The complete guide to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)
Kerala may be a tiny strip of land but outdoes other Indian states for having a capital with the longest name. Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum), is a beautiful seaside city built on seven low hills. At its heart, enclosed within 15ft high fort walls, is the famous Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple that has been revered since ancient times. The Arabian Sea washes its west coast and the border with Tamil Nadu is on the east. As the erstwhile capital of the Travancore kings, the city is steeped in history. Trivandrum airport ensures a steady flow of travellers waiting to experience its sacred temples, clean beaches and scenic backwaters.
What to see and do in Thiruvananthapuram
There are many places to visit in Trivandrum. The most prominent landmark and pride of the city is the 8th century Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple inside the East fort gateway with its stunning Kerala-Dravidian architecture and seven-tiered gopuram or tower. In its sanctum lies the magnificent 18ft sculpture of the presiding deity, the reclining Vishnu stretched on his hooded snake, Anantha. Like several temples in Kerala, it has an ‘open only to Hindus’ policy and, a strict dress code. Men must wear dhotis only and women should wear saris. A chance discovery of hidden treasures of gold, silver and jewellery in the shrine a few years ago, means that it is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘the richest Hindu temple in the world.’
The other big attraction among Trivandrum tourist places is the Shankhumugham Beach just 7km away. The beach has an iconic sculpture of a mermaid, a restaurant, recreation club and park. Join the crowds as they gather every evening to witness spectacular sunsets on the horizon. It is adjacent to the international airport and Veli Tourist Village.
Don’t miss the Napier Museum among Trivandrum city points of interest, an architectural landmark with a superb collection of sculptures in bronze and wood, ivory carvings and coins and the Sri Chitra Art Gallery, a treasure trove of royal paintings, artworks across genres including originals by renowned artist Raja Ravi Varma. Built by the Maharaja of Travancore in 1857, the Thiruvananthapuram Zoological Garden is regarded as the country’s oldest zoo and botanical garden. Besides several species of animals and birds, the well-stocked Snake farm is a popular attraction. Not surprisingly, Yann Martel drew inspiration for his classic Life of Pi, from the animals he observed in this zoo! Check for Trivandrum zoo timings before heading there.
A half-hour drive south takes you to scenic Kovalam, 16km away and its famous trio of beaches – Lighthouse, Hawa and Samudra. Tourists have flocked to these clean, crescent-shaped shores since the 1930s to rejuvenate mind, body and soul through yoga, Ayurveda, massages or simply sunbathe, swim and dive in the bay. For a mountain escape, Ponmudi, a hill station that’s about 60km from the city, is your best bet. Its winding roads and lush tea gardens are ideal for treks, nature trails and resort stays. Varkala, 50km away is another favourite beach getaway, famous for its panoramic beauty and peaceful surroundings.
Trivandrum’s best meals
Food is something that Trivandrum knows how to get right. From typical Kerala fare like Malabari biryani to Arabic and Mediterranean cuisine and traditional Onam-style sadhya, the city has a variety of options. A Trivandrum map can be helpful in finding your way to any of these restaurants.
Villa Maya, InjakkalFormerly an Ammaveedu (home for royal consorts) and a Dutch manor, this heritage restaurant tantalises with bespoke culinary experiences. Influenced by exotic global flavours that crept along the trade route to India, expect a leisurely sensory journey into Asian, Mediterranean, Moroccan and Italian cuisine in a gazebo-style patio or elegant indoor setting. Ask for baked crab in garlic butter or the signature Kerala seafood platter and the house kulfi.
Trivandrum Hotel, PalayamSet in an 1893 building that was once the Imperial Post Office, the iconic hotel has been a favourite since 1934 for political and literary titans to converge. With a fantastic trio of restaurants – Travancore, Turmeric and Spice Route serving signature Travancore specialties to spicy takeaways and fast-food, this virtual institution gets a thumbs up for consistent quality and home-cooked flavours.
Zam Zam, PalayamA top choice especially with locals, it has an assorted easy-on-the-wallet menu, and is most popular for its tasty Lebanese and Arabian food. Don’t leave without trying the chicken shawwaya that uses a self-proclaimed ‘blockbuster recipe’ and barbequed chicken al faham besides typical Kerala dishes, sizzlers and desserts.
Curry Chatty, ThycaudThis cosy, romantic restaurant is another local favourite with its generous servings of oriental cuisine, lip-smacking seafood and nadan specials (country-style dishes). If you’ve overdosed on South Indian food or kappa (tapioca), meen moilee, meen mappas, perhaps their authentic Punjabi-style rara murg will make for a good change.
Mother’s Veg Plaza, Bakery JunctionIf an all-veg clean and wholesome Kerala sadhya (traditional style banana leaf meal) sounds like heaven to you, grab a seat here. Authentic Kerala boiled rice with kootan, which consists of a circle of different delicacies (ranging from 24-28 dishes) this is truly finger licking good. They also have regular meals that are lighter besides special meals.
Ariya Niwas, ThampanoorQueue up for superb South Indian veg thali and tiffin. A reasonably priced menu, vegan options and quick service make it a crowd puller as does its fresh food – from a range of dosas to crispy vadas, healthy meals on leaf and excellent coffee. Azad Restaurant, MG Road - Biryanis, tandoori items and more… This is a regular family hangout which serves a mean meen (fish) moilee.
Indian Coffee House, Central Station RoadA veritable old world institution, ICH wins hands down for its characteristic charm and enduring taste. A magnet for students, intellectuals, artists and politicians, the building bears Laurie Baker’s emblematic brickwork replete with jalis. Like a bizarre lighthouse meets Tower of Babel, it spirals heavenward in the heart of town. Snatch a concrete seat round the edge in this bustling venue and pick from snacks like pazham poru (banana fry), mutton cutlets, coffee, kheema omelettes or a full Kerala meal at lunchtime.
The best places to party
Trivandrum is not exactly party central thanks to its policy to discourage alcohol consumption, with five-star hotels being the only exception. Try Oakwood The Pub at The South Park (a Fortune Hotel), V Bar at the Hilton Garden Inn Trivandrum or Twist Bar at Vivanta by Taj. Purple Lounge is the city’s lone lounge bar with a discotheque at Hotel Safari, centrally located on MG Road. Kerala is also known for its kallu shaaps (toddy shops) that serve the heady brew with kappa (tapioca)-meen (fish) curry.
Where to stay in Thiruvananthapuram
There are a host of hotels in Trivandrum for you to stay. Thoppil House Homestay, Palayam - Present owner Thoppil Abraham John’s family has transformed the ancestral home of tennis star, Mahesh Bhupathi, a 115-year-old colonial bungalow into a top-notch heritage bed and breakfast. Gorgeous antique wood décor and furniture, three luxurious rooms, lovely traditional-style Kerala food for breakfast and ample space for relaxation, reading and urban birdwatching make it a Diamond Classified heritage homestay, by the Kerala Tourism Promotion Council.
Hycinth by Sparsha, Thampanoor - A great option especially among Trivandrum hotels, for business travel, the modern hotel has friendly staff. The city centre is 5 minutes away and its proximity to the airport is a bonus. The restaurant Café Jade has a great Sunday brunch besides hearty buffets and an a la carte menu. But for a meal with a view, head to Water’s Edge, the poolside rooftop restaurant and choose from grills from across the globe, a live seafood station and teppanyaki table. If the food shows around your waistline, go for a swim or workout at the gym. The Leela, Kovalam A sprawling oasis of luxury, this clifftop property with an enviable view of the Arabian shoreline has lured travellers since its inception. Trivandrum to Kovalam distance is about 16.1 km which is worth the commute, if your stay is booked at The Leela. A variety of impeccable rooms with balconies presenting splendid beach or garden views, authentic Kerala Ayurvedic treatments at the spa, options to relax in the infinity pool or sundecks, indulge in gourmet meals to suit your mood in an array of restaurants, learn yoga or cooking; this venue wows you with style. The Club at The Leela is an elite hilltop retreat with an exclusive international spa and library lounge and living room.
Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, Kovalam - Leave the bright lights and big din of city life for a private retreat, now touted as one of India’s best Ayurvedic resorts for wellness and luxury. Stay in heritage cottages that blend traditional woodwork with swish contemporary comfort. Walk barefoot among swaying palms with waves lapping around your ankles, enjoy luxuriating massages and open-to-sky baths, cultural evenings and more. With exclusively crafted packages for true-blue Kerala experiences of heritage, hills, backwaters, sand and sea, it’s time to chase your bliss.
Where to shop in Thiruvananthapuram
The State-owned handicrafts emporia, Kairali and SMSM Institute on MG Road offer a great platform for ethnic curios, arts and crafts, at fixed prices. If you are adventurous enough for a slice of local life, enter the grand arch of the historic Connemara Market (also called the Palayam Market), which once catered to the needs of the royal army. Here you’ll find everything from live goats, spices, vegetables and fruits, to gifts and apparel, handicrafts and more. Another action-packed market is Chalai Bazaar which is chockful with shops selling fruits, dates and perfumes from the Gulf, to shoe shops and goldsmiths catering to the demands of wedding shoppers.
For classy ethnic-style home décor, antiques, jewellery, handicrafts and designer wear, check out Saarwa, a cosy boutique with a backyard café. Run by Tigi and Ren, it’s a great place to shop for your lifestyle needs. For a stunning range of traditional and contemporary saris collected from across India Ethnic Weaves is an irresistible shopping outlet that also stocks unstitched salwar suits. For unique handpicked collectibles and carvings showcasing Kerala’s amazing crafts and artisan skills, try Keralashopee in Nedumcaud. It houses a vast collection of items that make great gifts and souvenirs.
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Don’t forget to drop in at the Puthenmalika Palace, a two-storey museum with notable architecture. Besides its collection of priceless paintings and royal heirlooms, it has the Methan Mani or Meshamani at its gateway, a star attraction. This old chimer with a sense of humour is perched near the east entry of Padmanabhaswamy temple and is Trivandrum’s alternative to London’s Big Ben. Its mechanism has two butting rams clashing into the face of a bearded man, making his jaw drop, on each ticking hour! The unique mechanical wonder has been keeping time on a pulley system with precision since the 1840s under Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma of the erstwhile Travancore Dynasty. Recently upgraded to continue its unique operation, it’s easily one of the city’s prized possessions and one of the most popular attractions in Trivandrum for locals and visitors alike.
If the bookworm in you pooh-poohs digital books that don’t compare to the real thing, here’s something to crow about. The Reading Room in Kowdiar is a great place to browse. A lovely reading club with a dedicated space to read for adults and children, you can pick up rare books, vintage comics and graphic novels. When it comes to shopping, all feet turn to Ramachandran Textiles for the best bargains, a little-known secret that has gone public. From fabrics to kitchen appliances and footwear, this is where you attain shopping nirvana.
|Airport Road, Chacka, Vallakkadavu, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695008||TRV|