Kovalam, Tivandrum & Varkala - Monday 4 - Sunday 10 May 2009
We had a final morning coffee on Kovalam Beach and took in the atmosphere. There is always a great deal going on here - we saw fishermen dragging in their nets, and some sort of ceremony going on. We later found out the latter was a funeral and the deceased's sons & daughter were throwing the ashes into the water after a special blessing. We didn't go for a last swim!
Driving towards Trivandrum our first stop was the Veli Tourist Park - 8km outside the city centre. It is a pleasant enough park - with some interesting (and slightly risqué for India!) sculptures by an Indian artist - Kanai Kunhiraman - and a nice boating lake.
There was a park and some lovely flowers but in true Indian style it was a bit of a construction site with piles of rubbish around too which spoilt the effect a bit.
Trivandrum which is the Capital city of Kerala state seems to be a very bustling dynamic place - teeming with life - and traffic!
We went first to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple a 270 year old temple with a huge 30 metre gopuram (gate tower) at the front. We only got to have a peer at the intricately carved pillars from the entrance as it is only open to Hindus. We also saw the sacred bathing area - which looked absolutely filthy! No thanks!!
Next door was the Puthe Maliga Palace Museum - a 200 year old palace of the Travancore Maharajas, very similar to the one we saw previously in Tamil Nadu - see the previous page. TheTranvacore family crest of the sea shell has been adopted as the state emblem and can be seen on the buses and in topiary arrangements in the park.
Again, it was built in classic Keralan architecture including the floors made of natural materials, the exquisite carvings and the evidence of much trade with China.
It was really beautiful and as English speakers we got a private guide to share with only one other English speaking family from Mumbai. Everyone else was in a huge group of about 60 so it would have been hard to follow the various stories.
The city centre was very busy with the usual chaotic activity everywhere - a man making combs to sell out of bone, flower arrangers , book sellers etc
We stopped at the tourist centre which conveniently was located next to the area on Museum Road where all the museums & art galleries seem to be housed. The information was excellent and the lady we spoke to went out of her way to help - even ringing ahead to Varkala to sort out where we should camp!
Across the road was a well established park area with lovely trees providing a shady walkway to the Napier or Art Museum. Housed in a beautiful 19th century Keralan building there was a huge collection of bronzes and carvings. No cameras allowed so we can't share this but it was very interesting. We also are again a bit off the tourist track and had our photo taken hundreds of times in the museum grounds- this still feels a bit weird!!! We then had a quick look at the somewhat faded Natural History Museum - lots of skeletons and somewhat moth eaten stuffed animals & birds!
We then headed on 54 km to our next destination the coastal town of Varkala - which is also spelt Varkhala - not sure which is correct! We are making somewhat slow progress but really felt we had to stop a little while here as it is renowned for being the nicest beaches in Kerala.
We had already arranged to park at the helipad which is located on the cliffs overlooking the beach. This was a great spot. Again it is low season and the whole place is preparing to shut down for the monsoon - due to kick in in a couple of weeks' time. Whilst it is pretty hot and sticky during the day this is actually good timing for us as everything is cheaper and we have a lot of space to ourselves. The cliff tops afford a lovely view up over the Arabian Sea and we get to sit and watch soaring eagles at eye level. We also have a good view over the endless games of cricket in the early morning & late evening (the only times it's cool enough!) as well as lovely sunsets and sea breezes at night. Another great camp spot.
A lot of the shop owners are from other areas particularly Kashmir. Due to all the problems there & the resulting dearth of tourists sadly they can't make a living so they migrate south. Some of the shops are made of palm fronds and don't survive the monsoon so they are left to collapse and rebuilt next season. It was definitely a good time to snag bargains and we saw lots of gorgeous handmade jewelry artifacts and cloth. There were shops run by the indigenous people - our photo is of an indigenous lady from Rajasthan lady surrounded by her handmade goods. There were also shops selling the spices which are used to give Keralan food its distinct flavour.
Varkala being a resort area is quite relaxed and I was able to dress in singlets and even lie around in a bikini without feeling uncomfortable - hard in the rest of India! I am happy to wear traditional dress and cover my legs and arms to fit in but sometimes it is very hot!!
Another great thing which kept us in Varkala were the excellent book shops- a real treat for me! We made great friends with Loknath who had a fantastic selection in his little shop on the cliff edge. He insisted on taking us out for lunch on our last day - for the best Thalis we'd ever had - along with with Mutton Nilgiri curry - made of garlic and spinach. Both delicious! Loknath's shop is really recommended a great selection at good prices. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any help tracking down an elusive book!!
Whilst the area is a major resort it is amazing how quickly you get back into "real" Kerala once you drive a couple of kilometres. You pass coconut palms & little fishing villages (again a mixture of Muslim Christian and Hindu), traditional wooden homes and working elephants We stopped to feed the one in our picture some bananas - he was on his way home after a hard day of log moving!
Whilst driving around we are often stopped by curious people, who are invariably pleased to see us and very friendly. We met a nice guy Salim who owns a local Auto Service Centre. He had helped the "Oxford to Oxford" overlanders a couple of years ago.
These guys who we found out about in our initial research prior to our trip were a group of Oxford Uni students who drove an Oxford car from Oxford UK to Oxford New Zealand a couple of years ago. Salim was very interested in our journey and invited us for a free wash and service at his workshop which was very kind. Thanks to him and all his staff. See his site on www.gulnargroup.com to see the services he offers.
So, as at Monday 10 May we once again have to be on the move. Yesterday we dropped our washing off to the very efficient dhobi wallah - who insisted on ironing everything despite our protests! - so we feel very pressed & wrinkle free for once! It was very hot in his laundry and he works very hard with his old fashioned coal iron.
We feel very sad to be leaving our dog friends behind once more. Having camped here a few days we have been adopted by some local hounds who come for any left overs which might be going after breakfast! They follow me around in a little pack which probably adds to the local view that we are a bit touched!
Just prior to leaving we had our fortunes told once more by a wandering minstrel - I have a mercury head and Andrew a moon one apparently!! He also said (exactly the same as our last fortune teller!!) that I will make it to 85 and Andrew to 99…I record this for prosperity as we won't be around to see if he's right!
We now head on to Kollam (aka Quilon - why does everywhere have 2 names???) up the coast the Southern gateway to the Keralan backwaters.