Saturday, March 2, 2013


I have been in Trivandrum, Kerala, since last Sunday morning. For those of you just tuning in, I came here for the annual national All Indian Occupational Therapy Association conference. When I first learned that the national OT conference was going to be held at the end of February, I decided that I should go if all the right parties permitted. It was a chance in a lifetime to attend the national conference of another OT association. I will be dedicating a post to the conference at a later date for those interested in knowing more about the happenings there. This is about Trivandrum.

Trivandrum (whose name has thankfully been changed from the nearly unpronounceable “Thiruvananthapuram”), is the capital city of Kerala. When you speak of traveling in Kerala, two things come up: beaches and backwaters. Trivandrum has both.

This is the office where Elizabeth's father conducts his business. The architecture, I'm told, is traditional Kerala/Trivandrum style. 
This is where we stayed, Elizabeth's house. (Note: this is not the inside of the residence in the above photo.)
The living room where we stayed. 
The kitchen.
Chita (I think I spelled that right) is the houselady that made all our food. Here she is scraping out the meat of a coconut. Very cool. And delicious. 
The first evening in Trivandrum, Elizabeth’s father had the courtesy to chauffeur us to both the backwaters and the beaches. We experienced a high-speed boat ride on the backwaters which entailed cutting through the thick, floating “African weed,” and cutting around traditional Kerala boats and leaving them in our wake. It was relaxing and cool as we zipped along the waterway with the spray of the boat kicking up around us.

Going under the bridge and through the "African weed" in the backwaters of Kerala.
Safety first!
Kerala flora
Backwaters of Kerala.
A traditional Kerala-style boat along the backwaters.
The floating bridge across the backwaters to the first beach.
Elizabeth and Divya on the floating bridge.
More Kerala flora.
My first experience on an Indian beach was from the back of a spirited young horse. We came across three horses and their handlers on our way to the beach. The first question they asked was if we wanted to ride. The second question was, “Who doesn't mind a fast ride?” to which I responded with a raised hand. I could tell by the way the horse acted around his handler, he was well trained but ready to run. The handler could tell by the way I acted around his horse that this was not my first rodeo. He asked me if I wanted to take the reins but then added that it would be at my own risk. I opted to let him lead first to see how the horse handled. Within the next minute we had left the other two horses in the dust and were galloping along the beach in the sunset. Had I not been simultaneously fearing for the life of the handler and puzzling over how he could keep up while running alongside the horse, it would have been simply majestic. At any rate, it was an epic introduction to the Indian beaches. We celebrated a safe return while sipping tender coconuts and plotting our next stop.

Indian sunset on Shangumugham Beach, Trivandrum, Kerala. 
Elizabeth and Divya.
The backwaters of the Taj resort near Kovalam Beach.
Divya at Kovalam beach.
Kovalam beach. Yes, please! 
Kovalam beach. 
Dinner anyone? Why I don't mind if I do! (Bait restaurant at the Taj on Kovalam beach)
Yet another ridiculous self-portrait (on Kovalam beach).
Kovalam by sunset.
Divya and her dad.
Divya, Elizabeth and I chased the waves of the warm ocean water while the sun sunk into the sea.  We ate an appetizer of popcorn on the beach before heading back to the flat for a late dinner. Dinner time in Kerala is no different than Vellore. I think the earliest we ate dinner was 9:30pm. Just before turning into the complex where Elizabeth’s father lives, we spotted an unfamiliar sight, at least for me. The others didn't seem too phased by it… at all. It was just an elephant walking through the neighborhood streets, after all. Seriously? I couldn't let the opportunity pass without photo documentation. I scampered down the street behind the little parade to capture a shot. The great beast walked right up to me… within an arm’s length of me, in fact. Unfortunately it was dark, so my photos aren't as impressive as the chance encounter happened to be.
Just an elephant... walking down the street. Whatevs.
Silhouetted by car headlights.
Dinner was “bullet rice,” fish, pork, tender (savory) jackfruit, and possibly chicken. Every night we had an assortment of incredible fish, chicken, pork, shrimp/prawn, veg dishes and fruit. I’m not exactly sure how, but it was expected that we would clean each dish every meal. We failed every meal. There were too many rich dishes and too much of each dish for us to possibly come close to eating it all. We tried our best.
Fish dish. Lisa, don't even ask. I have no idea what is in all these dishes. Sorry.
A jackfruit dish? Seriously, there was too many to keep track of over the course of the week... 
A coconut curry... possibly?
Wait... maybe this was the jackfruit dish... 
Fish with fresh coconut meat. That is my best guess.
The following day we spent the morning at the poolside relaxing and (for the pale American) lounging in the sun. It was a relaxing way to start the week. That evening we drove out to another beach, this time to a five star resort. It was beautiful, but definitely not the India I have grown to love. We spent the rest of the evening touring the ocean side by car and ended our tour with a quick drive by the Techno Park.
The Techno Park is a mark in the Trivandrum landscape left by the American influence. I was neither impressed nor depressed.

Tuesday through Thursday was spent at the conference. Admittedly we did bunk a session or two each day to tour the nearby zoo, shopping area, and to celebrate the birthday of one of Elizabeth's uncles. It was fun to get out and stretch the legs while taking in the local culture. Each evening not spent at conference functions was spent eating late and taking late night dips in the cool pool waters. The change of pace from the CMC routine was nice and refreshing, however the late nights and early mornings made for an exhausting week away.
Zoo life. 
This guy stood exactly like this for about five minutes. Crazy creature. 
This is what happens when you are too lazy to switch the lens on your camera... you don't get the whole bird in the shot. 
Still too lazy to switch the lens. Croc or gator?
Caged cat. It was lunch time so all the big cats had been caged for feeding. 
A zoom lens also lets you see, in detail, just how ugly hippos really are. 
A Sumatran black bear.
A constrictor. 
Cutting birthday cake.
After the cake was cut, the birthday boy fed everyone (save Divya and I) some cake... it seemed like some sort of family tradition. 
Elizabeth and some of her family. Everyone was so hospitable! 
My overall impression of Trivandrum is this: it is a city rich with Indian culture and history yet heavily tainted by Western influence. (I spotted both a Dominoes and a Baskin & Robins.) It is clean and “quiet” (comparatively speaking) with far more evidence of wealth than what I am used to seeing in India. My only regret: that I did not purchase a traditional Kerala saree which is a light cream color with shimmery gold borders. Simple and elegant. 

And what did I find in Trivandrum? A Red Delicious Washington Apple! See? Too much western influence!