Known by its former colonial name of Quilon and Desinganadu in ancient times, Kollam is an old seaport and city on the Laccadive Sea coast on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake. Kollam has a strong commercial reputation since the days of the Phoenicians and Romans.Fed by the Chinese trade, it was mentioned by Ibn Battuta in the 14th century as one of the five Indian ports he had seen during the course of his twenty-four-year travels. Desinganadu’s kings exchanged embassies with Chinese rulers while there was a flourishing Chinese settlement at Kollam. Kollam is also home to one of the seven churches that were established by St Thomas. The Kollam Port was founded by Mar Sabor at Tangasseri in 825 as an alternative to reopening the inland seaport of Kore-ke-ni Kollam near Backare or Thevalakara, which was also known as Nelcynda and Tyndis to the Romans and Greeks and as Thondi to the Tamils. Today, Kollam is known for cashew processing and coir manufacturing.
Thevalli Palace: A place of great historical importance, the Thevally Palace is situated on the banks of the Ashtamude Lake. Once serving as the home of the Maharaja of Travancore, it was constructed under the rule of Gauri Parvathi Bai between 1800 and 1819. The striking feature about the palace is that it presents an intriguing fusion of Dutch, English and Portuguese style of architecture.
Thangassery: A place of high historical significance, Thangassery is located just 5 km from the main town of Kollam. The area houses several old churches said to have been established in the 18th century. Another important feature of the town is 144 ft high lighthouse built in 1902.
Amritapuri: The Ashram of Amritapuri has been constructed at the same place where Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi was born. People from all over the world, flock in to seek the blessings of Amma. Looking at Amritapuri, one can relive the ancient saying of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam which translates to the entire world is one family. It is a collection of people from different cultures, speaking different languages and following different religions. Diverse people from different environments live together under a single roof in search of a meaningful life. Amritapuri Ashram is a small village remotely located on a small island which is surrounded by the backwaters and the Arabian Sea.
Karunagappally: The town of Karunagapally is located 23 km away from Kollam and comprises of resorts and beautiful beaches. The beauty of the place is such that it is also known as God’s own country. The main attraction for tourists flocking to the town is due to the boat facility offered at Alumkadavu. The scenic beauty of the place combined with its peaceful ambience is what makes it worth escaping to from the screeching noise and the hustle bustle of the city. The best places to visit here include Azheekal Beach, the Oachira Temple, Alumkadavu and Sasthamkotta Lake, the only freshwater lake in Kerala.
Kulathupuzha: A small village located in Kollam, Kulathupuzha is located on the Kollam-Shenkottai highway and is barely 59 kilometres away from Kollam and 64 kilometres away from Thiruvananthapuram. The village river, River Kulathupuzha, is home to numerous species of fishes and the region is as rich and dense forests and rubber plantation. The Myristica Swamps and the forest region form the Kulathupuzha Reserve Forest and the Kulathupuzha Wildlife Sanctuary. One of the oldest tea estates also is located in the village. Tourists not only get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the villagers but also experience it as they explore the village. Kulathupuzha is renowned for its ancient Sastha Temple dedicated to Bala Sastha who is considered an avatar of Lord Hariharaputra and is situated on the banks of River Kulathupuzha. The most important event in Kulathupuzha is the annual festival of Vishnu Mahotsavam which is celebrated during the months of April and May. Devotees on their way to Sabarimala often halt here and offer their prayers to Bala Sastha.
Oachira Temple: Quite a sought after pilgrim center in kollam, Oachira lies on the Kollam-Alappuzha Road. Locals of the area worship Lord Parabrahman who’s neither the idol or the temple is present at the site. The temple is dedicated to ParaBrahma, who is better known as Shiva or Ohmkaram, which is the Universal Consciousness. This means that the temple has no fixed or prescribed mode of worship and that consciousness is given the highest value here. The temple thus propagates the message of universal brotherhood and spirituality.The fact that the temple has no specific structural layout again adds on to this ideology that it upholds. Spread over thirty-six acres of land, the majestic temple witnesses a massive footfall of tourists and pilgrims daily, who belong to all sects and religions; and visit to seek blessings from the almighty irrespective of their faith. The annual festival of Ochira Kali that takes place at the temple every year in the month of June also draws enormous crowds, and visitors especially love to witness the mock fights that take place here in the waterlogged paddy fields.
Kottukkal Cave Temple: Also known as Kaltrikkovil in the Malayalam language, the Kottukkal Cave Temple is a beautiful and serene rock-cut shrine that is located in the Kotthukkal Village near Anchal. The temple is an excellent example of rock cut architecture that prevailed between the 6th and 8th centuries CE, and is looked at with awe by architecture students as well as pious devotees alike. As per local legends, the big rock that makes up a significant part of the temple was brought to its present area by the incarnations of Lord Shiva, which also included Nandi. The present structure of the rock-cut temple comprises of two caves in all, both of which face the east direction. An idol of the presiding deity Lord Ganpati is present between the two caves. In addition to this, the more massive cave has Nandi in it, while the smaller one has an idol of Lord Hanuman. A Shivalinga is also present inside the temple. This combination of Shivalinga, Nandi and Hanuman is indeed unique and is found nowhere in India other than in Kollam. The temple is a breathtaking structure and is located amidst a paddy field. When viewed from a distance, it appears to be a sleeping elephant; and this adds to the beauty of the cave temple. Scholars and historians believe that the Kottukkal Cave Temple dates back to the Pallava period of the 8th century BC. Others scholars, however, believe that the cave dates back to some time between the 6th and 8th centuries A.D. The third school of thought assigns the date to 7th century AD in remembrance of Nedila Paranthaka Nedumchadayan, who ruled Chadayamangalam between 6th and 7th century AD. The Travancore Devaswom Board administers the cave and is responsible for conducting daily pooja services in the temple. It was in 1966 that the state government of Kerala pronounced the Kottukal cave to be recognised as a protected monument.
Kottarakkara Sree Mahaganapathi Kshethram: A famous pilgrim centre the Kottarakkara Sree Mahaganapathy Kshethram lies 25 kilometres away from Kollam. Considered to be one of the most important Maha Ganapathi Temple in all of Kerala, the temple is believed to be centuries old. Even though the main deity at the temple is Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha is given utmost importance here. Other deities worshipped at the temple are Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha, Lord Murugan, Nagaraja and Lord Ayyappan. The legend of the Kottarakkara Sree Mahaganapathy Kshethram is associated with Perumthachan, who was a master carpenter who skillfully trained his son in carpentry and architecture. When the son bypassed the father’s skills and began to become famous far and wide, Perumthachan began to suffer from professional jealousy. If rumours are true, he dropped his chisel on his own son and faked it as an accident. Following these sad turn of events, Perumthachan started wandering and reached Kottarakkara, where he saw the Padinjattinkara temple that was under renovation. He also saw a jack tree root inside the Sarppakkavu, and he sculpted a beautiful idol of Lord Ganpati from the root. He asked the chief priest for his permission to install the lovely icon there, but he was denied since the temple already had one idol in it. Perumthachan then obtained permission from the main priest of the Manikandeswaram Kottarakkara Ganapathy Temple, and he installed the idol there. The melsanthi or the head priest was preparing nivedyam, that is offerings for the Lord, during this time. Perumthachan was curious and inquired about what the nivedyam for Lord Ganpati would be. When the head priest suggested unniyappam, Perumthachan readily agreed and instantly offered half a dozen unniyappams in a plantain leaf before the deity. Perumthachan then predicted that even though the presiding deity at the temple is Lord Shiva, his son Ganpati would gain more devotion and faith at the temple. This prophecy holds true to this date. There is yet another tale attached to the temple of Kottarakkara Sree Mahaganapathy Kshethram which talks about the marriage of Kottarakkara Thampuran’s daughter. The father of the to-be-bride requested Zamorin of Kozhikode to send a dance troupe from Malabar to perform at his daughter’s wedding. Zamorin, however, sarcastically refused to send the troupe, stating that the people of South Kerala are incapable of appreciating a fine art like Krishnanattam. Kottarakkara Thampuran thus felt insulted and prayed to Lord Ganapati at Kizhakkekara to help him find a way out. Sri Mahaganapathy then appeared in the dream of Thampuran. He gave him the unique idea of creating an altogether different art form. Thampuran then wrote the Ramanattam, designed the costumes, and in record time performed the Arangetram during the marriage of his daughter.
Rameshwara Temple: An ancient temple believed to be established in the Pandian style of architecture, the Rameshwara Temple in Kollam features inscriptions that date back to 12th to 16th century. Fascinating sculpture of a monster named Vyala can also be seen in the temple.
Infant Jesus Cathedral: A magnificent church located in Thangaserri, the Infant Jesus Cathedral is a historic Roman Catholic Church which was formerly known as the Bom Jesu Church and was established by the Portuguese in the year 1614. Built in the dedication of Saint Francis Xavier, the church witnesses a large footfall on all days of the week. The beautiful church with its marvellous architecture and spellbinding interiors is indeed a sight to behold on Sundays, that is the day of the mass when not only the Roman Catholics but people from all sects and religions come to seek the blessings of Jesus Christ.
Kumbhavurutty Waterfalls: Known for its clear blue waters that cascade from majestic heights, the Kumbhavurutty Waterfall is a popular tourist attraction that is located near the Aryankavu Panchayath and is part of the Achankovil River. The Kumbhavurutty Waterfalls boasts of being on the top of the list of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kerala, with its splendid views and colourful hues of the water fallings from a height of twenty-five metres.
Ashtamudi Lake: The second largest lake in Kerala, Ashtamudi Lake runs over a length of 16 kilometres and covers almost 30% of the town of Kollam. Its name, Ashtamudi has been derived from two words ‘Ashta’ meaning eight and ‘Mudi’ meaning branch, thereby stating the fact that lake has eight branches. All the eight branches converge into a single channel that meets with the Arabian Sea. The lake is fed by the major river, Kallada. Coconut trees and palms surround the entire vicinity of the lake adding to its beauty. The lake is laid with Chinese fishing nets to give it a different look. The banks of the lake are laden with greenery and bushes, which makes it a beautiful sight for sore eyes. It is the perfect spot to escape the city with your family and friends. The backwaters of the lake can be visited by anyone, all you need to do is hire a boat. Motorboats that range from 2 seaters to 14 seaters are available depending on the person’s requirement. The eight different branches of Ashtamudi each have different names. They are Thevally Lake, Kandachira Lake, Kureepuzha Lake, Thekkumbagham Lake, Kallada Lake, Perumon Lake, Kumbalathu Lake and Kanjirottu Lake. The huge size of the lake and its geographical structure has led to the formation of many tiny islands. There are three major recognised islands – Munroe Island, Chavara Island, Thekkumbhagom Island. Munroe is a cluster of eight small islands. They are mainly filled with rich, tropical trees and bushes. They haven’t been habituated due to how small they are. Houseboats circle around them during their voyage though. Chavara is an industrial island which has a few factories located on it due to the rich minerals found here. Thekkumbhagom is a rural island with a very rustic feel. It has a historic importance as the epic Malayalam poetry, Ramachandrvilasam was composed here. You can visit this village and experience the village life of fishermen and coconut farmers. A 1000 year old temple and 200 year old church are located on this island. They truly bring out the yester year feeling in anyone who visits them.
Munroe Island: Also known as Mundrothuruthu, Munroe Island is a picturesque and magnificent inland island that is located at the confluence of the Kallada River and the Ashtamudi Lake. Named in honour of its resident, Colonel John Munro who belonged to the former princely state of Travancore and during his stay here integrated several backwater regions by digging canals, the island is renowned for its splendid beauty and scenic views and adds to the sheer beauty and charm of the already intriguing God’s own country. This hidden treasure comprises of 8 islands in total, all of which are separated by small water channels and lakes. One can experience a country craft cruise through the Munroe Island, which provides the visitor with the golden opportunity to view and enjoy the typical backwater island villages, full of colourful flowers and other plants. The cruise operates twice a day at 9 am and 2 pm and the price of the ticket is INR 500 per person.
Sasthamcotla Lake: Sasthamcotla Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Kerala and said to have derived its name from an ancient Sastha Temple located near the lake. The lake is the biggest source of drinking water for the residents of kollam town. Located19 kms from kollam town, this lake houses a large population of larva cavborus which is responsible of consuming bacteria from the lake water and makes its healthy for drinking.
Achankovil River: The confluence of the Rishimala, Pasukidamettu and Ramakkalteri Rivers on the peninsula of the country gives rise to the breathtaking Achankovil River. The river originates from the hills of Achankovil in the Pathanamthitta, from where it flows through Mavelikkara, Thiruvalla and Karthikapally Taluk into the left of river Pamba, which lies near the Vembanattu Lake. Also known as Achankovilaaru, the river is about 128 kilometres long and is brimming with flora and fauna on its either bank. The word Achan Kovil means the shrine of Achan, or in other words, the shrine of the Supreme Deity. One can thus find numerous ancient temples and religious places of great importance along the river route, such as Pandalam, which is considered to be the native place of Lord Ayyappa. Edappon, a spot famous for its flora and fauna, also lies on the banks of the river, and this haven is also a must visit place.
Kollam Beach: Voted as the first Beach Wedding Destination in Kerala, the Kollam Beach requires no introduction. This scenic and breathtaking natural wonder is also known as the Mahatma Gandhi Beach and boasts of pristine blue waters that seem to unite with the bright sky at an infinite distance, while tourists marvel at the sheer magnificence of the majestic scene. Kollam Beach is brimming with a large number of local and international tourists all year round who can be seen enjoying the numerous activities that the beach offers, while also appreciating the enchanting panoramic views of the Arabian Sea. Kollam Beach also houses the Mahatma Gandhi Park, which was inaugurated in 1961, and has been a significant tourist attraction ever since. The area was formerly a port city and was also the harbour for Chinese ships and trade, and the traces of Chinese commerce can still be seen here. The beautiful beach is till date famous for its Chinese fishing nets, Chinese water pots and sampan like boats. The exotic views, lush greenery, calm backwaters and myriad of activities offered here make the place one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Kerala. It appeals to people of all age groups, from children to adults and the elderly, who never seem to get enough of the beach in just one visit.
Thangassery Lighthouse: Also known as the Tangasseri Light House, the Thangassery Lighthouse boasts of being the second tallest on the entire coast of Kerala and is thus even one of the most visited lighthouses in the state. Located at Tangasseri, it is one of the two lighthouses in the Kollam Metropolitan Area and is presently under the surveillance of the Chennai Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships. The majestic tower is clearly visible and distinct, with its painted red and white oblique bands, and looks pretty indeed in all its glory and majesty. The tower has a total height of 41 metres, or 135 feet, and has been operational since the year 1902. Closed on Mondays, the lighthouse is open from 10 am to 1 pm and then again from 2 to 6 pm on other days. Entrance fees is INR 10 for adults and INR 3 for children.
Rosemala: Nestled amidst the pretty pristine woods of Shenduruney forests, Rosemala is a well kept secret. Located in Aryanvaku, the valley appears the unfurling petals of a rose, hence the name. The highlight of the place is that it can only be reached by a 10 km long trek through the jungle. On the way, there are beautiful views of the green hills in the backdrop and several tinkering streams crisscrossing the forest path. Alternatively, you can also take a jeep or an SUV if you don’t want to venture out on foot. A little further on the path, there is the famous Rosemala watchtower. From the tower is visible the mighty Thenmala Dam in all its entirety and glory. Boasting of panoramic vistas of the gorgeous surroundings, the major attractions of the place are the beautiful woods, a watch tower and the lake. The tourists are welcomed to watch sweeping views of the surroundings and of the lake from the watchtower and also of the mighty Thenmala Dam. The beautiful valley abounds in the bounty of nature and is a mesmerizing place to visit.
Punalur: Lying along the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Punalur, Punalur derives its name from two words one Tamil and one Malayalam. Tamil word ‘punal’ means water and Malayalam word ‘ooru’ means place together making Punalur the place of water. Indeed Kallada flows right through the heart of the city with the famous suspension bridge hanging over it, stretching for 400 metres across its width. Panalur is known as Pepper Village of Kerala and is also houses a major Paper Mill established in 1850’s. Panalur has lovely woods of pineapples, coconut and palm trees, cinnamons and other spices and has exciting adventure sports and exotic jungle experiences in the Thenmala Ecotourism Park. Panalur It was the heart of the riots against Diwan back in the days and also the centre of the Keralite industrial revolution that took strength from the establishment of the Punalur paper mills. Historical importance apart, this town is also a proper tourist attraction mainly for the British era bridge and the picturesque beauty all around.
Pathanapuram: Known for its rubber and spice plantations, Pathanapuram is a beautiful town settled between the Western Ghats in the Eastern part of Kollam. Spread over an area of 248.32 square km, it is an important centre for trade. The residents of Pathanapuram indulge themselves in daily activities such as maintaining dairies, poultry, farming, rearing of goats, making bricks, weaving bamboos, etc. to earn their primary income. Since the town comprises of cultivations of spice and rubber, it attracts a huge number of foreign as well as local tourists who trade in this area of business. People also visit the place during the months of February and March to experience the Chandanakuddam festival which is held at the mosque every year for the devotees.
Shenduruny Wildlife Sanctuary: Located in the Western Ghats, the Shenduruny Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area that serves as the natural habitat for a myriad of plants, birds and animals, and provides them with a safe reclusive spot, far away from the dust and dirt of city life. The sanctuary was established on 25 August in 1984 and is presently under the control of the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve. This majestic site is like a treasure trove for all nature lovers, photographers, archaeologists and biologists since the place is home to endless flowering plants, birds and trees. Spread over an area of 172 square kilometres, the sanctuary also boasts of being home to an artificial lake that is around 18 square kilometres in size and is surrounded by the reservoir of the Thenmala Dam. According to archaeological studies that were recently conducted, the wildlife sanctuary has been home to some of the oldest and earliest river valley civilisations of the country, some of which were even older than the Indus Valley civilisation. These findings have now also added an archaeological aspect to the site, and the popularity of the sanctuary has now doubled. Interestingly, the first eco-tourism project in India, known as the Thenmala Eco-tourism Project, was also formulated in and around the Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary. Since animals are set free in the sanctuary and are allowed to live in their natural habitat, special care needs to be taken by the authorities to ensure that poaching and other illegal activities do not take place at the site. Thus, tourists are allowed to enter this restricted area only after they produce a permit, which they can obtain after getting proper verification done and following all the stated guidelines. Note that all visitors need to carry a valid ID proof along with the permit; else they will be denied entry into the sanctuary.
We finally reach the southernmost district in Kerala which is also the state capital of Thiruvanthapuram.
Commonly known by its former name of Trivandram, Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of the state and its most populous city. Located on the west coast of India near the extreme south of the mainland, Thiruvananthapuram is a major information technology hub in Kerala Referred to by Mahatma Gandhi as the Evergreen city of India, the city is characterised by its undulating terrain of low coastal hills. The present regions that constitute Thiruvananthapuram were ruled by the Ays until their fall in the 10th century. The city was then taken over by the Chera dynasty and in the 12th century, by the Kingdom of Venad. In the 17th century, king Marthanda Varma expanded the territory and founded the princely state of Travancore and made Thiruvananthapuram its capital. Following India’s independence in 1947, Thiruvananthapuram became the capital of Travancore-Cochin state and remained so till the new Indian state of Kerala was formed in 1956. The city takes its name from the Malayalam word thiru-anantha-puram, meaning The City of Lord Ananta, referring to the deity of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple located in the city. Thiruvananthapuram is also known in the literature, and popular reference as Ananthapuri derived from the Sanskrit word Syanandurapuram, meaning The City of Bliss in Carnatic kirtanas composed by Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore. The city was officially referred to as Trivandrum, the anglicised name until 1991, when the government decided to reinstate the city’s original name. Thiruvananthapuram is a notable academic and research hub and being India’s largest city in the deep south, it is strategically prominent. Thiruvananthapuram is a major tourist centre, known for the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the beaches of Kovalam and Varkala, the backwaters of Poovar and Anchuthengu and its Western Ghats tracts of Ponmudi and the Agastyamala.
Padmanabhaswamy Temple: One of the 108 Divya Desams, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is embellished in gold-plated covering and the temple is opened only to Hindus. Dedicated to Lord Padmanabha, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, the Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the principal centres of Vaishnava worship in the dharma of Vaishnavism. Built as a replica of the Adikesavaperumal Temple in Thiruvattar, the Padmanabhaswamy temple is well-preserved from antiquity. Although the origin of this temple still remains a mystery, devotees believe it to have existed since the first day of the Kali Yuga, which was 5000 years ago. The Padmanabhaswamy temple also has a mention in the Bhagwad Gita where the scripture state that Balarama, the older brother of Lord Krishna frequented the temple, bathed in the Padmatheertham and also made several offerings the deity here. The architecture of the temple can be described to be a fusion of the Kerala style and the Dravidian Templestyle which can be found in many nearby temples. One main characteristic of this type of architectural design are high walls. The temple also houses a sanctum sanctorum or the garbagriha on a stone slab. The main deity of the temple is an 18-feet-long idol. The entire construction has been carried out with precision in stone and bronze with beautiful murals and paintings adorning its walls. A broad corridor extends from the eastern side and is said to have 365 and one-quarter of granite stone pillars spectacularly carved with ornate designs. Another attraction is the Navagraha Mandapa, which is a ceiling displaying the nine planets.
In the temple, Sri Padmanabha reclines majestically on the serpent Anantha, which has five hoods facing inwards forming an umbrella over the deity’s head, signifying contemplation. This is known as the Ananatha-Sayanam posture, the posture of eternal sleep, Yogi-Nindra, on the serpent. The idol rests its right hand over a Shiva Lingam while surrounded by the great goddesses Sridevi, the Goddess of Prosperity and Bhudevi, the Goddess of Earth. Lord Brahma emerges on a lotus from the idol’s naval.
The story behind the Padmanabhaswamy Temple begins with the sage, Divakar Muni who was a staunch believer in Lord Vishnu and also deeply meditated in his name. One day the Muni noticed a child and felt paternal love towards it, he never wished to let the child out of his sight, and thus pleaded the kid to never leave him. The child agreed, but on one condition, that he must always be treated with love and respect. In failing to do so, the child said that he would disappear and never return. The eager sage agreed and took care of the child and fondly tolerated the child’s tantrums and mischief. Once when Divakar Muni was meditating, the child began mishandling the salagram, an instrument used by the Muni to worship Lord Vishnu. Enraged by this incident, the sage shouted at the kid, upon which the latter began the run from Divakar Muni. However, before leaving the child told the sage, “If you wish to see me again, you will find me again in Ananthankaadu”, which is a present temple situated behind the present Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum. This episode made the Muni realise that the child was an extraordinary being, and thus set on a mission to find the kid again. He gave up food, rest and sleep and continued along the route the child had taken. He spotted the child at a distance disappearing into a tree. When he neared, this tree fell and took the form of Shree Maha Vishnu in a divine avatar which was about 8 miles long. Terrified by this sudden manifestation, Divakar Muni requested Lord Vishnu to retract to his original self so that the former could worship him. Vishnu agreed and condensed three times the length of the Sanyasi’s Yoga Dand. The sage immediately offered the Lord a raw mango in a coconut shell, which is a continued daily tradition in the temple even now. Lord Vishnu instructed that any devotion in the form of prayers or worship to him must be performed by Tulu Brahmins, which happens to be the reason why more than half the priests at the temple are from the Tulu region.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of India sent a seven-member team in the presence of the Head Trustee of the Travancore Trust of Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy to open the six vaults that were locked inside the temple. When these chambers were opened, everyone was awestruck. The chambers contained sacks of diamonds, piles of priceless gems, hundreds of gold statues, numerous gold idols, heaps of gold utensils, thousands of gold coins from different nations and pricey ancient weaponry. The priceless items found weighed over 1 ton of pure gold and diamonds and were worth more than 1000 billion dollars. Many gold statues that were found were over 9 feet in height and studded with precious gems. Colossal solitaire diamonds lay in the vault and were bigger than a human thumb. Gold and diamond necklaces were about 18 feet long, and heaps of solid gold coconut shells were discovered that weighed more than 66 pounds. The temple vaults are labelled for documentation purposes. There are A, B, C, D, E and F vaults, all of which except Vault B are opened at least 8 times annually. Famous historians, priests and archaeologists believe that the mysterious contents of this vault are extremely sacred and it may be risky to unveil. The chamber is believed to have been sealed by the Siddha Purushas or the Ever-Ready Male Devotees of the 16th century using the Naga Bandham or the Snake Guard. The door of Vault B which is guarded by snakes can be opened only through a knowledgable sage who knows well about the Naga Bandham. The Muni would have to chant the Garuda Mantram or the Eagle Chant to open the door, which would only easily open then. Any attempt to open the door using machinery or technology is believed to own the potential to wreck the whole country.
For visitors wanting to pray in the temple, there are strict clothing restrictions. Trousers, half pants, bermudas, denim are not allowed for any gender. Women should wear sarees or salwar kameez and men should be dressed wear traditional mundus or dhotis. The temple’s morning darshan timings are from 03:15 to 04:15 am which is the Nirmalya Darshanam and then from 06:30 to 7 am and 8:30 to 09:15 am. The temple open again in the evening from 5 to 6:15 pm and again from 6:45 to 7:20 pm. You can get a special darshan for INR 150 and if you want prasad or offerings with the special darshan, it will cost you INR 180.
Karikkakom Chamundi Devi Temple: A 600 year old temple, the Karikkakom Sree Chamundi Devi Temple is set in dense green environs with the tall lush palms enveloping it from all sides. The peculiarity of this temple is that it worships all the three forms of Goddess Chamundi: Maha Chamundi, Rakhta Chamundi and Bala Chamundi. During ancient times, kings chose this temple as the place for bringing justice and punishing wrong doers. The accused were brought to stand in front of Rakhta Chamundidevi’s sanctum, put 21 coins in the nada and asked to say the truth. It was believed that the goddess would treat those who were honest and punish those who lied, and hence, nobody would dare to lie. During the Pongala festival, millions of women gather at the temple for this seven-day celebration at the end of which the enormous idol of the goddess is carried around the temple in a beautiful golden chariot. The special diet during this seven-day festival is a unique blend of rice, ghee, coconut and jaggery made in small earthen pots and is a real treat for the taste buds. The opulent Chamundi Devi Temple is colossal and houses the sanctums of many goddesses. The highlight and the principal deity is a gorgeous Panchahola idol of Goddess Karikkakom who is a reincarnation of Goddess Chamundi. Since Chamundi Devi herself is the ferocious form of Goddess Kali, you will also find Goddess Kali’s idol here. To the right of the main shrine is the Rakhta Chamundi shrine where justice was imparted in the olden days. Here, the deity is worshipped as a wall painting and not an idol. Rakhta Chamundi is the fierce and aggressive form of Goddess Chamundi and legend says that if offerings and prayers are made to this goddess, she will grant your most ardent wish, bless you with prosperity and even cure the most chronic diseases. There is also a shrine of Bala Chamundi, which is the childhood form of the goddess. It is said that couples who have been unable to conceive a child pray to the goddess and present offerings like toys and cradles, the goddess will bless them with a child. People seek the blessings of the goddess to cure stubborn illnesses in children too. To the north of the temple, not too far away, is a small and cosy house called the Guru Mandiram. This house assumes great importance because it is believed to be the ancestral home of the Yogiswaran or sage who first brought the devi to the temple. Other deities worshipped at the temple are Sastha, Ganapati, Yakshiyamma, Bhuvaneshvari, Ayiravalli and Yogeshwara. The temple is open daily from 5 to 11:30 am and again from 5 to 8 pm.
Attukal Temple: A temple which has a mention in the Guinness World Book record when over 37 lakh women offered pongala at this temple at once, making it the destination of the largest gathering of women for a religious activity, the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple popularly known as the Sabarimala for women, this temple draws a massive throng of women each year during the famous Attukal Pongala festival. Rich in cultural heritage and adorned by Tamil architecture, this temple whose principal deity is Goddess Bhagavaty is said to bless her devotees with progeny, heath, wealth and in all, a bountiful life. The temple’s Attukal Pongala Festival is a huge hit in the south, and its celebration is eagerly awaited by the locals. The story behind the history of this temple is quite an interesting one and revolves around an ardent devotee of the Goddess Bhagavathy named Kannagi. Once, Kannagi was on her way to Kodungallur and Attukal fell in her route. When she reached Attukal, she found the Killi river blocking her way. As Kannagi was trying to figure out how to cross the river, she found an old man performing religious rituals at the banks of the river. This man was none other than the head of the Mulluveetil family, an influential family of the city. Kannagi knew that he could help her and so, she transformed into a little girl and asked the old man to help her cross the river. The Karanavar or the head of the family was taken aback by the charisma, charm and glow of the little girl. He at once knew that this was no ordinary child. He willingly took the girl to the other side and requested her to grace his humble abode. The entire family started preparing to give Kannagi a grand welcome. However, the little girl disappeared before they could receive her and left everyone disappointed and perplexed. That night, Kannagi arrived in the Karanavar’s dream and asked him to build her an abode in the close by grove, or as they called it, Kavu. She informed him that when he visits that location, he will find three gold lines in the spot she wants her abode built in; and to the Karanavar’s surprise, he found the gold lines exactly where she had pointed! The Karanavar did not waste any time in starting this holy project and within no time, had erected what is now the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. The temple can be visited from 4:30 am to 12:30 pm and again from 6:45 to 8:30 pm.
Aazhimala Siva Temple: Named because it rests right on the golden shore of the Arabian sea on a slightly elevated platform, the Aazhimala Siva Temple in Kazhivoor which translates to Aazhi meaning sea and Mala means hill is devoted to Lord Shiva. The annual festival of the temple is held between January and February where thousands of devotees come together to offer the Naranga Vilakku which is essentially an oil lamp that is lit on a lemon. Since the Aazhimala Siva Temple is located on an elevated pitch, the temple provides a panoramic and simply astounding view of the mesmerizingly rhythmic waves of the Arabian Sea and the endless golden shore of the remarkable Aazhimala Beach. The Aazhimala Beach has beautifully adorned the background of this temple with its seamless turquoise waters and its glistening golden shore. Since the temple rests right on the shore of the marvellous Aazhimala Beach, one should take the time to go around the coastline and explore the beach, especially during sunrise and sunset. The view of the giant ball of fire slowly sinking into the horizon and making the entire skyline blush in the shades of deep magenta is one that you do not want to miss. The temple is open from 5 to 9 am and again from 5 to 8 pm daily.
Pazhavangadi Ganapathy Temple: A popular temple constructed in a blend of Dravidian and South Indian architecture, the Pazhavangadi Ganapathy Temple is said to fulfil the deepest wishes and fix the stubbornest problems of devotees who visit him. The temple is famous for two reasons: its exceptional jet-black colour, a rare colour for temples in India, and its unique Ganesh idol. The position of the idol that sits in this temple is different from most others. Here, Lord Ganesh relaxes languorously with only his right knee folded under him as against his typically seen standing position or his seated position with crossed legs. The most common vazhipadu or offering made to Lord Ganesh here is an open husked coconut which is cracked right at the temple. Breaking open this coconut symbolises overcoming any hurdles or obstacles that lie in the way of the fulfilment of one’s innermost desires. There are two idols of Lord Ganesh inside the shrine, one made of pure granite and the other made entirely of gold. Even though Lord Ganesh is the principal deity of this temple, there are stupefying idols of Lord Vishnu, Lord Ayyappa, Goddess Durga, Nagaraja and the Brahmarakshaks. The idol of Lord Vishnu is a unique one where Lord Vishnu majestically reclines on the serpent Anantha which is made out of a blend of Kudusarkara, herbs and Salagramam and is decorated with gold jewels and other expensive stones. Another popular ritual at the temple is that once in every 6 years, a 56-day long Murajapam is performed to please the great Lord Ganesh. The festival is carried out by many priests who gather at a yagna and perform Vedic chants through days and nights. It is concluded by lighting over one lakh lamps which float through the night sky like countless twinkling stars- truly a magnificent sight to watch. The history of the erection of this temple dates back to the time when the Travancore Kingdom army as at war on the Padmanabhapuram front. The regiment was on guard at the fort but was continually harassed by a Yaskhi, a relentless demon. Every soldier was petrified of encountering this demon. One of these soldiers was an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesh and believed that the lord is always with him. When he was stationed at the fort, he was fearless because he knew that Lord Ganesh would protect him. When he went to the nearby river for his bath, he was surprised to stumble upon the idol of Lord Ganesh. The soldier considered this to be a good sign and decided to keep the idol with him at all times. The entire Travancore army was left undisturbed and unaffected by the Yakshi forever. Acknowledging the limitless power of this idol, a temple was constructed where the soldier had found the idol. However, when the headquarters of the Travancore Kingdom was moved to Trivandrum in 1795, they decided to move this holy idol with them. The present temple was erected in 1860 by the then reigning king Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal, and unlike other temples, the Pazhavangadi Ganapathy Temple was maintained and looked after by the army. Morning darshan can be had from 4:30 to 10:45 am and evening darshan from 5 to 8:30 pm.
CSI Christ Church: A beautiful gothic church in Palayam, the CSI Church is enveloped in the canopy of lush, dense trees, it is the oldest church in the city and was consecrated in early 1859. This church was built by the early Christian settlers of Munnar and has a 1000-year-old cemetery in its premises. The main architectural style of the church is essentially ancient Gothic. The entire structure is made of beautiful and authentic rough-hewn granite with natural non plastered walls and is adorned with traditional memorial brass plaques. The highlight of the architecture are the artistic and extremely alluring glass windows that depict the biblical characters and saints. The most popular stained window is called the Good Shepherd. The windows on the walls have been cleverly designed to depict the twelve disciples in the Bible and their respective symbols. Many inscriptions and carvings are drawn out to convey and commemorate the life of Lord Jesus. The antique furnishings of this church are truly breathtaking. Some of these include the Pulpit, the Altar, the Lectern, the brass altar railings, and an immaculately carved teakwood screen.
Kuthiramalika Palace: Built in the 1840s by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, the Kuthira Malika Palace which literally translates to Mansion of Horses, and it has been named so because of the 122 horses that adorn the many pillars that support the southern roof of this majestic structure. The main idea behind building this palace was to preserve and promote the many traditional art forms of India, mainly the south. One of the most attractive characteristics of the architecture at the palace is that it is embellished by the traits of traditional Kerala-style design, typical to the Travancore era. You are welcomed into the palace by the 122 wooden horses that are carved into the brackets of the palace’s grand pillars, sloping roofs, pillared passages, outlined courtyards and overhanging eaves- all distinctive characteristics of ancient Kerala-style architecture. Made of teakwood, rosewood, marble and granite and is said to have been built by a whopping 5000 Vishwabrahmins in 4 years, a noteworthy aspect of the architecture of the houses 16 main rooms, and no two rooms are alike. In all, the Kuthira Malika Palace houses 60 rooms of which only 20 are open to visitors. The floor is constructed, believe it or not, by egg-whites, charcoal and limestone. This keeps it smooth and cool even in the hottest temperatures. A part of the Kuthira Malika Palace has been converted into a museum where people can find exquisite ancient antiquities of the Travancore Dynasty. The museum houses artifacts like the ethnic jewelry that was once worn by the queens, wooden paintings and carvings, armory and idols made of the purest metal. The exhibits on display include 14 life-size Kathakali figurines, tall and elegant Belgian and Italian mirrors, glamorous and humungous crystal chandeliers, paintings, a giant harpoon specially brought in from Belgium, numerous armaments, antique musical instruments, impeccably designed traditional furniture, and marvellous Greek statues. Two of the royal thrones of the Travancore kings is also on display here. One of these thrones has been built completely from ivory- 24 elephant tusks to be precise. The other one is made of Bohemian crystals and is decorated with the Travancore emblem, conch on the head. Don’t forget to see the famous illusion portrait of Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma painted by Svetoslav Roerich. The peculiarity of this portrait is that no matter what angle you look at the painting from, you will always find the eyes and the feet following you. However, the most interesting attraction here is the Musical Tree. This tree produces 8 different sounds when tapped in different locations. The annual music festival, the Swathi Sangeethotsavam is conducted right in palace premises when thousands of people throng here to watch performances of leading classical musicians. Closed on Mondays, the palace is open from 8:30 am to 1 pm and then again from 3 to 5:30 pm on other days. Entrance fees are INR 10 and INR 3 for Indian adults and children and INR 20 for foreigners. Photography fees are INR 15.
Observatory: Situated on a hill at an elevation of about 60 metres above sea level and the highest point in the city, this astronomical observatory offers exquisite views of the surroundings and the city as a whole. It was built in 1837 and is part of the Department of Physics, University of Kerala today. It is fast developing as one of India’s most important astronomical centres with modern facilities like an 11-inch telescope, CCD camera, sun workstations, image processing facility and partnership with national programmes. The observatory was a brainchild of Sri Swathi Tirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore who was an ardent follower of astronomy. He took a particular interest in equipping it with the best instruments available in Europe at that time. Along with astronomical equipment, meteorological observations were also paid attention. The instruments initially procured for the Observatory include a transit telescope with five feet focal length and four inches aperture, a transit clock, an altitude and azimuth instrument having 18 and 15-inch circles and powerful telescopes. Today, computational facilities, a library and audio-video facilities are available for students of the University. Sky-watching programs for students, teachers and the general public are organised in the evenings. The observatory is open from 9 am to 5 pm and is closed on Sundays and national holidays. Entrance fees are INR 10 for adults and INR 5 for children.
Napier Museum: Renowned for its fine collection of sculptures, paintings and musical instruments, the Napier Museum is located in the heart of the city and is also an architectural marvel established around 150 years ago. In the best possible words, the Napier Museum is a delight for adults and children alike. The museum houses one of the oldest zoological gardens in India in its premises. The museum itself, based on the Indo-Saracenic styles of architecture is one of the most visited art and natural history museums in India. With works of famous artists, such as Raja Ravi Varma, and the celebrated Russian theosophist, Nicholas Roerich, and specimens of Tanjore and Mughal art forms, history was never more fun for those willing to delve into it.
Sri Chitra Art Gallery: A perfect place for art lovers, the Sri Chitra Art Gallery houses some of the famous work of Raja Ravi Verma. His western form and style of paintings depicting Indian lives are an attraction here. Other art objects belonging to the Mughals, Rajputs and Tanjore art schools can also be seen.
Priyadarshini Planetarium: Regarded as one of the best planetariums in the whole of South India, the Priyadarshini Planetarium is India’s first titled domed planetarium. The auditorium is equipped with an advanced GM-11 starfield projector that can simulate the star-studded sky from any location on the entire planet, of any given time and on any day 12500 years in the past or 12500 years into the future. The planetarium runs shows in two languages, English and Malayalam. The Malayalam shows run at 10:30 am, 3 and 5 pm. The only English show of the day runs at 12 noon daily. There is also a designated sky observatory open to visitors on Thursdays and Fridays from 6:30 to 8 pm. The other main attractions are the many 3D and 6D shows, the thrillarium, the children’s park, laser shows played every evening and the very famous musical fountain. Children between the ages of 3 and 10 pay INR 40 per person while adults who are older than 11 pay INR 75 per person. For a student or children’s group, the discounted ticket rate is INR 30 per person. For the Night Sky Observatory, you pay INR 20 per adult and INR 15 per child and for other 3D and 6D shows, the ticket rates are INR 25 per adult and INR 15 per child. If you want to catch the laser show at 7 pm or witness the beauty of the musical fountain, you have pay a nominal rate of INR 30 per adult and INR 20 per child.
Vellayani Lake: Also known as Vellayani Kayal, Vellayani Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Kerala, situated in the Trivandrum city. The water from the lake is mostly used for irrigation and drinking purposes and for harvesting lotus flowers.
Agasthyakoodam: Also known as Agastya Mala Peak, Agastyakoodam is the second highest peak in Kerala with a height of 1868 metres. Located within the premises of Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Agastyakoodam is part of the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve and boasts of surreal natural beauty. Nestled in Sahyadris of Western Ghats, the slopes of the peak are carpeted in purple hues of orchids. Home to diverse species of fauna and rare species of medicinal herbs, the region is a hotspot for avifauna and exotic birds. The spot is considered a haven for birdwatchers. Besides, since it is a protected zone, you can spot nature at its best, without any commercial interference. The colossal peak is also a major Hindu pilgrimage spot for the devotees of the Hindu sage Agastya, on whose name the peak has been named. There is also a statue of him at the top where the Hindus can offer puja and prayers.
Neyyar Dam & Wildlife Sanctuary: Famous for its Lion and Deer Safari, the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a treat for nature enthusiasts. The park houses a crocodile farm and elephant rehabilitation centre. Ask for a guided tour of the sanctuary which is quite informative.
Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary: Open all year round, the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is located along the catchment area of the Peppara Dam on the Karamana River. The sanctuary rich in flora and fauna offers a natural habitat to around 43 species of mammals, 233 species of birds, 46 species of reptiles, 13 species of amphibians and 27 species of fishes. The commonly found animals here are tiger, leopard, sloth bear, elephant, deer, Bonnet Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Lilgiri Tahr, etc.
Varkala: A coastal town in the southern part of Kerala known for the unique 15m high Northern Cliff adjacent to the Arabian Sea, Varkala is popular for its hippie culture, shacks on the cliff serving great seafood and playing global music and the samadhi of Kerala’s saint Sree Narayana Guru. Varkala is also known for Jardana Swami Temple, also known as Dakshin Kashi. Varkala was once known as Udaya Marthandapuram, after the 16th century Travancore king Udaya Marthanda Varma, who contributed immensely to the development of this little coastal town. Sometimes referred to as the Southern Varanasi, Varkala has some fascinating legends associated with its historical origins. According to the popular myth, King Pandyan built the famous 2000-year-old Janardhan Swami temple here as a redemption for his sins, as instructed by Lord Brahma. Another story tells the tale of a group of pilgrims who sought Lord Narada’s help in atoning their sins. The Lord flung his loincloth or valkalam, which landed on the seaside, thus giving the town its name. The pilgrims had to offer prayers here, giving rise to the tradition of Papanasam or redemption of sins by dipping in the holy waters of the sea. Varkala has some of the best pristine beaches, hills, lakes, forts, lighthouses, natural fisheries and springs, all of which make this town a little paradise.
Kallar: A scenic location of small, gorgeous and less polluted hamlets situated on the way from Ponmudi hill station to Thiruvananthapuram, Kallar provides a perfect weekend getaway in the lap of nature. The term Kallar has been derived from the two words, kallu which means stone and aru meaning river, thus getting its name from river Kallar flowing nearby, known for beautiful round boulders and pebbles, flowing primarily in the upper reaches of its course. It lies on the bank of Vamanapuram River, which is a tributary of Neyyar River.
Poovar: A small rustic town situated 27 kms from Thiruvananthapuram with unspoilt, unexplored golden sand beaches and beautiful backwaters, Poovar is known as a fishing village. The tranquil Poovar island lies between the Arabian Sea and the Neyyar River. Hiring a boat, especially during the sunset that will take you through the mangrove forest of backwaters is a must-do activity. The boat ride costs around INR 3000- INR 4000. The town has some of the beautiful resorts and hotels that are known for the hospitality they offer. Poovar beach is secluded and is only accessible by a boat. Swimming is allowed here throughout the year except for the monsoon months. There is an interesting story about how Poovar got its name. When Marthanda Varma Maharaja was declared as the successor of the King, Ettuveetil Pillamar, the other two sons with the help of Madampis tried to seize power. Therefore, the Maharaja had to run away and he ended up in Poovar. Moosa Marikar, a prosperous and noble businessman, provided him with a safe place. He also helped the Maharaja to regain his lost kingdom. During his stay at Poovar, Marthanda Varma was fascinated by the beautiful red flowers, from the Kovala trees which flanked the banks of the Neyyar River. The flowers floating in the river seemed like a red carpet. It is believed that the Maharaja described the river as ‘Poo-aar’ meaning ‘a stream of flowers’ and this was how Poovar got its name.
This ends this mini series on Kerala. God’s own Country has some incredible places to offer visitors and I am really looking forward to exploring this state once things get better and we can start travelling again. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy researching and writing about it.