A for Arabian sea.
B for beach.
When these two come together in Kerala, you understand why Kerala is for God’s Own Country. Our debut visit to Kerala was a short one. And as cliched as it sounds, it gave us a complete understanding of why Kerala really is God’s Own Country!
Tree walks in Trivandrum
A free walking tour is the first activity we look out for in any new city. Here in Trivandrum, we were told of an active movement called the “tree walk“. We grab any opportunity of meeting and interacting with the locals. A tree walk sounded like a perfect way to do that!
During the walk, we met Anitha, who started this movement with other like-minded tree lovers of Trivandrum. Every Sunday, they meet in a locality, select a species for the day and observe those trees. They have now undertaken a more serious task of conducting a census of the trees and creating a database.
Thanks to Anitha and her colleagues, we saw the original version of the rubber tree. Original, Anitha told us, was “like it would grow in the wild, without being modified for maximum rubber production”. The only time we had seen it earlier was in the Amazon. Surprisingly, the rubber conflict was a topic discussed in our tour of the Amazon, as well as during the tree walk in Trivandrum! Some issues are indeed of a global nature!
Museum complex in Trivandrum
M is for many. M is for museums. M is also for Monday. The many museums in Trivandrum are closed on Mondays. Unfortunately, that was the only day we had to explore Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. That didn’t stop us from exploring the “museum complex”, as the area is called.
A tapestry pattern, reminiscent of saree borders welcomed us at the gates. Once inside, we realised this was the characteristic identity of every structure inside the museum complex.
The Napier museum and, built in Indo-Saracenic style is the stand out structure inside. Its architecture provides natural air conditioning. We will appreciate this air conditioning the next time we visit. For now, we spent our time admiring the external facades of the Napier museum.
The Chitra art gallery, in the same museum complex, was also highly recommended. It is supposed to have some of the finest art collections in Trivandrum, including original works by Raja Ravi Verma.
The museum complex and its botanical garden felt like the lungs of Trivandrum. A quiet green space in the heart of the city. A place, the locals of Trivandrum throng to for their morning exercises or their evening walks.
Villa Maya, the best place to eat well in Trivandrum
When you are told, “this 18th-century Dutch manor is its modern avatar”, you know it is a special place. From back to the times of the royalty of Travancore.
We had a lazy Sunday lunch here at Villa Maya. From fried fish to fettuccine, everything was a delight to the palette. The service was exemplary.
At Villa Maya, you have to explore the place as much as you should devour the food. They even give you a guided tour of this restored Dutch manor, a fabled kitchen, as they now call themselves.
The most surprising section of Villa Maya? Their bathrooms. Think Kerala backwaters, think understated style. Yes, you have to see it to know how exactly it all comes together! We won’t spoil the surprise for you!
Quirky sights while walking around in Trivandrum
Warning: Don’t do it during the day. It IS very hot!
Trivandrum had the feel of a modern city, yet the sense of urgency was conspicuously absent. Everything was a 10-minute drive from everything else! Or a 30-minute walk – yes, you could walk on the pavements without the fear of being run over by traffic!
- The graffiti-lined streets of Trivandrum took us by surprise.
- There were book stores lined under a banyan tree.
- We crossed road junctions with a mosque, temple and church standing next to each other.
- And the India Coffee House, a spiral, windowless structure like a lighthouse (adjacent to the Trivandrum bus depot ) is like nothing we have visited before!
The famous Padmanabhswamy temple in Trivandrum
Of course, while in Trivandrum, we had to go check out what the Padmanabhswamy Temple was all about. Even in the scorching heat, there was no dearth of devotees waiting patiently for the darshan of the renowned deity. We were expecting more security personnel though, given the extent to which the temple has been in the news.
The limited visiting hours and a long list of rules and procedures dissuaded us from getting into the temple. Instead, we decided to the must-visit tourist attraction of Trivandrum, the Kovalam beach.
Where to stay in Trivandrum
- Trivandrum was the least hectic capital city we have been to.
- We stayed at the Fortune South Park hotel on the arterial MG road.
- Many families in Trivandrum, residing in quiet relaxed neighbourhoods run homestays. We stayed in one called Nandanam homestay in an old residential neighbourhood.
- Of course, it isn’t like living by the farms in a village. But the relaxed pace of life even in a capital city is endearing.
Kovalam beach near Trivandrum
Roughly 12 km from Trivandrum is the town of Kovalam. The Kovalam beach enjoys legendary status in the Kerala tourism scenario. It offers something for everyone with a wide range of budget.
The sea, the sand and the sunsets are of course for free!
Our first impression of the Kovalam beach was, “just another crowded beach” along the Arabian Sea. Lots of people lazing on the sand, or playing in the water. The water sports guys asking if you want a ride, even before we had stepped on the sand.
We ignored all of this and kept walking ahead. We crossed a small stretch of rocks and came to another part of the Kovalam beach. The scene here was completely different than the previous beach. Although this too was crowded, there were hardly any Indians here! Which of course meant English speaking vendors. Asking us if we wanted to rent a bed “to lie down, relax and enjoy the sunset”.
Vizhinjam Lighthouse at Kovalam beach
This section of the Kovalam beach is known as the lighthouse beach. This was our main interest on the Kovalam beach – the lighthouse, officially known as the Vizhinjam lighthouse. At 30 meters, it is the tallest lighthouse in Kerala.
However, the Monday phenomenon caught up with us here as well. The lighthouse is closed on Mondays. On all other days, it is open from 10 AM to 5 PM. Well, we couldn’t break into the lighthouse! Which meant we couldn’t do anything about this.
Spending more time at the beach was the only option left (talk of having no choices!) The sun was still high up, so we decided to walk around town before returning to the beach for the sunset.
The tiny lanes around the beach were a typical tourist haven. Hotels, guesthouses and resorts. Shops selling all kinds of things perceived as “Indian”. Ayurvedic massage parlours and spas. It was a slight uphill climb to the road, at the end of which, was a gate – to the lighthouse complex. It wasn’t locked or anything, we assumed it was okay to go in. Agreed, we couldn’t get to the top of the lighthouse. The least we could treat ourselves was a view from its base.
The view from here was breathtaking! As if you had the entire sea to yourself! All we could see stretched below us were the unhindered blue waters of the Arabian sea, all the way to the horizon.
On the other side, we could see the Lighthouse Kovalam beach stretch far out.
We explored the entire lighthouse complex, seeing the sea from every angle possible. Through a small clearing in the trees, we saw another beach. Much smaller than both the stretches of the Kovalam beach we had just seen. The best part of it was, there were hardly any people there!
Fisherman’s beach at Kovalam
We got out of the lighthouse complex and decided to view the sun setting from this secluded stretch of the Kovalam beach. It didn’t have a well-marked approach to it, making it less obvious that there was a beach nearby.
This was more of a fisherman’s beach. We could see their boats parked at one end. In the diminishing light of the setting sun, they were packing their nets and ropes. Some local boys, who came from the hillock at the back were busy playing a game of football. Clearly, this wasn’t meant to be a place for tourists to hang out.
It felt odd to be on a beach in India and not be surrounded by the crowds. No cankering of the vendors. Just us sitting quietly on the sand. Listening to the sound of the waves, as they change colour from blue to pink to a splash of orange.
“This is the best sunset we have seen in the last fifteen days”, a French couple told us! “This is your lucky day!”
A lucky day, it certainly was!
Top tips for travelling to Trivandrun and Kovalam beach
- If you are looking for a planned holiday to Kerala, then ekerala tourism offers excellent options.
- Trivandrum itself has many stay options, including several homestays.
- But if you prefer to be walking distance from the beach and don’t mind a slightly more touristy experience, you can stay at Kovalam itself. The Leela is an excellent option for lunch with a view.