|The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple|
Did a version of this story for the July issue of National Geographic Traveller India.
Rise early on a Sunday and join one of several free walking tours conducted in Thiruvananthapuram (also known as Trivandrum). While Tree Walk explores the city’s tree wealth, Heritage Walk delves into its social, cultural, and architectural history. I’ve found these freewheeling walks to be a great way to discover facets and stories of the city that would otherwise pass right by us. Both tours usually start at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings and, over a couple of hours, cover one of the city’s neighbourhoods. Though both walks typically happen at least once a month, they tend to be more frequent from December to April. (Details on future walks on Facebook pages: Tree Walk www.facebook.com/groups/115646138581706; Heritage Walk www.facebook.com/groups/heritagewalktvm)
No visit to Thiruvananthapuram is complete without admiring the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, possibly the world’s wealthiest religious institution, and exploring the busy Fort neighbourhood around it. (Only Hindus allowed in the temple, which also has a dress code: men go bare chested wearing dhotis while women wear saris or dhotis wrapped over salwars. Dhotis are available on rent; footwear, cameras, mobile phones, bags, etc. not allowed inside the temple; sreepadmanabhaswamytemple.org)
A few hundred metres from the temple’s main entrance is the Kuthira Malika Palace, also called the Puthen Malika, which houses a museum of artefacts belonging to Travancore’s former royals. (The museum is open 8.30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3-5.30 p.m.; closed Mondays; entry Rs 15; foreigners Rs 50; no cameras or footwear allowed inside; exterior pictures/videos Rs 30/Rs 250.)
|A Tree Walk at the Model School|
For a further dose of history, art, and greenery, head to the tree-filled government museum complex that contains a couple of museums, a zoo, and an art gallery. At the very least, visit the eye-catching Napier Museum with its mélange of architectural styles and collection of archaeological and historical artefacts. (Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday-Sunday; 1-5 p.m. on Wednesdays; closed Mondays; entry adults Rs 10; children Rs 5; no cameras allowed.)
Next, stop at the nearby Sree Chitra Art Gallery to see paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich. (Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday-Sunday; 1-5 p.m. on Wednesdays; closed Mondays; entry adults Rs 20; children Rs 10; no cameras allowed.)
For a booster shot of history, head to the Keralam Museum of History and Heritage located opposite the main museum complex. The museum, which opened a few years ago, traces the region’s history and global connections across the ages. Its collection includes Neolithic stone axes, a jar and bowl used in Iron Age burials, Roman coins, and sculptures of bronze, wood, and stone. (museumkeralam.org; open 10 a.m.-5.30 p.m.; closed Mondays. and public holidays; entry adults Rs 20; children Rs 10; foreigners Rs 200.)
Round off a heritage-filled day with a mesmerising Kathakali or Koodiyattom performance at Margi, a cultural organisation that promotes Kerala’s classical performing art forms. Margi conducts regular Kathakali and Koodiyattom performances through the year, but when planning a visit, it’s best to give them a call to find out what’s on. (margitheatre.org; 0471-2478806/2473349/98470-99941.