The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, April 15, 2001

Thiruvananthapuram — city of beaches and museums
By M.P. Nathanael

HAVING checked into the Luciya Hotel near East Fort in the heart of city of Thiruvanantha-puram, we, that is my wife and sons, prefer to have a nap after a long journey from New Delhi.

Lunch over, we plan a trip to the Kovalam beach.

Shanmugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram Not surprisingly, most of the rooms in the hotel had been booked for senior government officials who were in the city for a function, where the President was the chief guest. Before heading for Kovalam, our driver advised us to visit the Sri Ananthapadmanabhaswamy Temple nearby. Since the temple was being renovated, the seven-storeyed gopuram, rising to over 100 feet, was covered with dried plantain leaves. I expected to get good shots of the temple but couldn’t.

Passing through the small bazaar that lead to the temple, we reached the entrance of the temple, where we learnt that only Hindus can enter. We watch other devotees collecting dhotis to wear before they enter.

I get hold of one of the pujaries outside and gather information about this magnificent temple, an important landmark of the city.

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Thiruvananthapuram means the "City Sacred to Lord Vishnu". It gets its name from this temple, which enshrines a massive idol of Lord Vishnu or Padmanabha reclining on Anantha, the hooded snake.

Sculpture of a mermaid near Shanmugham beachThe base of the gopuram has elaborate sculptures and ornamental work of Puranic figures. The architecture styles are a blend of Tamilian and Malabar styles of architecture.

While King Aditya Varma laid the foundation of the temple in 1566, it was King Marathanda Varma who had five storeys of the gopuram completed in 1749. His successor, Rama Varma, went on to add two more storeys. This gave the temple its present shape and structure.

Our next destination is Kovalam. As we drive down the road approaching the beach, our excitement mounts as the sea unfolds. Positioning ourselves on the rocky heights near the sea, we watch the high rising waves and the wonderful view of sunset. Several hotels, including the world class Ashok Beach Resort, dot the beach. Most of them claim to promote ayurvedic massage and treatment.

The following morning, we join the long queue to purchase entrance tickets for the Zoological gardens, the Napier Museum and the Sree Chithira Art Gallery, all within one campus.

Kanakakunu PalaceWhile the zoo has a variety of fascinating and rare birds and animals, the Napier Museum, still known by that name despite being renamed as the Government Art Museum, has a good collection of ivory carvings, bronze articles and ancient ornaments. Built by Robert Fellowes Chisholm, the museum is a fine blend of Malabar and Chinese architecture with a touch of Mughal style.

At the Sree Chithira Art Gallery paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and Roerich are displayed along with collections of the royal family, including the Mughal and Rajasthani paintings.

Close by, we drive uphill to get a glimpse of Kanakakunu palace. It was once the abode of the royal family of Travancore and is now under Government control to hold conferences.

We visit the Kerala State Tourism Office to gather more information about Thiruvanathapuram.

A piece of art at Shanmugham beachAt Veli, our next destination, we enjoy a speed boat drive and walk some distance alongside the beach enjoying the cool breeze. To cross a wooden hanging bridge to go to the beach, we pay 50 paise per head. The swinging effect of the bridge thrills the children.

Lest it get dark, we rush out after spending a little over an hour at Veli and drive to the Shanmugham beach. The massive sculpture of a mermaid reclining near the beach draws our attention and we marvel at the skill of those who sculpted it.

The beach here is crowded too, as are the other two beaches that we visited. While there were a good number of tourists from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, the locals too were the no less in number. We have a stroll and then go looking for a table in the adjacent Indian Coffee House housed in the Indoor Recreation Centre building. The aquarium nearby, I am told by one of the waiters, is one of the best in Asia.

Driving alongside the beach, on one side and the airport on the other, we drive past the airport to arrive at a foreign goods market. We make some purchases and call it a day. As we leave Thiruvanathapuram the following day, my wife tells me that she would like to be back with my sons again to see more of the city in a leisurely manner. I nod, signalling my consent.