Panning through an undulating terrain of low coastal hills near the southern edge of the mainland, Trivandrum is an ancient city with trading tradition dating back to 1000 BC. Spacious layout and regulated systems could well be the order of life in this metro, but at its core it is still a traditionalist nurturing a royal legacy. A city where a legend of the appearance of Lord Vishnu reclining on the Anantha Shesha lead to the building of the famous Padmanabha Swamy Temple. It is also the birthplace of eminent artist Raja Ravi Verma, whose photographic paintings detail the faintest of shadows, the texture of clothes to the creases on the forehead of his subject. Trivandrum is also the meeting point of culture vultures from across the country and outside, courtesy the rich classical dance and music tradition passed on by the culturally inclined Thirunal kings of Travancore, particularly Swathi Thirunal.
Trivandrum city is steeped in ancient tradition, folklore and literature. The early past of political and cultural history of South Kerala, Trivandrum in particular, was in a way independent of that of the rest of Kerala state. At the beginning of the 10th century the Ays were the dominant political power. The English East India Company in 1648, during the regency of Umayamma Rani, acquired a sandy piece of land at Anchuthengu on the sea coast about 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Trivandrum city, to set up a factory and fortify it. And this was the beginning of the extension of English domain to other parts of Travancore.
However, modern history begins with Marthanda Verma regarded as the Father of Modern Travancore (1729 to 1758 AD). During this period Trivandrum became the centre of intellectual and artistic pursuits. The cultural activities, and most importantly, economic prosperity were at its zenith during the reign of Swathi Thirunal (1829 to 1847 AD).
English education began to be imparted in 1834 at the first English school in Trivandrum. This was followed by the building of an observatory and charity hospital in 1836. The reign of Ayilyam Thirunal (1860-1880) led to another big step in fostering art and literature, with a fully equipped arts college coming up along with several English, Malayalam and Tamil schools. The University College was opened in 1873. Ancient language and school of medicine received a philip with the opening of the Sanskrit College and Ayurveda College among Law College and a second grade college for women in Trivandrum during the rule of Sri Moolam Thirunal (1885 to 1924). A significant step taking during Moolam Thirunal’s reign was the inauguration of the Legislative Council in 1888. Interestingly, this was the first legislative chamber instituted in an Indian State. After the Moolam Assembly came into being in 1904, the works of the Indian National Congress reverberated in Trivandrum and other parts of Kerala.
Further on, during the reign of Shri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, a promulgation of the Temple Entry Proclamation Act in 1936 was passed that underlined social emancipation. In the following year, a separate University for Travancore was started. This was redesigned as University of Kerala after the formation of Kerala State in 1956.
However, with the accession of Travancore to the Indian Union after independence, many radical changes were implemented to the policy of the state government and the overall political atmosphere. It was on the 24th of March in 1948 that the first popular ministry headed by Sri Pattom A. Thanu Pillai was installed in office. Finally, the state of Kerala came into being on November 1, 1956.
Trivandrum has a decent network of city buses run by government (KSRTC) and private companies. The buses tend to get crowded in peak office hours. It is worth mentioning that the government city buses are painted red with a yellow patch, while the private city buses are blue in color. Though the fast passenger buses run by KSRTC are also blue, and named ‘Ananthapuri Fast'. The city services by KSRTC operate from City depot, Vikas Bhavan, Peroorkada, Pappanamcode, Kaniyapuram and Vellanad. East Fort is the central bus terminal near Padmanabha Swamy Temple. While on a local sightseeing tour of the city, auto-rickshaws are the best option. You can easily get an auto-rickshaw from a bus stand, railway station or special auto-rickshaw stand. They all function with a fare meter, and the fare is calculated by the taximeter affixed to every licensed rickshaw. So, do ensure the driver turns the meter on every time board on. There are pre-paid auto-rickshaw counters as well near the airport and railway station. Taxis are the most convenient way to travel especially if you are a big group. They are not only hired for short distances, but also for a few days in a row. In case you hire a taxi with driver for a few days, a minimum charge is usually paid that covers the hiring charge for the car, the driver’s fee and a definite distance. Do remember, most drivers expect to be paid additionally for their meals during the day. You can also go to a car rental company that offers cars with drivers or self-drive option. Such shops can be found on every prominent street in Trivandrum, though they come a tad expensive. Some of the central sightseeing landmarks are, however, only a brief walk away from each other.
Tourist Traps in the City
It is not very safe for women to take a three-wheeler or taxi late in the evening while traveling in and around the city, especially to the outskirts. If you are very late and need to reach your hotel, it is advisable to request your hotel to send a car to pick you up. You can also take the bus service even if it is very late in the day. The taxis and auto-rickshaws outside the railway station/airport refuse to function as per the meter. If you are taking an auto-rickshaw from here, make sure you negotiate the fare beforehand to avoid any unpleasantness. It is in fact a better idea to go for the pre-paid auto-rickshaws or taxis as they have a fixed tariff authorized by the state government. When shopping for bric-a-brac at the local market, bargaining is the way to go.
The locals are quite conservative, so when moving around the city sightseeing dress up modestly. It is advisable to avoid wearing short or revealing clothes as most sites in Trivandrum are either temples or palaces/museums. South Indians particularly Keralites hold the temples in great reverence, and follow a strict code of conduct. Some temples such as the Padmanabha Swamy Temple only allow Hindus inside, not to mention the temple staff is extremely particular about the rules and regulations. Men need to wrap themselves nicely in a white dhoti (loin cloth) and women in sari or the like – available for use at the entrance counter. You need to take off your shoes here, and deposit your camera and mobile phone (if it has camera functionality!) as well.
Ethnic artifacts are available in a great array in Kerala’s capital city, Trivandrum. When visiting the city, an absolutely must-buy are the lovely objet d’art turned out of metal, an ancient art in this part of Kerala. Look out for the exquisite pieces created of bell metal by ace craftsmen. You will also find pretty – though oddball – kitchenware and brass lamps among others. Don’t miss out the coir products here, the local shops offer a wonderful display of coir or coconut fiber floor coverings, doormats, floor matting and rugs in a plethora of colors and designs. Add to this the coconut shell crafts, a huge favorite among tourists, and you are all set to leave with an extra suitcase.