God's own country with its psychedelic sunsets complete with palm trees swaying to whatever music the wind chooses to play, the wafting aromas of the land of coffee, spices and coconuts, the bastion of communism, a literate people whose friendliness is only surpassed by their curiosity for more. A place that fiercely retains and respects the ancient traditions while viewing the modern with tolerance and invitation - Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum is Kerala incarnate.
There is beauty and intelligence, the exotic and the mundane, there are Ayurvedic massages that elicit equal amounts of pain and pleasure, beaches and lagoons with the best part being the preservation of it all the way Nature meant it to be.
Trivandrum is also a bustling city, where the business of life is carried out like it is around the world, interspersed with everyday visits to the nearby temple or mosque. Myth has it that the place derives its name from it being the city of Anantha, the sacred serpent of Vishnu. History has it that Thiruvananthapuram had once been the port of call for Romans and Jews, Arabs and Christians. Believable, considering that it remains one of the biggest centres for sea-bound labour.
Population : Approx 3 million
Climate : Pleasantly tropical throughout the year, Trivandrum's proximity to the sea makes for weather that has its variations. Other than the monsoons between May and October, which are long and heavy, summer temperature goes up to 32°C while winters are a pleasant 29°C.
Best times to visit : If you love the rains, anytime and if you don't, September to May.
This museum has much to impress the visitor with built in an exquisite blend of Kerala, Mughal, Chinese and Italian styles of architecture, the museum is also known as the Napier Museum after the erstwhile Governor General of Madras John Napier. This 19th century building boasts of a unique natural air-conditioning system and the displays include exquisite bronzes, ancient ornaments and costumes, ivory carvings and musical instruments, and a whole temple chariot.
Built by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Balrama Verma of Travancore, an accomplished poet and musician, the traditional Travancore style museum is made better with its exquisite woodcarvings. There is a priceless art collection among other exhibits and the palace also hosts an annual classical music festival between 27th January and 3rd February.
Located in the museum compound is this Art Gallery featuring an eclectic collection of works by Roerich and Raja Ravi Verma. This of course is only among the many other paintings from the Mughal, Rajput, Bengal and Tanjore schools of art. There is also a fabulous collection of oriental art from the Far East and Bali.
The Zoological Gardens with a setting that includes woodlands and beautiful lakes, this is arguably one of Asia's best laid-out zoos. Whether it is love for the animals or just a need for a good day out, this is an excellent place to visit.
A definite must see is the ISMA, which continues to preserve and impart training in the 5,000-year-old martial art of Kerala - Kalarippayattu. Established in 1983 it is in Vazhuthacaud in the heart of the city. A three-storied building, the main attraction is the traditional kalari - the arena for practising the art, built 10 ft below ground level. ISMA is also a renowned healing centre where the traditional kalarichikitsa - an exclusive branch of medicine - has been practised for years. The rare collection of olagranthas - palm leaf manuscripts also makes it a place with historical value.
This building, designed in the English Gothic Style, was built in 1878. The main structure rises 54.2 m in height and is surmounted by statues representing Justice and Mercy. Beautiful Kovalam, endowed with a sheltered bay making it safe and pleasant to swim in during the off-monsoon months is no doubt, one of the best places to be. Food, rest, Ayurvedic massages and long walks with the inevitable shopping will make your visit here memorable and a true vacation.
Celebrated in August/September, Onam is one Kerala's most important festivals. It generates a lot of excitement and the city wears its heart on its sleeve during this time. Flowers are arranged in delightful patterns in everyone's front yards and there are cultural programmes held all over the place. Every local temple is lit up enhancing the beauty of already lovely structure. The celebrations culminate in a colourful carnival that attracts both locals and tourists alike.
Held twice a year, the vetta and araat processions led by the members of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore are taken out from the Padmanabhaswamy Temple to the Shanghumugham Beach. The idols from the temple are ritually purified in the sea and a host of cultural programmes, including Kathakali, are staged.
A platform for some of India's traditional classical dance forms, the dance festival is annually held from 21st to 27th February at the Nishagandhi Open Air Theatre in the Kanakakunnu Palace grounds. From Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam to Odissi, this festival is a unique opportunity to be a part of grace and elegance in so many different forms.
A lovely and unique idea, the Gramam is held from 14th to 23rd January. An entire Kerala village is recreated on the beach during this exotic 10-day long festival held at Kovalam. The premises of the nalukettu (the traditional upper class house with a central open courtyard) that spring up overnight become the venue of the fair, and highlight the traditional arts and crafts of the state.
Held from 5th to 11th April on the Kanakakunnu Palace grounds, famous hotels from all across Kerala take part in this week long international festival. There is intense competition where the participating hotels lay out a feast showcasing cuisine from all over the world. If you are a foodie, this is your favourite fantasy come true.