South India 2019: Thiruvananthapuram

Our visit to Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum) began and ended with train journeys.

portrait on IndiaRail south to Trivandrum
Eyeing the Passing Scene

The short ride from Varkala to Trivandrum gave us just enough time to meet a few folks.  We disembarked at the large Thiruvananthapuram Central Station and, not wishing to haul our luggage in the heat, took a short tuktuk ride to our hotel.  The Safire Residency helped make our stay in Trivandrum a pleasure.  A basic hotel but with upscale features, super clean rooms and knowledgeable staff.

The Safire Residency in Trivandrum, India
More than just a Pretty Face

The Safire’s close to the train and bus stations but off the main streets on a quiet backstreet.  Our first request after dumping our bags: a late lunch.  Hotel reception suggested Ariya Niwas, just down the hill from us, serving thalis until 2pm.

thali lunch at Ariya Niwas, Trivandrum, India
South India Stylin’

That may look like a small amount of food but it’s a bottomless banana leaf.  At some point you have to say “Enough!”.  And then, as Sue found out, an auntie may try to force feed you even more.

We had no expectations of Trivandrum (I prefer typing the shorter version).  It was a transition point – we had to decide where to go next.  I’d booked a couple of nights, just enough time to get a taste of the city and figure where to go next.

Trivandrum’s a transportation hub and the two main stations were just around the corner, a 5 minute walk.  Our first full day in town we decided that we would find how to get to the south tip of India: the town of Kanyakumari on Cape Cormorin.  We bounced between the bus depot and train station comparing departure and return times.  Several helpful people pointed us to other helpful people.  Eventually we realized that a bus must be out front, ready to depart, so we walked over to confirm the timing.  As we walked away talking about how to organize our trip the next day we decided that the best option was to run back and hop on the bus that was there, waiting for us.

Looking at a map you’d wonder why such a short trip would take several hours (2.5 hours to go 85km.) but as we struggled through traffic bottlenecks leaving Trivandrum all became clear.  Luckily viewing the ever changing passing scene kept us entertained.

somewhere between Trivandrum and Kanyakumari, India via bus
From the Bus Window

We watched the Western Ghats taper off to the Cardamon Hills and then to the flatlands at the tip. We arrived at the hottest time of the day, so there were few other visitors.  We walked the final few steps south and beheld the various temples and statues at the tip of continental India.

The South Tip of India, Cape Cormorin, Kanyakumari, Indian
The Southern Tip
Thiruvalluvar Statue with Vivekananda Rock Memorial in the background
Thiruvalluvar Statue

We stopped at the little beach where people left their shoes and offerings on the rocks and in the water.  We looked at the three bodies of water: the Bay of Bengal, the Laccadive Sea and the Arabian Sea.  Colour changes in the water were apparent, even from our low angle.  We discussed taking the ferry out to Vivekananda Rock and beyond to the Thiruvalluvar Statue but decided we’d seen what we’d come to see.  Even though we were surrounded by the sea it was Hot.  We walked back to the waterfront road, intending to get info about our return bus. Although blasted by the hot sun, we found some relief in the local colours.

a spiral staircase in Kanyakumari, India
Architectural Delight

After stopping at a vacant luxury hotel restaurant for lime sodas we found the bus station and decided to board the next bus back.  Perhaps we missed some of the sights but in the this case the destination was hot and the journey a bit cooler, if bumpy.  By the time we returned to Trivandrum the sunset lit the sky in rosy hues.

sunset and a billboard near Trivandrum, India
Sunset on the Road

While walking back and forth between the bus and train stations, and mindful of a good cup of coffee, we found the local Indian Coffee House.  Located in an eye catching spiral tower, tucked in beside the monumental bus terminal, the Indian Coffee House, provides great coffee, tasty entrees and an interesting angle on dining.

Indian Coffee House exterior and sign
Indian Coffee House
interior of the Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum, India
Junior and Senior Staff at the Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum, India
Junior and Senior Waiters

After spending a day on the road we stayed in the city the next day.  A number of sights seemed to be clustered just to the north of us so we caught an auto-rickshaw to the park, a calm oasis in a bustling city.  We skipped the zoo and visited the Napier Museum, (this NatGeo link includes an interior photo).  Although designed by an English architect, Robert Chisholm, traditional Keralan architecture influenced its design.  The building features a natural air conditioning system, created by doubled walls with vents, that slowly circulates the air.

Exterior of Napier Museum, Trivandrum, India
Napier Museum

We toured the exhibits but it’s the interior structure that draws the eye to it.  Like the exterior it is exquisitely detailed and colourful.  We spent under an hour looking at the various statuary and exhibits, all dwarfed by a fantastic temple chariot.

Back outside in the heat we sought our favourite refreshment (not beer!): lime soda.  We chatted with another Canadian couple, who related their recent experience staying in Assam (one of India’s far northeast states, just south of Bhutan).  We tucked their recommendations away for future reference.

Leaving the leafy park we walked south into the city, along narrow winding back streets. I needed to deal with my iPhone’s charging problems and top up my Airtel mobile account for the month.  We went from place to place, led on by Google Maps, not always the easiest way to find a small business in a big city.  The Airtel office could not accept payments.  However, along the way found an ATM, more refreshing water and the resolution of my phone charging in another small store.

staff at Phone Factory, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Phone Factory Guys

The Apple partner (on the left) helped me while his Samsung mate looked on.  I got the right adaptor and a better cable for a reasonable price plus some insights into the Indian electrical system.  Also I learned that iPhones are cheaper in Canada than India;  lucky me the issue was resolved by a cable!

We returned to our hotel and when I asked about Airtel the fellow on duty whipped out an app and had my account refilled in minutes.  With business taken care of we had time for an early evening movie at a nearby cinema.  The air-conditioned cinema rocked  (literally, the sound system probably shook the foundations).  Odiyan (in Malayalam – no English subtitles), held our attention for three hours, even though we didn’t understand a word.

We’d discussed options for our next destination (sorry Maldives, maybe next time?) and opted to head for the hills (much cooler temperatures), specifically Kumily near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.  Breakfast at the Indian Coffee House and then onboard a morning train to Kottayam where we switched to a bus.  Having just resolved my phone problem I was now about to lose one of my most important forms of communication.

second class train Trivandrum to Kottakyam, India
Morning Train


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