In The National, Abu Dhabi
Thiruvananthapuram is India’s evergreen destination
December 5, 2013 Updated: December 5, 2013 16:52:00
With its lush green foliage, balmy weather and quiet streets, Thiruvananthapuram, previously called Trivandrum, provides a genteel and serene counterpoint to the frenetic chaos of India. The temple was recently in the news when chambers containing US$15 billion (Dh55bn) worth of jewels, gold and other religious objects were discovered.
An ancient coastal city with a history going back to 1000 BC, this capital of Kerala state attracted traders and kings through the ages, including King Solomon, who is believed to have landed here, attracted by the spices, sandalwood, pepper and ivory. The city is a gateway to the tourists who make their way up to Kerala’s famous beach resorts just up the coast.
A comfortable bed
With 137 spacious, modern rooms, and an outdoor pool and health club, the Vivanta by Taj (www.vivantabytaj.com; 0091 471 661 2345) offers a quiet respite in the heart of the city, and occasional sightings of white-clad Kerala brides and grooms who hold their weddings in the hotel. Each Vivanta hotel offers “motifs” or experiences that typify the city. In Thiruvananthapuram, the “essence of Travancore” includes museums and palaces that belong to the erstwhile royal family. Double rooms from US$150 (Dh550) including taxes and breakfast.
Varikett Heritage (www.varikattheritage.com; 0091 471 233 6057) is a charming homestay with a small ayurvedic spa, badminton court and indoor board games for when the monsoon rains hit. Owned by the Colonel Roy Kuncheria, whose family bought this 1850s Colonial home from an English woman, this elegant space has typical red Kerala floors and dark rosewood furniture. Kuncheria and his wife can organise shopping trips, cooking classes and even kathakali dance performances. There are two suites and one room, so book early. Double rooms from about $100 (Dh367).
The great virtue of the Residency Tower (www.residencytower.com; 0091 471 233 1661) is its central location on Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road) in the centre of the city. Besides that, it has spacious if functional rooms with all the usual trappings – fitness centre, swimming pool, wireless internet access and babysitters on demand. Average room rate is $100 (Dh367) but last-minute specials can occasionally be booked online the previous day for as low as $50 (Dh184) including a buffet breakfast.
Find your feet
The best part of town is the upmarket Jawahar Nagar area, with its winding streets, quaint boutiques and large bungalows. Visit the museum, which houses fabulous examples of Raja Ravi Verma, the painter-prince whose iconic images from Indian mythology grace many a poster and calendar in India. Adjacent to the museum is the sprawling 55-acre zoo with leafy lanes, water bodies and lakes. Within the same complex is the Napier Museum, which contains the work of K C S Panicker, one of Kerala’s famous artists (www.keralamuseumandzoo.org).
Meet the locals
The Tagore Theatre hosts music and dance concerts from late September through January. The fort area is the older part of the city and is full of tiny shops selling jasmine garlands, brass vessels, prayer items, handloom saris and banana chips. If you have a tolerance for crowds, this is an area that offers a slice of life of yore. If you have local friends, the Trivandrum Club is a great place to spend the evening having drinks and eating fish cutlets.
Book a table
The Syrian beef, chicken roast, fish moily and prawns are all delicious at Villa Maya (www.villamaya.in/index.php), a renovated Dutch bungalow that serves Italian, Arab, Moroccan and Kerala cuisine in a spacious, tastefully decorated environment. A meal for two costs $20 (Dh73).
Ariya Niwas on Manorama Road serves tasty vegetarian thalis (or meal-on-a-plate) for about $2 (Dh7.34). Its Uthappam, dosa-crepes spiked with onions, green chillies and tomato are a speciality and cost about $1 (Dh3.67).
Locals go to Cherries & Berries (www.cherriesandberries.in) for pizza, milkshakes, sandwiches and pasta when they tire of their spicy home food.
The Fabindia store in Jawahar Nagar is housed in an old bungalow that reportedly belongs to the movie star Mohanlal. Its air-conditioned confines sell Indian clothes, scented candles and organic pickles. Thiruvananthapuram is known for its ayurvedic shops that sell oils, balms, soaps and shampoos. Tiny bookstores dot MG Road and sell the latest potboilers by Indian authors as well as classical Sanskrit texts on yoga and Ayurveda, translated into English. Pothys sells silk saris, salwar kameezes, stoles and fabric at reasonable prices.
The temples of Kerala are clean and serene. Visit the Padmanabha Swamy Temple in the old fort area with its vast outer complex containing sculpted pillars and arches – this is the temple that gave the city its name (www.sreepadmanabhaswamytemple.org/cnr.htm).
What to avoid
Shankumugam Beach. The waves are treacherous and the touts are incorrigible. Far better to visit one of the resorts up or down the coast.
Etihad (www.etihad.ae) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Thiruvananthapuram from Dh1,100 return including taxes. The flight takes four hours.