Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram (still widely known as Trivandrum), is set on seven low hills just a couple of kilometres inland from the Arabian Sea. Despite its administrative importance – demonstrated by wide roads, multistorey office blocks and gleaming white colonial buildings – it’s an easy-going state capital by Indian standards, with enclaves of traditional red-tiled gabled houses breaking up the bustle of its modern concrete core, and a swathe of parkland spreading north of the centre. Although its principal sight, the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, is closed to non-Hindus the city holds enough of interest to fill a day. Foremost among its attractions is the splendid Puttan Malika Palace, one of the state’s best museums, and a typically Keralan market, Chalai bazaar.
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Both the palace and bazaar are in the oldest and most interesting part of the city, the Fort area in the south. At the opposite, northern side of the centre, the Sri Chitra Art Gallery and Napier Museum showcase painting, crafts and sculpture in a leafy park. In addition, schools specializing in the martial art kalarippayat and the dance/theatre forms of kathakali and kudiyattam offer an insight into the Keralan obsession with physical training and skill.
Puttan Malika Palace
The Puttan Malika Palace immediately southeast of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple became the seat of the Travancore rajas after they left Padmanabhapuram at the end of the nineteenth century. The cool chambers, with highly polished plaster floors and delicately carved wooden screens, house a crop of dusty royal heirlooms, including a solid crystal throne gifted by the Dutch. The real highlight, however, is the elegant Keralan architecture itself. Beneath sloping red-tiled roofs, hundreds of wooden pillars, carved into the forms of rampant horses (puttan malika translates as “horse palace”), prop up the eaves, and airy verandas project onto the surrounding lawns.