Travancore and Kochi – The treasury of God’s own country – Part 1

 Thiruvanantapuram- Kovalam – Allepuzha – Thekkady – Munnar – Kochi 

If I have to describe this part of Kerala in one word, it would be ‘RICH’. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources this is the land of the kings that ruled forever without losing their glory and gold. The richness in the architecture, art, food is so evident that we can only envy them. Kerala for some people is just natural beauty or backwaters. Only if they take interest in the history of this land and admire the tastefulness in every form of their art.. only then they will realize why they call it God’s own country!

Oil lamp at Padmanabhapuram palace

The Kingdom of Travancore, before it become a princely state during the British raj, was a powerful and prosperous kingdom in the southernmost part of India. The kingdom was dedicated to lord Padmanabhaswamy (Lord Vishnu) and the kings ruled as the servants of the deity thus calling the land as ‘God’s own country’. The kings were ardent Hindus however they also welcomed other religions with open arms. Today a considerable population of Muslims and Christians live in harmony in Kerala with the Hindus who are still extremely orthodox when it comes to practicing the religion. While traveling in Kerala we sensed this harmony and respect for each other’s religion strongly. For example, at Thiruvanantapuram, our driver was a Christian however he told us everything about the Padamanabhaswamy temple and it’s dress code. One would say it’s part of his job but from the way he told about all these things it was evident that he really respected and believed in those traditions.

Jew town, Mattancherry, Kochi
The Jewish quarters of Mattancherry, the area around the Paradesi Synagogue was once the centre of the Cochin Jews. They are said to have settled here around King Solomon’s time. They shared a very close relationship with the Hindu rulers, so close that the king gave them the permission to live freely, build synagogues and own property without conditions attached for as long as the world and moon exist.

Kerala takes its tourism seriously unlike many other states in India. A lot of employment here is generated through tourism thus the entries to the palaces or museums, activities in the national parks, houseboats, transport  (except for the state buses), food etc are considerably expensive. But that doesn’t stop tourist from flooding the much popular places like Thekaddy or Munnar during the peak season. Thekaddy was one of the costliest places in Kerala. Right from the transport to spices to the jungle safaris everything here was inexplicably (or maybe purposefully?) expensive.

Outskirts of Thekaddy
We explored the outskirts of Thekaddy by hiring a vehicle which drove us through some part of Tamilnadu (these farms are from Tamilnadu) and finally taking us to the highest altitude point in Thekaddy. It is a good thing to do however for 2 people, Rs.1600/- for half day is too much. Better to hire a car among 4 because they charge per vehicle.
A view worth every penny spent! This was the last point for the half day trip in Thekaddy. Our vehicle went kaput as we started climbing the last steep patch. We got down and decided to hike the remaining distance while the driver called for a help from the town. We reached on the hilltop around 5:30 PM and the sunset was still half an hour away but we were in no rush. Our backup vehicle would take at least 45 minutes to reach from the town. There were just a handful of tourists that left within the next 15-20 minutes and then there were just two of us staring at nature’s stunning work! I felt pity for the tourists who just came, clicked a couple of selfies here and left within 10 minutes. Why did they even bother to come here? The colors were changing every 5 minutes -from orange to red to deep red to purple. We were sitting there speechless, soaking in the nature’s beauty and feeling truly blessed and humbled for in such simple yet magnificent moments one feels the power and presence of divinity.

Kerala also takes its heritage seriously. This is not only from the tourism point of view. The people really take pride in their rich cultural, historical and natural heritage. They have preserved their historical sites very well. They strive to create high awareness about their arts, festivals, Ayurveda and Yoga through tourism and have been successfully able to generate business through that. They try to maintain the authenticity in their food, attire, architecture etc which is really commendable. It is one of the very few states in India which still communicates largely in its mother tongue.

Kathakali Dancer, Thekaddy
Kathakali means a story play or a dance drama. It is extremely colourful with billowing costumes. The dancers use a specific type of symbolic makeup to portray various roles which are character-types rather than individual characters. Various qualities, human, godlike, demonic, etc., are all represented through make-up and costumes.  A cylindrical drum called chenda, a drum called maddalam held horizontally, cymbals and a gong form the musical accompaniment, and two vocalists render the songs. Using typical music known as Sopanam, Kathakali creates a world of its own.
Kalaripayattu means Practicing the arts of the battlefield. Kalari means battlefield. Kalaripayattu is sometimes in short called as Kalari. This ancient form of martial art was originated in Kerala and still practiced by many in south India. You can check out the breathtaking performances at Thekaddy.
Padmanabhapuram Palace
Padmanabhapuram palace covers an area of around 7 acres. The complex consists of individual structures linked by a maze of corridors, colonnades, verandahs and courts. Constructed of teak wood and granite it stands within the massive stone walls of 30 ft which kept Tipu Sultan at bay in the 18th century. Exquisite wall paintings, fascinating traditional Kerala architecture, floors finished to a high polish with a special compound of crushed shells, coconuts, egg-white and juices of local plants; sunny courtyards with carvings and sculptures are some of the outstanding features of this sprawling palace housed within fortified walls.
Thanumalayan temple
Suchindram Temple also known as Thanumalayan Temple is dedicated to the Trinity of God, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma due to which it has high religious importance among both Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects. The ancient Suchindram Temple is said to be built in 17th Century. However, a few part of the temple can be traced back to 8th century to 15th Century. The inscriptions of the temple dates back to 9th Century. This temple has a white Gopuram of seven stories with its portico adorned with finely sculpted images of various deities. This 134 foot high Gopuram appears all the more astonishing as light rays fall on it, presenting a fine example of the architecture styles of South Indian temples.

Kerala is for those who are open to explore cultures, traditions and history. It is for those who respect the nature and feel at home in its company. Kerala is about being connected to roots. It is about breathtaking views and scrumptious cuisine. It is about banana leaves, coconut trees and cardamom hills. It is about vivid colors and sweet smell of Jasmine.It is about magnificent temples and grand villas. It is about gold and spices.

As I said earlier, Kerala is rich. Literally and metaphorically.