Part II - in and around Kerala
24.10.2015 - 26.10.2015 30 °C
Breaking up the journey from Kanyakumari to Kovalum on the Keralan coast, we stop at the Padmanabhapuram Palace also known as the wood palace and is, apparently, an excellent example of Keralan architecture. According to Wikepedia (again), "The Palace though surrounded entirely by the State of Tamil Nadu is still part of Kerala and the land and Palace belongs to the Government of Kerala".
The place was buzzing with tourists and, after paying for our tickets (35 rupees for Indian guests and 300 rupees for foreign visitors (1 rupee is around 1p)) and taking our shoes off - a standard practice in many indoor places in India, we joined the back of the queue. Not long after we'd started the wait, which seemed like it would be a long one, a group of French tourists came through the entrance with their guide and we somehow got whisked up with them and taken through a "secret" doorway and past all the crowds. I'm not sure how comfortable I felt with this preferential treatment - perhaps it's just because I paid the extra for my ticket - but it was certainly nice to get out of the heat and into the cool dark of the building!
The palace is a wonderful building with many carved wooden ceilings, doors and facia. It was easy to imagine how it would've looked in its hey day with colourful wall hangings and paintings. Some interesting points included a built-in pool area with an opening in the roof for rain to collect which served to cool down the surrounding bedrooms. It also allowed the women living in the palace to refresh themselves as they were not allowed to go outside. When dancing women came to the palace to perform, the female inhabitants had to make do with watching through tiny holes as it wasn't even permitted for them to be seen!
Back on the road, we made our way towards the Keralan boarder. As we get closer, the affluence of Tamil Nadu's neighbouring state becomes clear; the roads are cleaner and the houses are larger - some wouldn't be out of place in Essex - apparently Kerala has the highest literacy rate in all of India.
Arriving in Kovalam it felt like any number of other western beach resorts. This left me with mixed feelings; on one hand I knew that having a beer with your meal or sitting out for a drink with a view of the Arabian Sea would be acceptable and expected here, but that predictability made it less interesting, exciting and "other" which feels like a shame somehow. Having said that, many restaurants don't actually have licences for alcohol - this doesn't stop it from being served though, we were just given our Kingfishers in mugs and the bottles kept on the floor in case any eagle-eyed inspectors were passing, so not everything is as standard as you'd expect - after all, this is India!
The great thing about this trip is that I have the time to experience different places and, whilst I don't have enough time to see all of India or, indeed, all of Tamil Nadu, Mum has done a brilliant job of making sure I get to see as much as possible. So a couple of days of relative familiarity is simply more experience to add to the whole adventure!
Kovalam's beach front accommodates shop after shop of high-quality gifts; sterling-silver jewellery and Kashmiri pashminas some of which are destined for high-class, high-fashion stores in London. One shop owner took great pleasure in showing us the Chanel pashminas which wouldn't look out of place in Harrods. Having said that, these are also great salesmen and, as with many promises and assertions here, it should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.. During the high season, the town is descended upon by hundreds of American and European tourists ready to part with their cash for these, obviously good quality, products. It's a long way from the seashells, knock-off designer clothing and plastic trinkets of Kanyakumari.
There's only so much shopping one can do, so the next day we drove a short distance to Trivandrum and visited the excellent planitarium there. Once again we were left considering our individual insignificance against the backdrop of the infinite universe! The presentation really was impressive and very well attended - not at all something I expected to find here. But perhaps that's my ignorant assumptions, after all India is investing more and more in its technology and space programme.
The city of Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala and the British influence could be felt in the architecture. We stopped to check out a craft sale which was taking place in a building which wouldn't have looked out of place in any town in the UK. Whilst there we also had a quick visit to the market and, although we were too late for most of the produce, the varieties of bananas were still on offer:
Our last evening in Kovalam was spent enjoying a delicious fish masala with fresh and very tasty fish and an illegal bottle of Kingfisher!
The next day we started the journey back to Athoor. On the way we hit a traffic jam - that is definitely something to be seen in India! Whilst weaving and dodging our way past buses, trucks and motorbikes, up ahead we could see what the hold up was.. a procession which we think was for Pradosham a festival which celebrates the blessings of Shiva. At the front of this string of followers was a heavily decorated elephant carefully plodding her way along the road!
For the past few days we've just relaxed at home and I've been able to go swimming at the neighbour's beautiful pool, have a short walk down to the Kamarajar Dam and visit a local green grocers and garden centre - not the standard tourist haunts!