. You can see how the size of the doors and rooms were adjusted to fit foreign emissaries.
2) Napier Museum and Park
After visiting Padmanabhapuram, we had lunch in Travancore Heritage hotel. It was one of the best Indian lunches I had in Kerala. We truly enjoyed the food! We also toured the hotel, which was very scenic.
We headed to Napier Museum and Park, located 6km from Trivandrum. The museum building follows a gothic design and there’s a pavilion located in front of it. We, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to enter the museum but the park was itself a destination.
Locals frequent this place for their afternoon relaxation. Aside from the museum, there’s also a zoo, and some shops you can visit. The gardens were nice and there are seats allotted for those who just want to chill in the park. We saw a couple of squirrels and mongooses scavenging for food in the area.
3) Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Perhaps, the most important Hindu temple in Kerala, our last stop for the day was the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Like Padmanabhapuram, this Hindu temple was built in honor of Lord Vishnu. Many scholars argue the exact date the temple was built. Early references say it should be between 500 B.C. and 300 A.D., which is a very long time!
The temple complex is a replica another temple in Kanyakumari. The design itself follows the traditional Dravidian style, architecture from Southern India.
Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple and the area is very well guarded (as in there are Indian military men guarding the entrances!)
According to our tour guide, the royal family of Kerala would offer jewels and gold to the temple every time they faced problems. This has been going on since the temple was created. They locked the treasures in 6 chambers inside the temple.
The Indian government recently did an inventory of the temple. They opened the 5 vaults and found out that the treasures amounted to 1.2 trillion rupees (USD 19 billion). I can only imagine the beautiful rubies, diamonds, and sapphires inside those vaults. Plus, the oldest vault haven’t been opened yet!
Tourists can also only take photos up to a certain point outside the temple. Taking photos inside or near the gates are a big no no. I was actually asked by one of the military guards to put down my iPhone while I was taking a selfie near the entrance.
We capped off our day tour of Trivandrum and headed back to our hotel. We had an amazing day of learning history and experiencing Indian culture in Trivandrum!
The next morning, we set out for Alappuzha but that is a story for another day. Dhanyavaad! 🙂
This is the first part of my #ComeToKerala blog series. My trip to “God’s Own Country” was sponsored by the Kerala Tourism Board. I had the time of my life in Kerala and I’m sharing my experiences here:
- To get or not to get an India tourist visa on arrival?
- #ComeToKerala: Cruising in the backwaters of Alappuzha
- Traversing the breathtaking Thekkady highlands
- #ComeToKerala: Inside Fort Kochi
- PHOTO ESSAY: Faces of Kerala
- 6 reasons to #ComeToKerala