A Day Trip to Padmanabhapuram

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Modern India is truly a far cry from what the country was once made of. Or so we millennials hear all the time. That is why places with a prolific history are the perfect destinations for travelers like us. Particularly for people like me who like to escape into the past once in a while and see what this country was once all about. Recently, I had an intriguing experience at one of the less-talked-about palaces of India – the Padmanabhapuram Palace of Kerala.

I rented a licensed and reliable car in Trivandrum for the day and headed out on what would be a journey back in time. The palace is located in a small town called Thuckalay, about 64 Km from Trivandrum city. It took me barely two hours to reach on a bright, February morning. The palace opens to tourists around 9 am and I was just in time before the weekend tourists rushed in.

The palace overview

The palace was once the administrative seat of the erstwhile rulers of Travancore, which means this palace belonged to the history and heritage of Kerala. But presently, it is officially a part of Tamil Nadu and is managed by the state tourism. The massive premise could easily fit a couple of villages. The opulence of the place was not in its façade but in what it held in it. The white-washed walls with the contrasting red-tiled roofs were the standard look across all the mansions. Some of the smaller cottages were exceptions with thatched or cemented roofs. Flanked by coconut groves on one side and natural ponds on the other, this sprawling estate of palatial homes made for a perfect place to spend an entire day.

There were brick pathways throughout the premise that connected different parts of the palace through mud courtyards and landscaped gardens. There were open-air baths, which were converted into lotus ponds. The massive fortress ran for four kilometers and was divided into four segments- Mantrasala, Thai Kottaram, Nataksala, and Thekee Kottaram.

The intricate interiors

I followed a small group of international tourists who were heading to the palace interiors. On closer inspection, the Padmanabhapuram Palace was simply an architectural marvel. The artistry represented the design aesthetics of ancient Kerala, dating back to the 16th century. Except for the exterior walls and roofs, the entire palace was made out of wood with impeccable carvings and artwork.

I started with the Durbar Hall, where the leaders and their advisors would assemble in the days of yore. The floor was black with a super shiny surface. There were a couple of tour guides who were explaining the architecture to the visitors. This particular floor was made of an earlier form of granite, comprising egg white, palm jaggery, lime (calcium hydroxide), burnt coconut, river sand, and charcoal. The end material would have been way too solid to hold its form through hundreds of years. The hall also boasted painted ceilings and antique furniture, with awe-inspiring intricacy of floral engravings, and fine artistry on wood.

Padmanabhapuram Highlights

The highlight of the palace interiors were the wall arts. There were miniature art and paintings which depicted stories of the past kings and their tales of victory. The fine detailing of every piece of art was spellbinding enough to transport me back in time. Some paintings used bold colors, making the subject come alive. The murals, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, were another fabulous addition to the fine décor. The themes of most murals focused on mythological anecdotes of Krishna. They were maintained well enough so we could experience the wonder even in the 21st century. Even the doors of each room were not spared from the artistic touch and were etched with traditional motifs.

Some of the other striking features of the palace which I discovered were the –

  • ThaiKottaram- the Queen Mother’s colorful sanctum with mica-stained windows.

  • Secret underground passages connecting different parts of the palace.

  • The medicinal bed located in the King’s master bedroom.

  • A temple of Goddess Saraswati with a stone idol.

  • Wooden carvings of fish and hanging brass lanterns that adorned the ceilings.

  • A grand collection of brass and silver artifacts.

  • A 300-year-old-clock which, surprisingly, is still functional.

With all this and more, the Padmanabhapuram Palace was a spellbinding exhibition of ancient art and architecture.

My recommendations

  • You can plan the palace tour on your way to Kanyakumari. Book a cab from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari and make a stopover.

  • The best time to visit is before summer or in winter months. The palace remains closed to tourists on Mondays.

  • You can also include the nearby forts and waterfalls in your day tour.