Ananthapuri – The Green city of India
God’s own country – Kerala is known by this name for its natural beauty, greenery, literate people and of course, best hospitality. Thiruvannathapuram – the state capital also known as Ananthapuri is famous for its greenery, natural scenes, palaces, beaches, temples, churches, mosques, forts, lakes, historical monuments, museums, zoos and of course, a few hill resorts make it one among the most sought tourist destinations. This city was once called as ‘Evergreen city of India’ by Mahatma Gandhi and was ranked by Times of India as the best city in Kerala to live in. Kerala is famous for its greenery and moderate climate though it’s far away from extreme cold and hot conditions, whole throughout the year except a few places. There is no special season for tourism in Kerala. Another characteristic is the low coastal hills and IT hub. One more thing to be added; first Technopark in India was formed in Thiruvannathapuram. That makes it a favourite tourist spot for every one. Whether it is monsoon or hot summer tourism is much promoted here. Through this article let me give you a brief sketch of capital city. No doubt, a tourist can’t leave Kerala without visiting the capital city, if he has started to get every blessing in one bundle. It’s a must-see destination for all nature lovers and those who wish to see famous temples of Kerala and that’s the reason why this city is ranked first for foreign visitors in Kerala.
Ananthapuri – A brief sketch
Thiruvananthapuram is one among the oldest cities of India and is the southern most part of Kerala blessed with Arabian Sea and Western Ghats. 7 mountains shower its blessings too. As it’s near the ocean temperature is always moderate and a little less comparing middle Kerala. It’s considered as the art capital of Kerala too. ‘Thiruvananthapuram’ derived its name from Shree Padmanabha Swamy temple which is at the heart of the city, East Fort. This city is also known as Ananthapuri as it is ‘City of Anantha’. Most recently, this temple has been in news for the newly found treasure and now it’s the richest temple of the world. Vishnu (Padmanabha) stays in reclining position on the top of the serpant ‘Anantha’ in the Padmanabha Swamy temple and the city name refers to that.
This district stretches from Varkkala of North to Kaliakkavila of South. One side of the district is fully covered by seas. As it falls in between 7 hills of Western Ghats and seas, this district always have a moderate temperature.
Now let me give you a brief description of tourist spots, pilgrim places and many more.
Shri Padmanabha Swamy Temple – the richest temple of the world
As this temple is in limelight nowadays, let us start our wonderful journey from the heart of the city, East Fort known as Kizhakke Kotta in Malayalam. Thiruvananthapuram was once the capital of Venad, Kings of Travancore and they built many forts and palaces here. East fort is the most densely populated and busy place of the city. It’s the heart of the city as the famous temple, private bus stand, shopping malls, Puthiri Kandam Maidan where all cultural celebrations and stalls are conducted, Gandhi Park and a lot more are located here.
According to the most recent reports, this temple is the richest temple of the world with assets 1 lakh crore rupees, without considering the archeological value. Though two chambers are still to be opened, it has exceeded Thirumalai temple in terms of total assets and is estimated to cross 2 lakh crore rupees. Since then, a lot of people are visiting this temple, increasing the traffic of the city.
At present this temple is run by a trust headed by Royal Family of Travancore, who once ruled South Kerala. Though not have enough evidences, if believed this temple is 1000 years old. Now let me tell you the peculiarity of the shrine in Anantha shayanam. Vishnu’s idol is so huge that it can’t be viewed through a single door. Three doors are placed in front of the deity and the devotees need to see the Lord in parts through those three doors. It’s believed that the place beneath the shrine is ‘Palazhy’ (The milk sea where Vishnu resides) and that it’s possible to hearing the roaring seas if we listen carefully. Any how, all those treasures were placed around the main shrine beneath the ground under top protected metallic cases of ancient times.
Years back, Kings of Travancore dedicated Venad to Lord Padmanabha and their devotion towards Lord Vishnu is really remarkable. They gave all their assets to the temple and declared them as ‘dasa’ (servant) of Lord Padmanabha. Even when democracy came to existence and Sri Chithira Thirunal (last king of Travancore) lost his kingdom, they never took their assets away from temple and kept it as a deep secret till now. Now also, the royal family didn’t claim for the assets though it belonged to Kingdom half or a century back.
It may take a few hours to see the temple fully. Till now it follows all the traditions. Ladies are allowed to enter the temples wearing saris, middis or Kerala skirts only. Men should wear dhoti. Pants and shirts are not allowed inside. You can get dhoti from outside for rent. Umbrellas, mobiles, cameras, electrical/electronic instruments and not even leather accessories are allowed inside the temple. Those carvings in the stone pillars and walls is a must watch for all who love such ancient monuments.
Small temples inside remain so and have not gone through much alterations. Thus they make us remember about an age a century back. Pilgrims can do pushparchanas and other offerings and those who do such offerings, get a special privilege to pray the deity from the main mandapam, near him. Now let me give you the timing to visit the temple. As people of this state still respects the royal family, a special time is reserved for their temple visit. At that time, normal people are not allowed to enter inside, and it has been followed since centuries.
If you want to have Nirmalya Darshanam, it’s between 3.30 am and 4.45 am. Other time intervals are 06.30 am to 07.00 am, 08.30 am to 10.00 am, 10.30 am to 11.10 am and 11.45 am to 12.00 Noon. In the evening, 05.00 pm to 06.15 pm and 06.45 pm to 07.20 pm. Just in front of the temple is Padmatheertha Kulam (pond) and is so beautiful to watch.
Attukal Bhagavathi Temple
For all Hindus and those who love to know about traditional Hindu culture of Kerala, Attukal Bhagavathi Temple is a must-watch. This temple is famous for Pongala festival where women offers ‘Pongala Payasam’ for their deity in the temple premises on Pooram star day of Kumgham month. This celebration is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest gathering of women in a place a single day. Last year, it’s estimated that 30 lakh ladies gathered here for offering pongala. Inside the temple you can find beautiful sculptures and temple paintings, making you stand still for a while.
Ponmudi Hill station
A hill station in the capital city? Mist at noon in Thiruvananthapuram district? For many people, it may appear ridiculous. Yes, it’s true. Such a place is there in this district. That’s why I told earlier, Thiruvananthapuram is unique for its geographical features; everything is available in one bottle. This natural resort is 912 m high from sea level splendid with tea and coffee plantations. When you drive up passing each pin points, you are leading towards a heaven of paradise filled with fog and rain. Usually fog disappears with the arrival of rain. But in unique moments, both shower together giving chillness and coolness to viewer’s mind, soul and eyes even at noon when you can’t see even the person standing beside you. Once I have experienced this heavenly nature’s bliss. On the way never forget to stop before Kallar river and Meenmutty waterfalls. This peak is famous for its biodiversity, home place for many endangered species like Malabar Grey Hornbill and Broad-tailed Grass Bird.
Zoological Park at Museum Road
Zoological Park, just 3 kms away from Bus stand and Railway station, but is a calm place, eco-friendly and so close to nature. Zoo is just near the museum and Kanakakunnu Palace opposite Corporate building. You will be surprised to see the natural beauty of this place once you enter. In addition to a wide variety of birds and animals, this vast spread area is filled with grass carpets and trees, one or two centuries old giving you a cool breeze always. You will be surprised to see the variety of trees found inside and their size. Those tree shades welcome tourists to sit beneath them for a while. If you have enough time, it takes minimum 3 or 4 hours to enjoy the journey as if you are walking through real forests. The planning done by Rajas of Travancore in planting trees is really amazing. Now it belongs to Tourism department of Kerala. This zoo was established by Swathi Thirunal - Raja of Travancore long back in 1857 to attract the tourists. It was built in hectares of Royal property just near museum and Kanakakunnu Palace, which was the guest house of the Royal family.
Bird sanctuary is so beautiful. Bird cages are open and many birds of unknown types fly from one cage to another as if they are communicating freely. Such an open cage really makes you wondering for a while. Just near the bird zoo, is a group of trees centuries old on which thousands of bats dwell. You can see them hanging in the branches if you visit at day time and at evenings they set their journey. It seems they rule the whole zoo once sun sets in sea.
In addition to common monkeys, wolves, deer, foxes and peacocks, monkey, giraffe, zebra, lion, tiger, leopard, rhinoceros, chimpanzee, more than hundred items of birds are present here, most of them very rare to see. A snake zoo is kept separate which include a large number and types of serpents. If you visit Ananthapuri, never forget to visit Zoological Park at Museum Road.
Kanakakunnu palace and Museum
Museum and zoo are on either sides of the same wall and your evenings will be lovely if you spend time here. If you don’t want to enter zoo or museum, you can enjoy the garden outside. An archeological museum is also available here. Kanakakunnu palace was built by Sri Mulam thirunal of Travancore as a leisure home and guest home and now it is used by Kerala Tourism to promote Tourism, arrange cultural shows, flower shows etc and of course, the great Onam celebrations of the capital. This palace turns to a golden beauty when Onam season commences and each and every tree will be dressed with colourful light ornaments to welcome Mahabali in Chingam month.
Even if no celebrations are there, you can see a lot of people choosing this palace garden to be the recreation area. Many people including old couples choose this place as their venue for morning walk as well as evening walk. Inside the museum you can see variety of crystal chandeliers and royal furniture that royal family once used to treat their guests in a luxurious way. The palace was renovated later by Swathi thirunal, who constructed a zoo near the palace to entertain the guests. Auditorium of Kanakakunnu palace is the venue of many cultural programs including Nisaganthi and Soorya Kanthi, where classical artists perform on stage. During Onam season also several cultural functions and dances organized here. Kananakunnu Palace has a beautiful garden too, filled with plants, trees and grass beds and of course, it’s the most pollution-free area of the city.
Kowdiar Palace – the original residence of Rajas
Now let us travel 5 kms from museum and zoo. We will reach Kowdiar palace. When the capital of Travancore was shifted from Padmanabhapuram of Thackaley to Thiruvanathapuram city, Kowdiar was chosen the official residence. Now also, Royal family stays there. Every year, Onam celebration procession starts from Kowdiar and ends in East Fort and the whole places in between will be decorated by colourful lights. This palace was built in 1915 by Sree Moolam Thirunal and gifted to Sethu Parvati Bayi, grand daughter of the famous painter Raja Ravi Varma and mother of Sri Chithira Thirunal Balaramavarama, the last king of Travancore.
Secretariat and Legislative Assembly
Now let us return back and pass Palayam Junction and reach MG road leading towards Alumood, Statue and Thampanoor. In the Palayam Junction you can see Legislative Assembly – Kerala Niyamasabha Mandhiram. It was opened in 1998. Till then, the assembly was held in Secretariat. It is one-way traffic there.
When you travel from Thampanur Bus stand or railway station, Legislative Assembly is just a few metres away from zoo and museums. You can take two paths to reach Legislative Assembly – either through MG road Pulimood or through Bakery Junction; both are equal distant. On the way you can see Kerala University, University Library, MLA Quarters and World famous British Library. Famous Hanuman Temple and Vikas Bhavan are just near this building. Vikas Bhavan holds the record of maximum government employees of the state and is a 6 storied building. The second position is held by none other than Secretariat. It’s true, maximum government employees of the state work in the capital city though IT hub is also prominent here. Secretariat and Legislative Assembly – both are massive constructions built by Kerala Government and once you enter inside, it’s difficult to get outside if don’t know the route map. Earlier Secretariat was the central nerve of all government activities and every thing related to politics. But insufficient area prompted Kerala government to construct another building to shift the ministry and legislative bodies. Kerala Niyamasabha Mandhiram has total surface area of 230K square feet.
Secretariat is just 1.5 km away from Legislative Assembly. Actually, almost all significant buildings of the city comes inside 5km distant though need to take different traveling paths. Just opposite Legislative Assembly is Chandrashekhar Nair stadium, a venue for football matches, sports and many cultural programs and stage shows. When you take MG road from Palayam you reach Statue junction. Just opposite stands the Secretariat. On the way you can see famous Palayam mosque and church and art-crafts museum.Kerala University College is so famous for its architecture, bricks and distinct design. All these places become the centre of attraction during Onam season.
Veli Lake and Garden
You should never miss Veli Lake and garden if you visit Kerala. This tourist village is the centre of attraction of capital city and attracts tourists in masses. Boating and sun set view from children’s park are really breath taking. Pedal boats, rowing boats and power boats are available here in the tourist village. There are floating restaurants and water sports to attract kids and tourists. This tourist village is 8 kms away from the main city and is famous for the controversial statue, ‘Jalakanyaka’ (meaning mermaid). In addition to it, we can see unique sculptures of shank and many other Veli is a unique lake separated from Arabian Sea by a narrow brand and it’s true, lakes are not common sights of Thiruvananthapuram. Since lake views are most common in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts, this single piece wonder of capital city has a significant place in the tourist map of Thiruvananthapuram. Just spend a few hours in the lagoons of Veli to get rid of all tensions and tiredness of your long journey. Veli lake is just beautiful during the sunset. Time of visit is 8 am to 6 pm.
Nearest railway station is of course, Thampanoor Railway station is 8 km away and International airport, just 3 kms away. On the way to airport is the Veli sea.
If Veli is the hot spot for boating and lake view, Shankhumugham is the most famous beach of the city. If you visit this beach in the evenings, you will be amazed to see the crowd here. Certain moments are to be felt and experienced than read through books. Shankhumugham beach is one site. Even after sunset, you can see a lot of kids playing here and there. Even if you can see a lot of small shops and restaurants nearby, those buildings have not taken the charming beauty of the seas. That’s the reason why people are coming here every evening in folk. There is an Indian coffee house nearby and a few other shops where hot dosa, appams and perotta are served. Stone Pavilion of the beach is another attraction in addition to the silent seas. It’s believed to be the bathing place of Lord Anantha padmanabhan. That’s the reason why when celebrations end here with aarattu, processions always end in Shankhumugham beach. Vinayaka Chathurthi and karkidaka Vavu are also celebrated here. You can see many Malayalam movies with beautiful locations, sand beaches, stone pavilion and sunsets picturised from Shankhumukham. Next near the beach is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.
Kovalam and Vizhinjam – Superb of all!
Can anyone miss this one- a sunbath from Kovalam? No doubt, Kovalam has a distinct place in the tourist map of India and it’s one among the top 10 tourist spots of India. For promoting tourism, many cultural programs are arranged here during Onam season like Onam feast and floral decorations.
Let us travel 15 kms south from the heart of the city to reach Kovalam. Kovalam-Vizhinjam-Chappath forms a tourist belt of coastal areas. On the way to Kovalam, you can see Thiruvallam temple, the only Parasurama temple of Kerala famous for Balitharpanam of holy Ramayana month. Just near Vizhinjam is Aazhimala beach and resorts. It’s really a great scene to watch seas from mountain top and scenery around, in the background of a temple. Two temples are there at coastal belt from where you get a spectacular view of seas from height. In this coastal belt we can see a lot of tourist resorts targeting the foreigners, of which hotels with sea view have high demand. During Christmas-New year eve also, celebrations including fireworks are arranged in all the resorts here. You can stay in heritage homes if you can afford its cost.
Now let me mention one more coastal place. It’s Poovar, just a few kilometers away from Aazhimala resorts. Do you know why this coastal belt is most popular among the tourists? Low tides! Here the seas are silent will less waves and that’s the reason why it’s the hot destination to many tourists. Foreigners never go back without a sunbath or Ayurvedic massage from a heritage centre here. Yoga clubs and oil massage centres solely aim the foreigners who are always attracted by the traditional forms of Kerala culture. Very often art forms like Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Krishnanattom are performed here to entertain them. It’s true tourists know to respect our culture and art forms than we people. Many people do come to Kerala for researches and studies in Kerala’s art.
Kovalam has three main beaches – Samudra Beach, Light House beach and Hawai Beach. One needs to start from East Fort or Thampanoor bus stand by bus or taxi through bi-pass road to reach this coastal belt. If you are coming by flight, Kovalam is just 6 or 7 kms away from the international airport.
Now let us take another route from Kovalam and reach Neyyattinkara via.Balaramapuram. Balaramapuram is famous for traditionally woven Kerala of-white saris with gold border. You can purchase a few and then take National Highway to Neyyar Dam; turn left. You need to turn right from Pappanamcode to reach Neyyar.
If you want to visit famous Sri Krishna temple of Neyyattinkara, turn right from Balaramapuram and travel just 5 kms. It’s believed that the great Marthanda Varma of Travancore hid inside the hollow of an old jackfruit here to hide from his enemies, later he renovated this temple in modern form. Now that jack fruit tree is dead. Yet it’s preserved by Devaswam (temple authorities) as a lot of people do visit here to see ‘Ammachiplavu’ (Grandmother tree). Men can’t wear shirt inside the temples, women can wear churidars inside. Foreigners are also allowed. Just near the temple, flows the Neyyar river. Since this place is on the banks of Neyyar river, this place got the name ‘Neyyattinkara’.
If you have plans to visit this temple then you need to take Kattakada route to reach Neyyar Dam. This dam is situated in a place called Kallikadu, it’s a remote village area. The dam, the garden, a small tower and a small ‘mandap’ pointing towards water are spectacular to watch. If you want to spend a day in Neyyar Dam it will never be a waste. You can enjoy the cool breeze sitting near the river side. This dam is built on Neyyar River for irrigational purposes and no doubt, this dam is a superb place to watch in the tourist map of Thiruvananthapuram. Boating and trekking facilities are also available here and a crocodile park is just nearby. It’s a best place for romantic pairs and newly wedded couples. This area is still holding the natural beauty and greenery far away from town and cities. That’s why this place is so special.
If you are adventurous and a little spiritual person who seek peace in pilgrim journeys, Agasthyarkoodam is the best option. It’s situated in a part of Western Ghats, very near to Neyyar Dam, just 32 kms away and belongs to forest department. It’s a forest famous for many medicinal shrubs and for Hindus, it’s the place where Sage Agasthya (one among the Saptharishis) lived; hence this forest got the name Agasthyarkoodam. Many people are there who go there in devotion and a few in search of medicinal plants. A few enjoy the trekking through mountain slopes while a few others go there to feel nature’s beauty. Actually this mountain lies in the border of two states – Kerala and Tamil Nadu and is a place to find many rare medicinal plants.
It’s really adventurous to go to the top of Agastha Mountain. Though Kerala Government allows it, Tamil Nadu implies certain restrictions. Also, majority of this mountain is within Tamil Nadu borders. It’s believed that more than 2000 medicinal plants used for Ayurvedic treatments are available here. Two major rivers of the district – Karamana and Neyyar originate from its mountain top.
Though it appears to be a part of Kerala, it’s now in Tamil Nadu. Then you may wonder why I have placed this palace in Kerala Tourism article as a part of Thiruvannathapuram. Padmanabhapuram Palace placed inside the Padmanabhapuram Fort was built by Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal in 1601 AD who ruled the state of Travancore. Let me tell you, ‘Thiruvithankur’ is the real name of this region and once Kanya Kumari District belonged to Travancore. After Indian independence when states were formed on the basis of spoken language, Kanya Kumari became a part of Tamil Nadu while Palakkad got added to Kerala. Yet, Padmanabhapuram Palace was not given to Tamil Nadu, still it’s under the direct control of Kerala Government. It’s really surprising to read the fact that, though the palace is situated about 20 kms away from state borders, it’s still a part of Kerala culture.
Before the capital was shifted to Kowdiyar of main city, Travancore kings ruled from here. Now it’s kept as an archeological museum and preserved in a better way, though many precious things are missing. You can see thrones used by kings, their weapons, a few jewels and costumes. The radio used by kings to hear news that time, is also preserved here. Many doors are closed for tourists, yet you can see a lot of paintings of great kings and queens, their accessories and many more. If you visit Ananthapuri, never forget to visit this palace if you are willing to drive 40 kms from the center of the city.
Aakulam Tourism Village
Now let me mention you another tourism village of the city famous for boating. It’s Aakulam Tourism Village, a backwater destination about 10 km away from city and an extension of Veli lake. Typical Kerala boat called Kettuvallam is available if you want to stay by lakeside at night. Children’s park and boating facilities make this location a wonderful spot for tourist destinations.
Before I wind up
Now, we have come to an end of amazing journey. Hoping you have experienced a wonderful magical world with my company. Let me tell me, I belong to this beautiful place and it’s my pleasure to invite guests to my own residence. Almost 90% of the above descriptions are taken from my own personal experiences except Agasthyarkoodam and Kowdiar Palace. I have never visited these places till now. Now let me mention a few more names before I leave.
Anchuthengu, famous for English Fort, Aruvikkara reservoir with wide variety of fishes, Aruvippuram where Narayana Guru built a Siva temple for Harijans when existed feudalism and untouchability in the state, Kilimanoor Palace, Koyikkal Palace, Kerala Art College, Attingal Palace, Peppara wild life sanctuary and Varkala Sivagiri – the Samadhi of Narayana Guru are a few historical and beautiful places to mention. I hope I have covered almost all hot tourist destination spots of Ananthapuri. There is no special season for Kerala tourism. Yet, it’s better if you exclude summer season. It’s Kerala’s southern tip where monsoon showers its blessings first. I hope you will be present there next monsoon with your family to enjoy the monsoon in some hot destination spot for sure! Also never forget to enter East Fort and Chalai Bazaar to buy a few traditional items when you return back. Have a quick glance at ‘Methan Mani’ and remains of old fort for sure.
Note: All images have been taken from Wikipedia
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