KERALA

KERALA

Kerala is an extremely fertile and green strip of land sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Immortalized in the book “God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, it is one of India's smallest, richest and most densely populous state. It is only 32 to 130 kilometers (20 to 80 miles) wide and 580 kilometers (360 miles) long but is packed with 35 million people. Kerala means "Land of Coconuts." The people are called Malayalees or Keralites or Keralans. They call their land “God’s own land” and the “the blessed land.” Kerala is laced with lakes and streams known as the Backwaters. The Malabar Coast lies in the northern part of Kerala.

Situated in the part of India where the monsoons arrive first and leave last, Kerala is known for its verdant and lush landscape. By contrast, Tamil Nadu to the east, which shares a long border with Kerala, is a desertlike scrubland. This is because the Western Ghats, mountains in eastern Kerala, blocks the rain before it reaches Tamil Nadu. There are two monsoons: the southwest monsoon from mid-June to early September; and the northeast monsoon from mid-October to the end of the November. The rest of the year is dry with occasional showers. The plains are very hot and humid. the highlands are cooler.

Kerala state covers 38,863 square kilometers (15,005 square miles) and has a population density of 860 people per square kilometer. About 48 percent of the population live in urban areas. Kerala is divided into three regions: 1) a narrow alluvial coast extending only a few miles from the sea; a region of foothills between 75 and 200 meters high; and highlands that reach into the Western Ghats. A number of short, fast-moving streams and rivers flow out of the Western Ghats. Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) is the capital, with about 1 million people. Kochi (Cochin) is the largest city with 2.1 million people.

According to legend, Kerala it rose up out from the sea, where an ax thrown across the world by the god Parasu Rama landed. The god had killed his mother with the same ax and the land that rose up dripped with water. The sea has traditionally produced bountiful harvest of fish. Among the spice plantations in the Malabar Coast you can find flowering mango trees, pale blue ipomoea vines and cashew farms, Today, rubber, coffee, tea, cardamom, cashews, coconuts, pepper and seafood are major income-earners. A lot of money has been pumped into the economy by Muslim Malayalis who work in the Persian Gulf states. The fishing boats, flat conical hats and water buffalo seen in Kerala are more reminiscent of Southeast Asia than the Indian sub continent.

History of Kerala

Kerala has a long history of contacts with outsiders and was one of the first parts of the Orient to be open to western Europe. It may have been "Ophir," where King Solomon's ships discovered apes, gold and peacocks. The Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Arabs and maybe the Phoenicians, visited the Malabar Coast before the first European explorers arrived. The Roman established a military facility here and built a temple that honored the Roman Emperor Augustus at the seaport of Cranganur. Islam most likely arrived in Kerala first, in the 7th and 8th centuries, and spread from there to the rest of India. There were also Jewish merchants from Venice. St. Thomas is said to landed here in A.D. 52. Columbus was look for its spices when he landed in America. For a while there was large Arab community in Kerala.

For a time Kerala was only source in the world for pepper. Vasco da Gama came here in 1498 and opened up a trade route that sent cotton fabrics, spices, ivory and other goods to Europe. The Dutch and French briefly controlled the region before the British took control. Ships traveling between places as diverse as Indonesia, Madagascar and Zanzibar often stopped in Kerala to load up on water and food.

Kerala has been known for its independent ways and enlightened views throughout its history. While foreigners were coming and going, Kerala was ruled a succession of kingdoms that varied in size and had complex relations with one another and histories. The kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore remained independent under the British. In the 19th century rulers in the state reduced the power of feudal lords and upper castes and raised the status of lower castes.

Kerala is the home of the world’s first popularly-elected Communist government. The Indian Communist party won seats from Kerala in the Indian Parliament in 1952 and 1957. In 1957, Kerala elected a Communist government. Almost immediately it was declared a "problem state" by the Indian government. After civil disorder, the federal legislature took over its government. A non-Communist coalition was elected in 1960. Kerala it is said has a developed political consciousness. People like to sit around and discuss and argue about politics. Although the militant trade unions, portraits of Che Guevara and five-year plans under the Communists stymied economic growth they also helped create the good quality of life for which Kerala is known.

Marco Polo in Southern India and Kerala

It took Marco Polo 18 month to go from Sumatra to India. It is believed that he initially missed the monsoon's going his direction. He also may have been slowed by worries about pirates which he said inflict "great loses to the merchant." Sumatra to India. He referred to Sir Lanka as the "Isle of Seilan" and reported that pilgrims there visited the grave of Adam (probably a reference to Adams Peak). [Sources: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, May 2001, June 2001, July 2001 **]

In India, Marco Polo stopped in Thanjavur (formally Tanjore) and Kollam in Kerala. It is believed that Marco Polo spent some time wandering around and checking out India by land. Of India, Marco Polo wrote the people have "all things different from ours, and they are more beautiful and better." He said their peacocks were "much more beautiful and larger" and rice and "all things which are needed by the body of man for life they have in great abundance." **

Marco Polo also described pearls, holymen, exotic spices, the abundance of indigo, bride burning, refusal to eat meat and the custom of smearing homes with cow dung. He also wrote how "Most worship the ox" and described "physicians who now well how to keep men's bodies in health" and used spices as cures. **

Tourism in Kerala

Kerala is blessed with a unique set of geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Asia. Among Kerala's attractions are some of the world's highest tea, cardamon, pepper, and rubber plantations, in the Western Ghats; a long, lovely coast lined with coconut palms and picturesque beaches; and hundreds of Hindu temples, many with their own festival and some with their own Kathakali dance group. There are also banana trees, rice paddies, vegetation-choked canals, traditional rice boats, spice markets and hill stations. Kerala has emerged as a center of Ayurvedic medicine. There are dozens of Ayurvedic spas and health centers. The facility at Leela Kovalam beach resort covers 8,000 square feet and has 18 therapists, four physicians trained in ayurveda and an open-air meditation hall.

Some forty-one rivers and more than a thousand shallow canals, known as backwaters crisscross the state, nourishing rice plantations and providing thoroughfares for shallow-bottomed boats throughout the state. People can travel slowly between cities, towns and villages on these canals, which provide a nice alternative to the crowded, dangerous buses. You can relax in the Kettuvallims, houseboats made from jackwood planks sewn together with ropes.

Kerala is a tropical paradise with a wide range of natural attractions that come in varying shades of lush green. The lovely birds that one finds here have wonderful names like rocket-tailed drongo, white-breasted green barbet and the red-vented bulbul. Kerala is also alive with events and festivals — from cultural fairs like the Kochi Muziris Biennale to the legendary boat races to the wild Kathakali masked dance dramas — the year round. One traveler wrote in the Washington Post: “When we arrived in Kerala, a four-hour flight from Delhi, we immediately felt we had traveled to a different country. The pace was more leisurely, the food was completely different and the people were friendlier. The language, the clothes (men more routinely in sarong-like dhotis, women in natural-color saris), the lush landscape: Nothing was the same. It was a real revelation.” [Source: Washington Post, September 14, 2009]

Kerala Tourism Development Corporation Limited., Corporate Office, P.B.No 5424, Mascot Square, Thiruvananthapuram - 695 033, Kerala. Tel: : +91-471-2721243, 2721245 Fax: +91-471-2721249, 2727521 E-mail: corporate@ktdc.com, Websites: www.keralatourism.org; www.kerala.com.

Roads and Driving Conditions in Kerala

According to ASIRT: “Much of Kerala is mountainous. The road network is poorly developed. Traffic on main roads is often congested. Secondary and rural roads are generally narrow, steep, winding and in poor to fair condition. Road maintenance is poor in mountainous areas, partly due to the harsh climate. Have a limited number of days road work is possible. Roads are often heavily damaged during the rainy season. Some roads are not navigable during the monsoons, even on foot. Damage is partly due to poor design and lack of adequate drainage facilities. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]

“National Highways are generally in fair condition, but lanes are often so narrow that it is difficult for two vehicles to pass when coming from opposite directions. National Highways in the state include: NH-17, NH- 47, NH-49, NH-208, NH-212, NH-213, NH-220, NH-208, NH-47A. National Highways are less affected by heavy rains, but road damage and flooding can cause closures. Even buses and trucks may have to take detours.

“Kerala has the second highest of number of road crashes of state in India. Poor road conditions, unregulated traffic and driver or pedestrian negligence contribute to crash rate. Road crashes often occur when drivers attempt to pass another vehicle. Steep curves on many roads make it difficult for drivers to see oncoming traffic. Road crashes involving pedestrian fatalities more common than in other states. The narrowness of roads may be a factor in high pedestrian fatalities.”

Thiruvananthapuram

Thiruvananthapuram (near the southern tip of India) is capital of Kerala and the gateway to the region. Named after the holy thousand-headed serpent Ananth and once part of the ancient Travancore kingdom, it is spread out over a series of hills like a massive village and contains museums, libraries, parks, gardens, wide avenues, an artist community, a major university, concert halls, dance centers and fine building and temples. Triruvananthapuram was formerly called Trivandrum and many people still refer to it by that name. The city is home to about 1 million people.

Situated between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, Thiruvananthapuram is set amidst backwaters, beaches and countryside and mountains dotted with scenic waterfalls and lakes. The Trivandrum area is a hub for spas and wellness resorts with relaxation, detoxification, Ayurveda and yoga facilities offering organic food, therapeutic massages, meditations and natural therapies. It is wet and green most of year but can be dusty in December.

The city is also the cultural hub offering platforms for Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Koodiyattam and other dance forms of Kerala. Among the many festivals celebrated in the city, Onam (harvest festival) — characterised by delicious food, famed boat races on the backwaters, and a grand parade — stands out. Food culture ranges from the 28-course Onam Sadya to street dishes like Malabar parotta.

One of the oldest cities in the country, Thiruvananthapuram has been bestowed with a rich legacy of heritage monuments, spectacular architecture evolved under different rulers, spiritual wonders and cultural gems. Its colonial name 'Trivandrum' is still popularly used. Built on seven hills, its name is a culmination of the words “Thiru Anantha Puram”, or the town of the Holy Anantha, and is christened after Ananthan, who is the cosmic serpent said to have a thousand heads, on whose coils Lord Mahavishnu reclines. The city finds mention in Roman and Greek literature as well. According to legend sage Parasurama took away Kerala from the sea god, Varuna, to create 'God’s Own Land' (Kerala).

Sights in Trivandrum worth visiting include the fine public park in the center of the city, Napier Museum (with a fine collection of Kerala bronzes, ornaments and costumes), the Sri Chitra Art Gallery (with a god collection of Mughal and Rajput miniatures), Observatory Hill, the Science and Technology Museum, Chacha Nehru's Children's Museum, and the second oldest zoo in the country. East Fort contains a large hall where Kathakali masked dance is performed. There is also a temple devoted to the monkey god and houses with beautiful latticework and carvings. Ayurvedic centers in the area include Kairali Ayurvedic Healing Village and Coconut Bay Beach resort and Somatheeram Ayurvedic Health Resort.

Getting There: By Air: Thiruvananthapuram has an international airport which connects flights from Indian cities and abroad. By Road: It is connected by good roads and highways to cities and towns in India. By Train: The city is a major railhead with important connects to most Indian cities.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple

Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, devoted to Lord Vishnu, is Thiruvananthapuram’s most dominant structure. The deity is depicted in a reclining position resting on the holy serpent Anantha. The profusely carved seven-story mandapam is a fine example of South Indian sculpture. Entry to the temple is restricted to Hindus. There is a dress code as well. Ideally, men should wear dhotis (reaching all the way down to their feet), and women should wear saris, half saris or a skirt and blouse for the darshan (a practice of paying obeisance to the deity).

Located within the precincts of the East Fort, the Padmanabhaswamy Temple is famous for its stone carvings and mural paintings. The temple is considered to be among the 108 sacred shrines, or Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu in India. According to the Hindu holy text of the Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna's elder brother, Balarama visited this temple, which is a confluence of Dravidian and Kerala architectural styles. It is believed that the temple has a mysterious vault that cannot be opened by any human being. It is said that if people attempt to do so then catastrophes would follow in the temple premises, around it or across India.

The present structure of the temple is the result of the renovation commissioned by Marthanda Varma, one of the more popular and noted Travancore kings. He also introduced the festivals of Murajapam and Bhadra Deepam in the temple. The former of these festivals translates to continuous chanting of prayers, and is held at Padmanabhaswamy once every six years.

The idol of the presiding deity is unique in the way that it comprises more than 12,000 salagramams (fossilised shell, considered as the symbol of Lord Vishnu), taken from the banks of River Gandaki in Nepal. It is 18 feet long, placed on a stone slab, and visible from the three doors of the chamber. There are also life-size images of Narasimha Swamy (the half-lion, half man incarnation of Lord Vishnu), Lord Ganesha and Gaja Lakshmi here. A flag post, known as dhwaja stamba, features gold-plated copper sheets. Halls such as the bali peeda mandapam and mukha mandapam showcase deities on their walls, while the ceiling of the navagraha mandapa shows the nine planets of the solar system. On the lower levels is the drama hall, where Kathakali performances take place during the Malayalam months of Meenam (March-April) and Thulam (October-November). The corridor of the temple is another masterpiece, with carved granite-stone pillars on either side.

Near Trivandrum

Sights Near Trivandrum include Varkala (50 kilometers away), a town with Vishnu shrine dedicated to Lord Janardhana believed to be 2,000 years old; Aruvippuram (24 kilometers away), with a small Shiva shrine and waterfall; Aruvikkara, a pilgrimage center with an ancient temple built on a rock on the bank of the Karmana River; Neyyar Dam (32 kilometers), with a lake, lion safari park, picnic areas and crocodile farm; and Agathyakoodam, one of the highest peaks in the Sahyadri ranges.

Aruvikkara Dam (just outside Thiruvananthapuram) is located on the banks of River Karamana. It is a scenic picnic spot where visitors can enjoy a boat ride in a stream full of fish. You can also take a stroll through the lovely park that has been laid out near Aruvikkara, and spend some time by the artificial waterfall that has been built inside it. The park is shaded by tall trees, allowing a respite from the hot Kerala sun.

Veli Tourist Village (10 kilometers from Trivandrum) is situated around a lake. It has giant conch shells, row boats, speed boats, hovercrafts, pedal boats, a toy train for children, a floating bridge and a floating restaurant. Nearby is Aakulam, the largest children's park in Kerala.

Ponmudi (55 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram) is a 2,000-foot-high hill station. The drive there will take you past the vast river of Kallar, with the Meenmutty Waterfalls. The region is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including wild orchids, and exotic butterflies. Trekking and camping options are available. Around one-and-a-half kilometer from the town is Ponmudi Falls. There is a treehouse view tower that affords visitors stunning vistas of the surrounding hills and the valley below. Given the rising popularity of the weekend getaway, a number of cottages and homestays have appeared. The nearby Golden Valley boasts a number of streams, rapids and rivulets, some of which even cross the road.

Vizhinjam (two kilometers south of Kovalam) is one of the biggest and busiest shipping ports of the region, It is home to the Sagarika Vizhinjam Marine Aquarium, which uses the image pearl technique to create customised pearls from pearl cement. While this is the top attraction of the aquarium, it is also a treasure house of marine wealth, home to a number of rare and exotic species of fish. You can observe schools of angelfish, clown fish, seahorses, box fish, cow fish, eels and wrasses protected in large tanks. Another tank, which imitates a reef, has many types of coral. Sagarika Vizhinjam is open every day from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and charges a nominal entry fee.

Beaches Near Thiruvananthapuram

Chowara Beach (near Kovalam) is famous for its scenic location. Chowara is a fishing village. In the mornings, you can see fishermen hauling in their catch for the day and dragging huge nets onto the shore. On top of a nearby hill is Chowara Ayyappa Temple, which affords the most excellent view of the beach and the ocean beyond. You can also visit the ancient church of Analothbhava Matha, or drive a short distance to arrive at the pristine Azhimalathara Beach.

Kovalam (13 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram) has a tranquil beach with silvery sand and tall palm trees and numerous small Ayurveda resorts, especially popular with Germans and Swiss. Since as early as the 1930s, Kovalam Beach has been popular with tourists. There are three crescent-shaped beaches with a rock wall that make Kovalam one of the best spots in the country for sea swimming. You can also go on a catamaran cruise or sunbathe.

The aquamarine waters and clean stretches of sand are perfect for a leisurely stay. There are a number of hotels and resorts suiting a range of budgets. One particularly nice option is to stay at an affordable cottage on the beach, and go to sleep and wake up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.

Padmanabhapuram Palace

Padmanabhapuram Palace (in Thuckalay, 40 kilometers northwest of Kanyakumari, 16 kilometers from Nagercoil and 64 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram) is an extraordinary teak-and-rosewood mansion built by Maharajah Marthanda. Set among flowers and trees and used between 1550 and 1790, it has granite and bronze pillars, 17th and 18th century murals, blinds that allow you to look out without being seen, Belgian mirrors, intricate carvings and paintings on ceilings, rosewood and teakwood carvings, huge earthen urns, colored mica on windows and a marble-like floor made of coconut shells, charcoal and egg whites.

Padmanabhapuram Palace comprises a magnificent set of wooden structures and served as the seat of the rulers of Travancore. The Maharajah had three bedrooms: one for sex with his numerous wive and concubines, one for sleeping; and another for fasting and praying. In the fasting room is an exquisitely carved bed made of woods with medicinal qualities. About 13 miles away is Sucheedndram Temple, a religious shrine honoring Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu with intricate stone carvings and musical pillars. The artworks can be found in dance halls, queen mother’s palace, museums, council chambers, dining halls, inner courtyards and king’s rooms.

The palace can be accessed from the western side after walking through a big courtyard. Known as Manthrasala, the council chamber is the best part of the palace. It has colored mica windows and floors with an immaculate finish, including its floor, which had a glass finish made with a combination of lime, coconut, river sand, egg white, lime and jaggery. The Queen Mother’s Palace, known as Thai Kottaram, is the oldest part of the palace that was built in 1550 in Kerala style of architecture. It has over 90 different types of floral motifs painted and carved on the ceilings. One of the latest additions to the palace is the audience hall, built between 1829 and 1846. The dining hall can accommodate over 1,000 people.

A four-storeyed building stands at the heart of the palace complex. It has a king’s room, royal treasury, king’s bedroom with a four-poster medicinal bed, which was built with 64 varieties of wood with healing properties. The fourth floor or upparikka malika has a meditation hall as well as the royal shrine, the walls of which are adorned with scenes from the Puranas as well as 18th-century murals. A secret passage was also constructed in the palace premises to take the royals to safety, in case of an attack or assault. Known as Thekee Kottaram, the southern palace houses an archaeological museum, which boasts furniture, copper plates, wooden sculptures, granite sculptures, ancient armaments and more from the era gone by. Open everyday except Mondays between 9:00am and 4.40pm as well as national holidays, the palace expects the visitors to leave their footwear outside the premises, in order to maintain the polish of the floors.

Padmanabhapuram Palace: UNESCO-Nominated Site

Padmanabhapuram Palace was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Padmanabhapuram Palaceis a remarkable 16th Century wood palace of the Maharajas of Travancore (1550 to 1750) in Kerala. Replete with intricate wood carvings and ornate murals, the Palace is an exceptional example of indigenous building techniques and craftsmanship in wood, a style unparalleled in the world and based on historic building system, Taccusastra (the science of carpentry) unique to this region. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Padmanabhapuram was the ancient capital of the Travancore (Venad or southern region of Kerala State, India) State from about 1555 to the latter half of the 18th Century. The region of ancient Travancore, extended from Marthandom (in present day TamilNadu State) in the South to Cochin (in Kerala State) territory in the North, covering an area of 2600sq.km. This land is rich in timber and traditionally all constructions were done in wood, with laterite stone used very minimally for plinths and selected walls. The roof structure would be constructed in timber, covered with thatch and subsequently clay tiles camein use. The region is characterised by superior quality of building skills and great craftsmanship in timber pertaining to the southern regional style. Constructed primarily of wood, these buildings were erected with relatively strict adherence to the canons of Taccusastra which were formulated over the years of experience obtained in building construction crystallised into a number of formulae, governing proportions, dimensions, orientation, location and procedures, thus creating a genetic code for timber architecture.

“The 6.5 acres of the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex is set within a fort of 185 acres located strategically at the foot hills of Veli hills, Western Ghats. It is located 52 kilometers from the capital city of Trivandrum, Kerala State and 2 kilometers east of Thuckalay, Tamil Nadu State. According to the state reorganization settlement in 1956, the 6.5 acres of Padmanabhapuram Palace complex was retained under the custodianship of the Kerala Government. The Palace is a Protected Monument of the Department of Archaeology, State Govt. of Kerala.

“The Palace structure is constructed out of wood with laterite (locally available building stone) used very minimally for plinths and for a few select walls. The roof structure is constructed out of timber, covered with clay tiles. The Palace was the oldest seat of power of Travancore, the princely kingdom of Kerala. The palace complex, spread around an area of 6.5 acres, consists of a number of function specific independent structures that were built between 1590’s to early 1800’s.

“The fourteen purposes denoted structures include Kottarams (Palaces) , Pura (House or structure) , Malikas (Mansions) , Vilasams (Mansions) and Mandapams (large Halls) . These are: 1) Poomukam (reception hall) ; 2) Plamootil Kottaram (living quarters); 3) Veppinmoodu Kottaram (living quarters): 4) Thai Kottaram (oldest palace) : 5) Uttupura (kitchen and dining hall); 6) Homappura (rituals and prayer hall); 7) Uppirikka Malika (multi-storeyed building); 8) Ayuddhapura (armoury house); 9) Chandravilasam (entertainment hall); 10) IndraVilasam (entertainment hall); 11) Navarathri Mandapam (dance hall); 12) Lekshmi Vilasam (mansion); 13) ThekkeKottaram (palace); 14) Padipura (Entrance porch) and other smaller ancillary buildings”

“The Padmanabhapuram palace complex is a masterpiece showcasing the peak of excellence in traditional timber architecture in South India, which is a well-documented process and unparalleled in the world for its design, craftsmanship and motifs. The structural detailing, austere ambience, exquisite carvings, extraordinary murals and several unique features bear exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition that may disappear fast from the region due to modern changes in building technology.

“In 1993, a Museum building was set up in the Southwest corner of this Palace complex, and houses numerous invaluable stone inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions, sculptures in wood and stone, armoury, coins, paintings, and household objects pertaining to the history and heritage of the region. The Thekkekkottaram structurewithin the Palace complex houses a Heritage Museum, with a display of household articles and utensils, showcasing life and living of a bygone generation in Kerala society.”

“Padmanabhapuram Palace showcases the unique features and building methods using locally available material as prescribed in the Taccusastra (science of `taccu’ or carpentry), a unique school of traditional timber architecture that evolved out of the Hindu religious and astrological principles and established a series of canons specifically for the region of Kerala. One of the structures in the Palace is an outstanding example of the Mural art form. Although murals are showcased in many of the temples and palaces of the state (its period ranges from 8th to the 19th century) the murals at Padmanabhapuram are exceptional. Besides the depiction of scenes and characters from Hindu mythologies, there are murals also on secular themes which reflect the socio political conditions, fashions and customs of the times.”

Features of Padmanabhapuram Palace

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Padmanabhapuram Palace is the oldest, largest and well preserved surviving example representative of the traditional wooden architecture in India. The Palace is a product of the fusion of traditional building technology, exquisite craftsmanship and superior knowledge of material science. The Palace bears living testimony of traditional timber architecture with strict adherence to the traditional building code, the Taccusastra, which has clear prescription for every aspect of a structures function and placement, direction, size and design, including specifications for the layout of designated spaces within individual structures. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The 14 different features including palaces and other ancillary structures were gradual additions to the initial Thai Kottaram or Mother Palace. The later additions showcase the changing styles in architecture with the influence of the Portuguese and the Dutch. The uniformity of style is maintained throughout, while variety is achieved in differences in the details of decorative motifs. The murals on the four walls of the topmost 3rdfloor of the multi-storeyed building or the Uppirikkamalika of this magnificent palace display the stylistics of the 17th and 18th century architecture of Kerala. The murals at the Padmanabhapuram palace are the best preserved in the State and are executed in the traditional style invoking rich and vivid realism and infusing grace and beauty of the figures.

“The carved doors and pillars, the arching wooden grills along the veranda, the exquisitely carved brackets supporting the veranda, are some of the architectural features characteristic of this regional style resplendent at Padmanabhapuram. Special features like the large Bay Window called AmbariMukhappu (or the Howdah shaped window), supported by elaborately carved Vyala figures (a Hindu mythical creature), the remnants of the semi-transparent shell decorations of the windows, later restored with colored mica, the Manimalika or the clock tower, of which the movement is regulated by weights are some of the unique features of the Palace.

“The Thai Kottaram, the first structure to come up in this palace complex is a double storied traditional nalukettu structure (a house with a central courtyard open to the sky, with rooms on all four sides), with a mortar-less chiselled granite base, timber superstructure and steeply sloping timber roof covered with terracotta roof tiles. The imposing Padipura or Main Gate, display exquisite wood work and leads to the Poomukham or the main reception with traditional gabled entrance and ornamentations. The wooden ceilings and carved granite pillars with floriated corbels are samples of excellent craftsmanship. The Mantrasala or the Council Chamber on the first floor of the reception hall has features like wooden louvers to admit air and light, that helps maintain a pleasant temperature indoors.

“The Uttupura or the Dining Hall, adjacent to the Council Chamber has two floors, measuring 72 x 9 meters each, large enough to accommodate 2000 people at a time on occasions of free feeding. The UppirikaMalika or the four-storeyed building, constructed in 1750, includes the treasury chamber on the first floor, Maharaja’s resting room on the second floor, and the revered prayer room on the third floor the walls of which are replete with traditional mural art work, so specific to Kerala.A long corridor leads to the Indravilasam Palace, constructed in the 18th century for the reception of foreign delegates. More recently this long corridor was enlivened with the installation of historical paintings depicting important epochs in the life of Travancore king Martanda Varma.The Tekkekkottaram (literally `the palace in the south’) is the most attractive building in the Palace Complex, with elaborately carved wooden pillars, doors beams and ceilings.

“Interestingly, the marvellously sculpted granite structures of the Navarathri Mandapam (Dance hall) and the Saraswathy Temple, constructed in 1744, with decorated pillars and graceful figurines is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the rest of the wooden structures in the Palace complex. These are reminiscent of Vijayanagara style (14th – 17th century, Karnataka) of architecture. The flat sloping ceiling of closely fitted single piece granite cross beams supported by monolithic pillars is not common to this region.

Thiruvallam Backwater

The backwaters of Kerala, running parallel to the Arabian Sea, are one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. The scenic backwater stretch of Thiruvallam is south of Thiruvananthapuram, where Rivers Killi and Karamana meet, before becoming one with the sea. The backwaters are ideal for kayaking, canoe rides and cruises in kettuvallams or large traditional trading vessels used for transportation of rice and spices to nearby towns.

While the scenic beauty around the waterways is mesmerising, these spacious and well-decorated houseboats add to the charm of the experience. Traditionally, a kettuvallam would be around 60 feet long and 15 feet wide at the beam. Some of the new houseboats have a length of more than 80 ft! Constructed from locally sourced natural materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc., these boats offer guilt-free tripping. They are constructed by tying together (rather than nailing) wooden planks with coconut coir. The planks are coated with resin extracted from cashew nut shells. Bamboo poles and palm leaves are used for constructing the roof. Some of these boats also have solar panels for generating electricity. If carefully maintained, these boats can last for decades.

Regular trips are organised by the Boat Club to the nearby islands of Edayar and Pozhikara, as well as to a few coir manufacturing units. The Akkulam Boat Club offers facilities for boating on Akkulam Lake. A short distance from Thiruvallam lies Veli Lagoon, another great place for water sports. The lagoon comprises a waterfront park and a floating bridge as well.

Ayurvedic Medical Hospital in Aranmula

Aranmula (near Thiruvalla) is the home of a renowned Ayurveda Hospital. Patricia Leigh Brown wrote in the New York Times: ““In Aranmula, a picturesque hamlet on the Pamba River, Dr. Hari Kumar Bhasker runs the NSS Ayurveda Hospital, where a portrait of Lord Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, hangs in the entrance hall. Outside are demonstration gardens lush with ayurvedic plants — holy basil (for fever, skin lesions); brahmi ( memory); ashoka trees (mental acuity), Indian gooseberry (an anti-oxidant). He has received financing from the United Nations and the Indian government to conserve and cultivate medicinal plants. [Source: Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times, August 13, 2006]

“At the Vijnana Kala Vedi Cultural Center in Aranmula, an innovative school dedicated to Keralan traditional arts, including dance and mural painting, Dr. Bhasker teaches a three-week “Ayurveda 101” to students like Kim Berley, a 28-year-old Sacramento waitress, who is convinced that ayurveda is the next yoga — “a way of balancing yourself with your own body and the elements around you,” she said.

“Students learn about rejuvenative marmalades and how to prepare decoctions. “In Ayurveda, our medicines aren’t made in glass-walled laboratories with air conditioning,” Dr. Bhasker said in the hospital’s dispensary, pointing out bottles of nerve tonic. “We cook our medicines. There are no standard protocols. It’s intuitive on the part of the doctor.”

“Many Indians combine allopathic medicine and ayurveda, going to an “English” doctor for serious illnesses and to an ayurvedic practitioner for arthritis, hypertension and other chronic conditions. But the lack of standardization is one reason why ayurvedic doctors are not allowed to practice medicine in the United States. (Instead, popularized by Deepak Chopra and the Whole Body aisle of Whole Foods, it has largely assumed a day-spa persona.)

“Vijnana Kala Vedi Cultural Center, Aranmula. The center, which attracts mostly the young bumming-around-India crowd, provides a rare immersion into Keralan culture, including Hindi and Malayalam classes, cooking, kolams (auspicious designs made with colored powders) and ayurveda. The village is walkable, untouristed and charming; vegetarian cuisine served on banana leaves. Rates vary; (91-468-2310451 or 2214483; www.vijnanakalavedi.org).

Kollam

Kollam (66 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram) is a modest city famous for palm-lined canals. Marco Polo stopped here on his sea journey from China to Venice in 1291-95. It was once a major trading center that served Chinese, Romans, Arabs and — possibly — Phoenicians mariners and welcomed Portuguese, British and Dutch merchant ships. Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta described it as a commercial hub. But these days ended a long time ago when the port silted up. Many people today are in the shrimp or cashew business.

Kollam (also known as Quilon) lies between the Arabian Sea and a maze of lagoons and streams. The city is known for its historical ruins, beautiful Taj Mahal-like mosque with pink trim and temples built in the tradition ornate Kerala style. There are interesting temples in Kulathupuzha (60 kilometers away); Oachira (34 kilometers); and Mayyanad (10 kilometers).

Kollam borders the backwaters of Kerala. The area around it is dotted with scenic waterfalls, tranquil lakes and pristine beaches. There are bustling markets with farmers selling cashewnuts and spices. At its heart is the picturesque Ashtamudi Lake lined with cashew plantations, palm trees and quaint villages. Kollam is fondly called the cashew capital of the world as it is home to over 600 cashew processing units. The city also acts as the southern gateway to the tranquil backwaters of Alappuzha.A popular Kerala backwater experience is the eight-hour boat trip between Kollam and Alappuzha. Sasthamkoota (30 kilometers from Kollan) is home of the largest freshwater lake in Kerala.

Getting There: By Air: Thiruvananthapuram, around 66 kilometers away, is the nearest airport that connects Kollam to other cities in India. By Road: Kollam is connected with good roads and highways in the state and neighbouring states. By Train: All major cities and towns in the state and other parts of the country are connected with Kollam railway station.

Sights in Kollam

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Police Museum (near the Kollam railway station) is a one of a kind museum takes you through the history and development of Kerala's Police force. It houses arms used by the police force during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of its rare exhibits include guns, machines, snaps of police dogs, weapons and medals received by the police officials. The star attraction is the Martyr's Gallery, while the Natural Calamity section showcases heart-wrenching pictures of various natural disasters that have hit the city in the past, including the Kollam tsunami and the Melanda fireworks incidents. The artefacts are housed in an old mansion with four courtyards. One of these courtyards also displays investigation information regarding finger prints and DNA tests. It was started by Inspector General of police B Sandhya with an aim to inform people about the sincere efforts made by the police department over the years. Situated within the premises of the east police station, the museum is right opposite the Kollam railway station. The museum can be visited everyday from 9:00am to 6:00pm except on Sundays.

Thevally Palace is a popular stop on houseboat tours in Ashtamudi Lake. This palace was once the residence of the king of Travancore. A blend of Portuguese, British and Dutch architecture, the palace speaks volumes about the glorious past of the princely reign. Nestled amidst coconut groove and palm trees, it boasts picturesque surroundings that can be enjoyed from the top of the building. It is also an engineering marvel and has been plastered using laterite and lime to keep the interiors cool during the summer season. The palace was constructed between 1811 and 1819 during the rule of Gauri Parvathy Bai, queen of Travancore. It was used for conducting meetings of the rulers with British officials. According to legend the palace was witness to the beautiful love story of a British official and a local woman. While the British man lived across the palace, the woman resided in the palace. It is believed that the two lovers communicated through a dog, in whose memory, a monument was raised in the Thevally Palace.

Thangassery (five kilometers from central Kollam) is a heavily populated beach area on the shores of the Arabian Sea in Kollam. Imbrued with colonial charm, it features narrow streets lined with old churches, forts and lighthouses. On the beaches are swaying grooves of palm and coconut trees. The 43-meter (144-foot) -high Thangassery lighthouse is the most prominent structure of the town and can be seen over 20 kilometers at sea. Thangassery Beach is covered with silver sand and stretches for three kilometers. Popular tourist activities include deep sea fishing, surfing, speedboat riding and catamaran riding. St Thomas Fort, which was built by the Portuguese in 1518. Historic Infant Jesus Cathedral was built by the Portuguese in 1614. Thangassery was once a port city, important trade center and British enclave known as Dutch Quilon, During the British era, the village used gold as its currency giving it the name Thangassery, which means gold village in the local language.

Thirumullavaram Beach is Kollam's most popular beach. It has clear waters and golden sand and offers breathtaking views of sunrise and sunset. Around one-and-a-half kilometer into the sea is Nyarazhcha Para or the Sunday Rock. At Mahavishnu Temple Lord Vishnu is worshipped as the presiding deity. Located on the outskirts of Kollam, this secluded beach is one of the safest beaches. The shallow waters at the beach allow children to swim and play around the water.

Varkala

Varkala (51 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram and 37 kilometers from Kollam) is quaint hamlet located in the south of Kerala, has a stillness and quietness that is rarely found in most places. The main tourist attractions here are a 2000-year-old Vishnu temple, Sivagiri Mutt (an ashram), and beautiful sandy beaches that give the place its picturesque grandeur. Varkala is easy to travel to as it lies only city and 37 kilometers from Kollam. Varkala beach, lying 10 kilometers from the city, is renowned for a natural spring that is believed to have healing properties. Thus, the beach is also known as 'Papanasam Beach'. Varkala is a major draw for surfers who come here to ride the pristine whitewater waves. This town also exudes backpacker vibes and lures tourists to lavish in its rich topographical resources.

Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where the cliffs guard the sea. According to geologists, these tertiary sedimentary formation cliffs are unique geological features. It is a geology monument which is called `Varkala formation’ among geologists. The natural spring gushing out the laterite cliff is believed to have medicinal properties, as it contains various minerals.

Varkala is a popular surfing spot. The waves are good for surfers. There are surfing schools. The best time for beginners is from December to February when the waves are smaller. The peak seasons for surfers is from October to March when they can find big waves.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport to Varkala is Trivandrum International Airport at Thiruvananthapuram, about one hour drive away. By Road: Varkala is accessible through buses from Trivandrum and Kochi and is connected to good roads. By Train: Varkala Train Station has trains that connect the place with areas of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram.

Ponnumthuruthu island (20 kilometers from Varkala) is also known as Golden island and is one of the most beautiful uninhabited islands in Kerala. This offbeat spot is caressed by the Anjengo backwaters. This island has a five-acre radius and can be accessed only by a jetty from the Nedunganda village.

The island is a hub of migratory birds as it features the serene waters of the Akathumuri Lake. It also holds significance among spiritual travelers, who sail here to see a popular 100-year-old Shiva-Parvathi temple. It is locally recognised as 'Thuruthu Kshethram' and both the island and the temple are owned by the Valiyapurackal family. The festival of Mahashivratri, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is celebrated with great pomp and show and devotees flock in great numbers to attend the event.

Natural Sights Near Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram

Thenmala (70 kilometers north-northeast of Thiruvananthapuram) is India's first planned eco-tourism site. It has 10 eco-tourism spots that cover the great hill ranges of Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Kollam districts. It is home to a variety of deer like spotted deer, lawn deer and sambar.The park also houses a few tree top huts and a Deer Rehabilitation Center, where various species of deer are bred. There's also a recreational area with various swings and slides for children. The word 'thenmala' translates into a honey hill and it is believed that honey collected here is of premium quality. The best time to visit Thenmala is between the months of December and February.

Ashtamudi Lake is fringed by swaying coconut palms and lush foliage. This 16-kilometer-long pristine lake is an idyllic site to enjoy serene houseboat cruises and boat rides. The cruise takes you from Kollam to Alappuzha in over eight hours. The boat ride not only offers you glimpses of abundant flora as it takes you through coconut groves, red cliffs and palms, but also introduces you to the village life of locals residing by the lake. This tranquil lake gets its name from its eight arms or channels (ashta means eight). The lakeis connected to the sea through the picturesque Neendakara estuary.

Munroe Island (at Ashtamudi Lake) is nestled in the beautiful backwaters of Kollam. Surrounded by the serene Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada river, the island offers amazing views of verdant coconut plantations. The best way to enjoy the tranquillity of the island is to take a canoe ride through the narrow canals of the backwaters. The ride takes you through tiny hamlets located along the backwaters and provides a glimpse of the daily life of villagers. The best rides are the ones taken during early morning and evening because they offer you a chance to witness ethereal sunrises and sunsets. The authentic food joints located at the island provide tempting delicacies made from coconut oil. The island is also famous for hosting the Kallada Boat Race, which is held here during the 10-day long Onam festival. The island has been named after Resident Colonel John Munroe of the former princely state of Travancore who is credited with integrating several backwater regions by digging canals. The island is located on the outskirts of the city and makes for a great one day trip.

Palaruvi Waterfall (60 kilometers east of Kollam) is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kerala. Palaruvi means a stream of milk. The waterfall cascades down from a height of 100 meters amidst a dense and green forest. Locals believe that the water here has Ayurvedic properties and taking a bath in it can benefit one's body to a great extent. This falls is popularly referred to as 'white horse's tail' as it is narrow at the top but widens as it reaches the bottom. Tourists can swim in the pools. Hiking to the falls can be a challenging and fun. Ariankavu Waterfall is 75 kilometers from Kollan.

Kanyakumari

Kanyakumari is located at the southernmost tip of India where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea all meet. Hindus come here to take a ritual bath in the same waters where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were scattered. The Bay of Bengal meets the Arabian Sea at Cape Comorin, the only place in India where you can watch the sun set on one sea and the moon rise on another. On of the offshore rock near Kanyakumari, a swami meditated alone for several weeks until he was inspired to start a mission.

Kanyakumari lies on the southern tip of the Indian peninsula's 'V'. Ensconced in the southern fringes of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it attracts many people when the sunset-moonrise is happening. As the burning orb of sun dips into the sea, painting the sky in myriad hues of red and orange, the moon makes a silvery ascent on the other side. This ethereal phenomenon can be witnessed on a full moon night and is bigger and more special in the months of April-May, when the moon and the sun face each other on the same horizon.

A large number of visitors come in Kanyakumari for its pristine and beautiful beaches. The locals relish seafood delicacies though South India dishes like dosas, idlis, vadas and utthapams are equally popular. A popular center for art, culture and religion, the city holds many names, like Cape Comorin, Kumari Munai and Kumari. Kanyakumari was ruled by the Cholas, the Nayaks, the Pandyas and the Cheras.

Kanyakumari Temple is picturesquely located overlooking the sea. dedicated to Parasakthi, the virgin goddess, it attracts pilgrims from all over India. Vivekananda Rock Memorial , on a rocky island 200 meters from the shoreline, is where a great swami by the same name mediated for several week in 1892 (there are ferries every 30 minutes to the island). The Gandhi Memorial is situated near a temple where that Mahatma's ashes are on display.

Vattakottai is an 18th-century seaside circular fort made of granite blocks. Many years ago, when the area was quite clear, observers could see up to the Padmanabhapuram Palace from here. A 4-ft-wide and 25-kilometer-long tunnel is said to have once existed between the fort and the palace. The architecture additions of the fort are reminiscent of the rule of the Pandyas (4th to 16th century), especially the fish motifs engraved on the walls. Overlooking the Arabian Sea on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other, is the raised parade ground. Sometime back, the archaeology department also conducted a renovation exercise here. One of the most interesting features is a beach of black sand near the fort as well as a small river that joins the sea on one side of the fort.

Getting There: 705 kilometers south of Chennai (Madras) By Air: Thiruvananthapuram, 87 kilometers away, is the nearest airport and connected to all major Indian cities. By Road: All major cities are connected with good highways in Kanyakumari. By Train: The rail head at Kanyakumari is well-connected to all cities and states of India.

Sights in the Kanyakumari Area

Places of Interest Near Kayakuami include Nagarcoil (20 kilometers), a town with a Chinese-style Hindu temple with ornate pillars; 18th century Vattakoatttai Fort (eight kilometers), with a wonderful view of the sea; 18th century Udayagiri Fort (34 kilometers); Thirupparappu Waterfall (60 kilometers); Thiruvattar (60 kilometers), a town with a Shiva temple with fine Kerala architecture and beautiful paintings; Muttam (32 kilometers), a fine beach with a lighthouse and Tiruchendurm a beautiful Hindu temple on the shore, which attracts pilgrims who take a bath in a fresh water well on the temple grounds.

Adam’s Bridge is a chain of sandbars and islands that almost connect Sri Lanka with India. According to the great Hindu text The Ramayana a bridge was built by the army of monkeys under the monkey god Hanuman to Lanka to allow Lord Rama to cross to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife Sita. When Rama and Sita and their loyal followers traveled home, to the Kingdom of Ayodhya in northern India they crossed the bridge. When they got to the other side, the bridge dropped down under the sea, leaving only a trail of rocks. The bridge is as holy to Hindus as the Wailing Wall is to the Jews, the Vatican to Catholics, Bodh Gaya to Buddhists and Mecca to Muslims, A 50 -kilometer string of limestone shoals, known as Ram Sethu, helped protected large parts of India from the 2004 tsunami.

The bridge is believed by some to have been passable on foot as recently as the 15th century. In 2002, Hindu nationalists cited NASA satellite photographs of the shoals as evidence that the events described in the Ramayana really took place. In 2007, a panel of Indian scientists concluded that the bridge was “a geological formation, which took place about 17 million years ago”. That year Hindu nationalists complained about dredging in the area. At least one Hindu leader suggested that the bridge is being protected by Lord Hanuman, the monkey god after a mysterious series of accidents that included the sinking of a dredging vessel called ‘Duck’ and the breaking of a spud on the replacement vessel. Another ship was then sent to retrieve the spud, but its crane snapped and crashed into the sea.[Source: R. Gledhill & J. Page, The Times of London, April 5, 2007]

Courtallam (140 kilometers from Kanyakumari) has nine waterfall believed to have medicinal properties as they run through a forest with herbs and healing plants. The temples in the area are decorated with inscriptions and paintings depicting rural deities and devotees and Puranic stories and religious events.

LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS

Lakshadweep Islands (280 kilometers west of Kochi) is group of 36 coral islands (10 of them inhabited) in 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks off the Malabar Coast. Located in clear blue Indian ocean water, the islands are known for pristine white sand beaches, beautiful lagoons, amazing coral reefs, and aquamarine waters, The Indian government keeps tight control by “regulating the coconut crop economy, monopolizing imports and discouraging foreign contacts.” A permit is needed to visit them. State Tourism Website: www.lakshadweep.nic.in

The Lakshadweep (pronounced lahk-SHAHD-weep) means “hundred thousand islands.” Built on volcanic formations, they are extremely isolated and remote. Few tourist go there. Those that have gone to the islands find them a fine place to play Robinson Crusoe. For a time there were no cars, newspapers, televisions or air conditioners and only boats were used to transport people between the islands. Agatti Island on the Lakshadweep Islands is the home of shipbuilders who still make dhows the traditional way with hand-hewn timbers and coconut ropes instead of nails.

Lakshadweep is one of the worlds most spectacular tropical island systems. The 36 islands collectively cover only 32 square kilometers of land surrounded by 4200 square kilometers of lagoons rich in marine life. The ten inhabited islands are Agatti, Amini, Andrott, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy. The local people are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi sect. One of the islands has a secret navy base is one reason why you need a permit to visit the islands.

Tourism in the Lakshadweep Islands

Most visitors to the Lakshadweep are tourists on scuba diving package trips. To keep the islands unspoiled, visitors are only allowed on a handful of the islands: Bangaram (with a small resort); Kavaratti (the administrative capital); Kalpeni (great reefs); Kadmat (fine beach) and Mincoy (with the largest lagoon of the archipelago)..

Committed to the cause of Eco tourism Union Territory of Lakshadweep has consciously followed a middle path between tourism promotion and environmental conservation. The Administration is carefully monitoring the environmental impact of coastal tourism and has taken steps to promote tourism in a way that is consistent with ecological concerns. As an effective strategy to avoid pressure on ecological environment, the efforts to promote tourism have been synchronized with the carrying capacity of the islands.

Though all the islands are endowed with the beauty of coral reef, sandy beaches, unpolluted and clear water and hospitable settings, most of these differ in terms of facilities and services offered. Some islands have been promoted for diving and water sports; still others have been developed so that people enjoy the charm of relaxation and natural enjoyment. Since the land is precious and scarce it is avowed policy of the Administration to relieve pressure on land and promote water based tourism.

Getting There: Lakshadweep island can be reached by ships and flights from Kochi. Some of the islands can only be reached by ship from Kochi. By Air: The Lakshadweep Islands can reached flight on a 40-seat propeller plane between Kochi and Agatti and Bangaram islands. The flights coast about $200 roundtrip. The nearest airstrip is in Aggati, from where boats can be taken to Kavaratti. By Sea: About seven ships operate between Kochi and Lakshadweep islands, and the passage takes about 14-18 hours.

Islands of the Lakshadweep Islands

Kavaratti (300 kilometers off the coast of Kerala) is the capital of Lakshadweep and the archipelago’s most developed island. Out of 52 mosques, Jamnath, Mohidden and Ujra are the most prominent ones. Tasty dished include spicy tuna fish, sweet potatoes and chicken, made in Malabar style. In the lagoons around the island, one can spot starfish, anemones, sea cucumbers, corals and a multitude of fish species. Water sports that can be enjoyed include kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing, scuba diving and swimming.

Kalpeni (north of Kavaratti) boasts a huge storm bank of coral debris that runs along its eastern and southeastern shorelines. It is believed that a violent storm in 1847 threw up huge coral boulders along these shores. The island attracts people into snorkelling and reef-walking. A major attraction of the island is Tip Beach that has a shallow emerald lagoon lapping at its white sandy shores. A 37-meter-high lighthouse adds to the charm of the island. Along with two small islets of Tilakkam and Pitti and the uninhabited island of Cheriyam, Kalpeni forms a single atoll.

Agatti (west of Kavaratti, 460 kilometers from Kochi in Kerala) has one of the largest lagoons in the Lakshadweep, covering an area of 17.8 square kilometers. The island spans over an area of 3.84 square kilometers. Just like Minicoy island, Agatti also enjoys a surplus of fish and you can see colorful schools swimming past, while marvelling at beautiful corals. One can engage inkayaking, sailing, speed boating, glass bottom boat rides, along with fishing. Agatti is very similar to Kerala in terms of climate, and March to May is the hottest period. The lagoon remains calm due to the presence of reefs.

Minicoy is a crescent-shaped island wrapped around one of the biggest lagoons in Lakshadweep. Touching the southernmost part of the islands, Minicoy is spread over an area of 4.8 square kilometers, making it the second-largest of the group. The scenic island embraces pristine blue waters, coconut tree-lined shores and mirror-like inland lakes. Minicoy is set apart from the northern islands for its culture, which is quite lively. A variety of folk dances are practiced here, including lava, thaara, dandi, fuli and bandiya. The island uses colorful and beautiful boats called jahadhoni for boat races and receiving dignitaries. It also has a very old lighthouse that was constructed in 1885. Visitors are allowed to climb up to the very top and get sweeping views of the surrounding areas. Being the only island in Lakshadweep that has three large shipwrecks, about 8 meters deep, Minicoy is also a popular diving site. Among the interesting species of fish are hump-back parrot fish, red snappers, napoleon wrasse, barracuda and bull rays.

Kadmat is a coral island that belongs to the Amindivi sub-group of the Lakshadweep islands. Also known as Caramom Island, it is surrounded by spectacular and large lagoons on the eastern and the western sides, with long, sandy beaches, coral habitats and reef banks. The island abounds in flora and fauna, which can be explored through scuba diving, kayaking and snorkelling. Kadmat island is just five kilometers away from Amini island and is separated by a deep water channel that makes it a different geographical unit. The island is home to the lavish Kadmat Island Beach Resort.

Bangaram

Bangaram (close to Agatti and Kavaratti) is a tiny 128-acre teardrop-shaped island with creamy sand beaches and coconut plantations fringed by turquoise lagoons. The warm and deep waters of the Indian Ocean, along with myriad flora and fauna, draw scuba divers. Among black coral formations divers see angelfish, clownfish, butterfly fish, surgeon fish, groupers along with turtles and moray eels. At night, phosphorescent plankton washed ashore on the coral sands emitting a bluish light to the beach.

The Bangaram resort is a favorite destination. A reservation for the resort includes a permit to visit the island. Visitors dive, snorkel, eat and relax. The resort has kayaks, canoes, sailboats and a glass bottom boat. There are no televisions, radios, swimming pools, health clubs, organized events or even hot water except for that heated by the mid day sun. The main activities are watching the sun set and rise and exploring some shipwrecks. . The only full time inhabitants of the island are the resort’s staff. You can see turtles, snapper and kingfish in dive sites such as “The Wall”, “Stingray City” and “Garden of Eden.”

Thinnakara (close to Bangaram island) has beautiful beaches and is regarded as one of the most attractive spots in the Lakshadweeps. Since this teardrop-shaped island has limited connectivity to the mainland and no human habitation, it has managed to retain its natural environs. The island sees visitors and those that dod vsist it often have it to themselves. It is an ideal place for snorkelling, kayaking and scuba-diving. At night, one can sprawl on the beach and watch stars light up the dark sky.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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