Over a family event, my cousin asked if I would like to join him on a trip to Trivandrum and Kanyakumari during the Holi weekend of 2017. We both travel extensively but separately. So I had said yes in the blink of an eye. Minutes later, two more siblings joined in, and this was now officially a first time cousins trip. Until then, we used to gather in Goa for a customary native visit during school vacations, and that was a gazillion years back.
My cousin and his friend planned the entire itinerary – right from places to see to hotels to stay. Two months from now, we were to fly down!
Cut to present, on the day of the travel, I missed my flight – FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. My cousins had boarded the flight and I joined them a day later in Trivandrum to explain how my ‘know it all’ attitude had led to the misadventure that cost me a fresh ticket. What a start this was!
Poovar beach, Kerala
3 nights 4 days 2 nights 3 days trip
When I took off from Mumbai, I was looking for the sea. “Is this the sea? It’s black. It’s the black sea of Mumbai” is the conversation I had in my head. Two hours later, Kerala greeted me to a carpet of lush green coconut and palm trees; on the horizon was the blue of the ocean. I was in God’s own country.
Anas, our driver, had come to pick me at the Trivandrum airport. On the way, a Hindi song from the film ‘Tamasha’ played in the car. I promptly asked Anas if he knew Hindi, to which he said, “Thoda thoda…main saat saal Dubai mein tha”. Countless Keralites have made the Middle-east their home. Anas had decided to return after making his share of tax free income in Dirhams.
I noticed stacks of red bricks and mounts of ashes along the airport road until the city centre. Attukal Pongala had just concluded the previous day. The festival was part of my itinerary but, alas! My flight fiasco had resulted in me missing the event. I had read that Attukal Pongala had a Guinness Book of World Record for the largest single gathering of women for a religious activity. Women prepare pongala (a rice based sweet dish) at the Attukal Bhagavathi temple as an offering to a local deity – Attukalamma. So large is this gathering that you’ll find women with stoves and make-shift chullas cooking pongala on the streets stretching up to 10km.
As we drove further, I saw groups of men in lungis and loose fitted shirts standing in queues outside liquor shops. Kerala had banned the sale of liquor except at government shops and luxury hotels in an effort to regulate alcohol consumption. Commerce was yet to begin on a lazy Sunday morning. But men waited patiently for the shutters to open.
After a 40 minute drive and surface-level tour of the city, I caught up with the group at the hotel. Having lost a day, I didn’t want to waste any more time. So a quick breakfast and off we were to explore Trivandrum.
Kuthira Mallika Palace Museum, Trivandrum
Our first stop was the Padmanabhaswamy Temple which is one of the richest religious institutions in South India. It’s also orthodox like most temples in Kerala, prohibiting non Hindus, and making sure strict adherence to their dress code is followed. There was NO WAY five Catholics could have entered the temple. So we simply clicked some photos of the facade and moved on to our next stop.
The Kuthira Mallika Palace Museum besides the Padmanabhaswamy temple and had no such religious restrictions. Owned by the royal family of Travancore, the 1840 palace displayed some rare objects like the bohemian crystal throne from Belgium with the Travancore emblem. The king had a thing for wooden ceilings with rich use of teakwood and rosewood. Our guide, with a strict teacher-like tone, had made sure the group paid attention to her narration in Malayali accented English. Of the 80 rooms, 20 were thrown open to visitors, while the rest remained shut due to lack of restoration funds. An adjoining art gallery displayed over 1100 paintings from the Travancore dynasty. My personal favourites were the oil paintings of the royal clan by Raja Ravi Verma.
If the weather that March was a little kind, we would have visited the Napier Museum too. Instead, we moved towards Kovalam, Poovar and Kanyakumari and returned to the capital on the third day to board our flight back home. It was then; we stopped at Villa Maya – an 18th century Dutch manor now converted into a heritage restaurant. I had read about Villa Maya on Jet Airways’ in-flight magazine on the way to Trivandrum. When I reunited with the group, I dropped a word that we should check out Villa Maya on the last day.
Villa Maya has been rated as one of the best restaurants in Asia. The place is not just about the food, but a royal dining experience. Their contemporary cuisine is expertly crafted and beautifully presented. Think sundried bashed beef in a betel leaf with finely chopped raw mango, wattalapam – a sweet delicacy from Sri Lanka, sea food rasam, seasonal fruit popsicles and hazelnut brownies with cream. For the non experimental, there was a traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali. A meal for five set us back by INR 5000. Reasonable for the one-time experience, I’d say!
Villa Maya heritage restaurant, Trivandrum
Somewhere in Nagercoil – the district capital of Kanyakumari – after crossing the Kerala check post into Tamil Nadu, we stopped for lunch at Shree Krishna Inn restaurant and bar (mostly bar). The setting was straight out of a 80s regional film – neon lights in pink and blue, dimly lit bar counter, Tamil songs on an 18 inch TV. We could barely read the menu in the dark, but it didn’t matter as we knew what we had to order – Kerala parathas and beef chilly fry. Our conversations over well cooked meat and fluffy parathas were flushed down with chilled beer. My cousin had stated that bars make the best food. That afternoon, I couldn’t agree more.
After a four hour drive – crossing a border and hopping cities – we reached the southern tip of India.
Honestly, until this trip, I did not know Kanyakumari is part of Tamil Nadu and not Kerala. The side to Tamil Nadu I had seen restricted to Chennai and Velankanni, a tiny pilgrim town for Catholics, 350km south of the capital.
Kanyakumari’s wondrous location is a matter of envy for any Indian city. The confluence of three water bodies – Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean at this site is almost surreal.
Kanyakumari on a bright sunny afternoon in March 😀
Sunrise and Sunset at Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
Two magical moments in Kanyakumari are the sunrise and sunset. Two magical monuments in Kanyakumari are the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar Statue. A view from a hotel room that offers all of these is the icing on the cake.
It is said that Swami Vivekananda attained enlightenment on a rock, 500 meters off mainland in Kanyakumari before his famed visit to Chicago for the Parliament of the World Religions in 1893. Its neighbour, the 133 feet Thiruvalluvar Statue is named after a Tamil poet and philosopher from 4th century BCE. The latter is the icon of Kanyakumari and you’ve most certainly seen a photo of this monument on covers of Tamil Nadu travel guide books.
Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue, Kanyakumari
We checked out from Kanyakumari for Kovalam the next day. It was an easy hour and a half drive.
Kovalam was a ‘my favourite beach in Kerala’ kinda place according to the internet. To visit a beach flooding with population and rampant commercialisation wasn’t something I had signed up for. But although all of this was true, Kovalam had a distinct charm of its own – clear waters, white sands and a cobbled beach promenade dotted with shops and cafes.
Few tourists took surfing lessons, others sunbathed…we chilled in a cafe downing beers in coffee mugs. A red and white lighthouse perched on a rock, added a nice touch to the blue of the ocean and gave us postcard like photographs. We may have been too tired to climb 157 steps to the lighthouse, but gorged on a hearty lunch of roasted mussels, cashew prawns and beef chilly fry at a seaside cafe. Kovalam’s many shops selling curios are worth a stop too. That evening, my office desk got a pen stand the shape of a monkey handmade from a single coconut shell.
(L) Kovalam beach; (R) Roasted mussels at Cafe Malabar, Kovalam
Poovar was the most I looked forward on this entire trip…like we had saved the best for the last. The tiny island is sandwiched between the backwaters of Kerala and the Arabian Sea.
Our property – Estuary Island Resort – in the lap of nature was all things fancy. Right from a night swim in the pool to buffets on a floating restaurant. We also squeezed in time for a 30min massage after a stroll on the private beach on the morning of our check out. And if that wasn’t all, we took a drop to our car park by speed boat through Poovar’s backwaters. The resort was a world in itself, away from the hectic lives we lead in the city. It was a luxurious break I gifted myself. And you should too…every once in a while 🙂
We kept Trivandrum as our base for this trip. All major airlines operate daily flights to and fro – big Indian cities. Take advantage of the many flight sales on online ticket booking platforms. Planning in advance helps, and I got a return fare for INR 6500 after booking two months prior. Of course, the deal fell far expensive because I missed my flight. But who’s to be blamed!
Journey to the rest of the cities can be covered by road. Private taxi fares start at INR 7000 for three days. (Contact Anas – 08139876193 / George – 09526983526)
Our route map
Where to stay
I stayed at some fancy hotels on this trip, unusual for someone like me who likes to rough it out on the road.
Classic Sarovar Portico has spacious rooms, rooftop pool, decent restaurant and friendly staff. Like most city hotels, the view from the room is that of a concrete jungle.
All the best hotels are by the sea in the busy tourist area. My room at Hotel Sea View opened to the vast expanse of the ocean with a view of the Thiruvalluvar Statue and Vivekananda Rock Memorial. They have a multi-cuisine restaurant with a permit room and decent space for car park.
Estuary Island Resort is a huge property with villa style rooms and a brilliant lake-meets-sea setting. Perfect for honeymooners, perfect for families and perfect for those looking for some quiet time.
Lake meets the sea at Poovar
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