Breakfast in India is usually savoury and spicy. It’s a full meal and often versatile, some dishes being suitable for any time of day.  Read More

Baneshwar Fair is a huge folk fair held in Dungarpur district in Rajasthan. The 5-day event, which is sometimes called the “tribal Kumbh Mela”, takes place in January or February on a small delta where the Soma and Mahi rivers meet. It is primarily a religious festival, but it is also the annual get-together for Bhil tribal communities who come to pay homage to Shiva and Vishnu. Read More

Each February, the World Sacred Spirit Festival brings together eminent musicians from all over the world to explore the sacred through different forms of art from music and chant to dance and poetry. A festival of Sufi-inspired devotional music set in the magical and prestigious sites of Ahhichatragarh in Nagaur and Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.
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Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of Kerala. Its name means ‘city of Lord Anantha’ referring to Anantha, the mythical snake on which the god Vishnu reclines.This city has great appeal, with luxuriant vegetation, colourful harbours, beaches of fine sand and the legendary cool of Kerala. You might never leave!

Thiruvananthapuram is a very ancient town and is said to have been a flourishing port city and a trade hub for spices, sandalwood and ivory as far back as the 5th century BCE. Legend has it that King Solomon’s ships called there.

Poovar beach

Thiruvananthapuram became powerful again after Marthanda Varma came to power as founder and ruler of the princely state of Travancore in 1729. The capital of Kerala was moved from Padmanabhapuram (Kanyakumari district) to Thiruvananthapuram in 1745. The town then became a major centre of artistic and intellectual life. Its golden age was in the 19th century under the Swathi Thirunal and Ayilyam Thirunal.


Festivals not to miss


Swathi Sangeethotsavam, carnatic music

Swathi Sangeethotsavam or Swathi Music Festival is a grand musical event organized every year to pay tribute to Sri Swathi Thirunal, who has composed many brilliant pieces of music which still fascinate music lovers. This great connoisseur and composer has to his credit more than 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. Held in the Kuthiramalika Palace, adjoining the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum.

www.swathithirunal.in


Nishagandhi dance and music Festival

Nishagandhi Dance and music Festival popularly known as Nishagandhi Nritya Utsav is celebrated in the Nishagandhi Theatre, in Kanakunnu palace compound, in the city of Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. This festival is about a week long and witnesses participation from artisans all over the country. The artists who are keen on promoting the diverse Indian heritage.


Attukal Pongal

Attukal Pongal is a special version of the Pongal harvest festival that takes place each year at the Attukal Bhagavathy temple, 2km from Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala.On the ninth day of the ten-day Attukal Pongal festival, nearly 3 million women converge to within a few kilometres of the temple – the largest gathering of women anywhere in the world. In the streets women of all castes and all social ranks prepare pongal together in small earthen pots on wood fires.

=> READ MORE ABOUT ATTUKAL +


Follow the guide!


Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple


Padmanabhaswamy temple is an iconic temple and pilgrimage centre in the centre of Thiruvananthapuram.

It is built in the Dravidian architectural style more common in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

It is India’s richest temple, even richer than Tirupati temple since €15 billion worth of gold and jewellery donated by devotees was found in a secret chamber.

Padmanabha

Padmanabha, the main deity, is seen in Anantha-Sayanam or “eternal yogic sleep” pose, lying on the snake Anantha. Vishnu’s consorts Sridevi (goddess of prosperity) and Bhudevi (Earth goddess), are beside him. The statue was made from 12,008 salagrama fossils from the banks of the Gandaki river in Nepal, covered with yogam Katusarkara, a special Ayurvedic mixture of ingredients that works like plaster.

NB: Unfortunately the temple is out of bounds to non-Hindus, and Hindus must comply with a strict dress code.


Attukal Bhagavathy Temple


At Attukal Bhagavathy temple the main deity is the hindu goddess Kannaki (one of the names of Parvati).

Goddess Kannaki

The temple is famous for its annual Attukal Pongala festival, for which nearly three million women assemble to prepare pongal (rice cooked with additional ingredients) in small pots as an offering to the goddess Kannaki.


Kairali backwaters, Poovar Island


One very pleasant outing is a boat trip around the backwaters of Poovar.

Poovar is a small coastal village in the Trivandrum at the southern tip of Trivandrum . This village has a beautiful beach and backwaters.

Poovar backwaters

You’ll see a wide variety of birds, stop at a beautiful beach of fine sand and eat at one of the floating restaurants before coming back through the mangroves. The trip takes 2 hours in all.

Bald eagle in the mangroves


Poovar Beach


One of my best memories of Trivandrum is the landing of the fish catch and the market that follows.

The fishermen bring their boats in with the day’s catch around 6am. There’s a whole art to pulling the boat up onto the beach (see video below) and the fish market is just as fascinating to watch. An absolute must-see.

The fish market, early morning


Napier Museum


The Napier museum is as interesting inside as out.

The building was designed by Robert Chisholm, architect to the Madras government, in Indo-Saracenic style. It was completed in 1880.

It houses a collection of rare archaeological and historical objects such as bronze idols and ivory statues. It also houses the Sri Chitra Art Gallery, with works by Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich.


The Churches of Trivandrum


There are several dozen churches in Trivandrum, many with colourful interiors that are well worth a look. The best known are St Joseph’s and St Peter’s.


Vizhinjam harbor (Kovalam – 16 km)


Vizhinjam is a wonderful little harbour with multicoloured boats and frenetic activity.

The Portuguese and Dutch had trading posts here and St. Mary’s, the church built by the Portuguese in colonial days, is still in operation. There is also a green mosque.


Kovalam Beaches (16 km)


Kovalam is famous for its crescent of three beaches separated by rocky outcrops along a 17km stretch of coast: Lighthouse Beach (very touristy), Hawah Beach and Samudra Beach.

For my part I prefer to stick to the beaches in Trivandrum, which are clean and much quieter.


Aazhimala Temple (20 km)


Aazhimala is a delightful little temple to Shiva about 20km from Trivandrum, on the other side of Vizhinjam. The site is very picturesque, with the sea as backdrop.


Padmanabhapuram Palace (50 km)


Padmanabhapuram palace is a perfect example of Kerala architecture and a good place to stop on the way to Kanyakumari.

Padmanabhapuram was once the capital of the Travancore kingdom. The elegant wood-built palace was constructed in 1601 by King Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal and enlarged in 1750 by King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

The interior boasts richly carved rosewood and some fine wall paintings. The palace complex consists of several structures: the king’s council chamber (Mantrasala), the queen mother’s palace (Kottaram), the theatre, a four-storey mansion in the middle, and the southern palace (Thekee Kottaram).

[ Watch the fishermen of Trivandrum ]


coeur Although few foreign tourists come here, this peaceful village on the banks of the River Pampa is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus and is famous for its Krishna temple and the “snake-boat” race held every year during the Onam festival. Aranmula also has another unique claim to fame: sacred mirrors called kannadi are made there using a centuries-old technique whose secret is closely guarded.


Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple


The Parthasarathy temple, built in typical Keralan pagoda style, is one of the 108 revered Vishnuite divya desam temples and also one of Kerala’s Pancha Pandava temples. According to Hindu legend, these temples were each built by one of the five Pandava brothers.

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Parthasarathy temple by night

The legend goes that after King Parikshit was crowned the Pandava brothers set off on a pilgrimage. They visited Kerala and each built a temple there. Yudishthira built one at Thrichittatt, Bhima at Puliyur, Arjuna at Aranmula, Nakula at Thiruvanvandoor and Sahadeva at Thrikodithanam.

It is said that Arjuna built the Parthasarathy temple at Nilakkal near Sabarimala, to atone for a sin. But Nilakkal was in dense forest, making it difficult to perform daily rituals there. The idol was therefore brought to Aranmula on a raft made of six bamboo poles – whence the name Aranmula, which means “six bamboo stems”.

Parthasarathy idol

Several “snake boats” or chundan vallams accompanied the procession across the River Pampa. The idol was installed in the temple on the day of Uthrattathi in the month of Chingam (August-September) according to the Malayalam calendar, Uthrattathi being Arjuna’s birthday. The village of Aranmula celebrates this event each year with a snake-boat regatta during the Onam festival.

The main idol in the temple is a statue of Lord Krishna as Parthasarathy, i.e. in his role as the charioteer who drove Arjuna into battle in the Kurukshetra war, as described in the Mahabharata epic.


Vallamkali, Snake-boat race


The Aranmula Uthrattathi Vallamkali or snake-boat race is one of the year’s biggest festivities in the village of Aranmula and one of the oldest traditional races in Kerala.

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The snake boat of Aranmula

It is linked to the Parthasarathy temple and takes place every year on Uthrattathy day in the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar (August-September), four days after Thiruvonam (the Onam festival).

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The snake boat race of Aranmula

People of all social classes and religions living in and around Aranmula get involved in the Vallamkali. It is organised by the Seva Sangam Palliyoda, an organisation made up of two members from each of the 48 villages or karas that possess a snake-boat.

=> READ MORE ABOUT THE SNAKE-BOAT RACE !


[ Watch my video of Aranmula race 2015 ]


Aranmula’s sacred kannadi mirrors


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The precious and mysterious kannadis of Aranmula are metal mirrors of a unique kind. They are made only in this village and are exported throughout the world.

The story goes that a few generations ago, eight families from Tirunelveli who specialised in temple art came to Aranmula at King Pandalam’s command to work on the building of the Parthasarathy Temple.

While working on the temple idol’s bronze crown the craftsmen discovered the exceptional reflective qualities of a particular alloy of tin and copper. But they were unable to reproduce the alloy until Parvathi Amma, a widow in their community, received the exact composition of the alloy in a dream. That composition is kept secret to this day by the few artisan families still transmitting the craft from generation to generation.

aranmula
Most mirrors consist of a sheet of glass with a silver or aluminium backing which reflects objects through the glass.

If you place a finger on an ordinary mirror, you will see a gap between the finger and its reflection. But if you place your finger on a kannadi mirror, there is no gap: the finger and its reflection meet, because there is no glass in between.

The kannadi of Aranmula have a distinct old-world charm. They are generally round or oval hand mirrors set in brass frames. These are stamped, as the mirrors are protected by an official Geographical Indication. They count among the eight auspicious objects or ashtamangalyam in a Kerala bride’s trousseau.


[ Meet Mr Murukan R. Aranmula, Kannadi’s master craftsmam ]

Patan is a fortified town dating from the 8th century CE. It was the capital of Gujarat until 1411, when the sultan Ahmed Shah moved his capital to Ahmedabad. It now owes its fame to its magnificent Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell, a Unesco World Heritage site, built under the Solanki period. It is also renowned for making much-sought-after saris in hand-woven patola fabric.

 


Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell


The Rani-Ki-Vav (“queen’s well”) is said to have been commissioned by Queen Udayamati in 1050, in memory of her husband Bhimdev I (1022-1063 CE). He was the son of Mularaja, founder of the Solanki dynasty.


It was buried in silt after repeated floods from the nearby river Saraswati and was only rediscovered in 1960, by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC.


Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions.

Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality.

More than 500 principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works.

The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. (source UNESCO)


Art of Patola


Patan’s other speciality is the art of patola. Patola is the term used in Gujarat for double ikat silk weaving.

Double ikat is produced by tie-dyeing both warp and weft threads with all the colours to be used in the design, at very precise intervals, so that when they are woven together the pattern emerges with all the right colours in the right places.

This method makes the cloth reversible, as it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two sides.

For high end saris the dyes are made from natural pigments. The colour is said to last for more than 300 years.

Kirron Kher wearing a Patola sari of the designer Gaurang at the Lakme Fashion Week 2013

Because the technique is so complex, it can take six months to a year to make a double-ikat patola sari – which is why they are so expensive. The cheapest cost about 140 000 roupies (€2000).

Of the original 700 families of Patan patola weavers there are now only three who continue the traditional double-ikat technique. One of these families, the Salvi family, has built the Patan Patola Heritage Museum not far from the Rani-Ki-Vav. Their small workshop in the city centre also bears eloquent testimony to the beauty of the art.


Other places of interest


Sahasralingam tank: This is one of the many artificial reservoirs built in different parts Gujarat under the patronage of Siddhraj Jaisinh (1093-1143 CE). It is one of the largest. Sahasralingam tank takes its name from the many small temples containing Shiva lingams that once stood around it, though they were demolished at the end of the medieval period.

Panchasara Parsvanatha Jain temple – Patan has more than 100 Jain temples, reflecting the importance of Jainism in the Solanki period. One of the largest is the Panchasara Parsvanatha. It is dedicated to Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar (Jain saint), who lived in the 9th century BCE. The temple was built in the 16th century CE and has several courtyards and a number of finely sculpted shrines.


Indian food without herbs and spices is unimaginable. They are at the heart of every dish. They have been used since ancient times and are mentioned in Hinduism’s oldest sacred scriptures, the Vedas.

Most of the numerous spices used in India are grown on the subcontinent. Some are “hot”, others add a delicate flavour to the dish. Each spice can be used on its own, but they are usually mixed in subtle combinations to give unique fragrances that differ from one region to another. Read More

Dussehra marks the end of one of the biggest Hindu festivals called ‘Navaratri’. This festival lasts for nine nights and ten days. Its purpose is to celebrate the Universal Mother, or Shakti: the primordial force. The tenth day is commonly called Vijayadashami, the day of victory of light over darkness. Vijayadashami is also called Dusserha or Dasara in some parts of India, where it associated with Lord Rama. Read More

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