We had flown into Kochi and then planned to drive down to Thiruvananthapuram (say that 3 times really fast .... or just call it Trivandrum as almost everyone seems to) .
The drive is amazing! I developed a major crick in my neck just turning my head again and again to follow luscious scenery till out of eye-sight.
Trivandrum is one of those little cities that are, as one of my friends put it, "so full of character!" . The capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore and now of Kerala, there is a sense of old-worldliness about it, a leisurely ambling and simplicity ... never mind all those new roads and the sprinkling of high-rises that are almost like an after-thought. A concession to the 21st century, as it were.
Our plan was to stay at Maryknoll in Trivandrum
but once we got there, we kept lingering and lengthening our holiday. After the heat and dust of Mumbai, the tranquility of the lily pond and the cool, high-ceilinged rooms had me mesmerised.
Just about everything here is designed for coolness. High ceilings, big rooms, ventilators, big windows, cool floors, shade trees, and of course, it's built on top of a hillock to catch every breeze that wanders by. Perfect for living just 8 degrees north of the Equator! And it's cooler than my Mumbai apartment by the sea !
The little curved 'turrets', wrapped around antique wooden staircases, are fascinating.
But the most intriguing of all ... this home has front doors made mostly of glass. Talk about absolute welcomes !
Another thing I love... great furniture. Most of the furniture here dates back to the colonial times and the craftsmanship on these is like nothing I see in the modern pieces.
This beautiful writing desk tucked away under the wooden staircase has a great view of the lawn and a towering Michaellia champaca tree.
Can you imagine what it must be like when the Champaca tree is in full bloom, wafting its heady fragrance everywhere?
Greenery seems to reach in from every nook and corner.
At the back of the house, a staircase used earlier as an access for the housekeeping staff, now leads to terraces. The curved wall of the staircase is peppered with jaalis (patterned cut-outs) and even here the refreshing glimpses of green beckon... making one feel like you're peeping into another world.
Maybe it really is. I did feel as if I was in a time warp, slipping back into a more leisurely time. Finding time to breathe ... and just to be !
The 50-year old garden was undergoing a massive re-haul and rejuvenation but the bougainvillaea were in full bloom.
I love this delicate pink-tipped double-petalled one.
A step beyond and a low garden wall leads into the grounds filled with towering trees. Teak and mahogany trees seemed to be in a "who's taller?" competition.
And mango trees vied with jackfruit trees to see which could bear the most fruit. The mango trees win by number but when you take into account the size of each jackfruit.... phew!
And, not to be left out were the jungle jack (Artocarpus hirsutus)... small globes of spiky fruit filled with sweet-tart golden globules that leave you yearning for another mouthful.
Of course, all these fruits find their way to the dining table and our stay there was replete with huge platters of all these fruits as well as bananas and veggies grown in the kitchen garden. There's nothing to beat the flavour of fresh fruits straight off the tree!
Something that left me a bit bemused was to see blankets of leaf litter on the ground, especially under the coconut trees. I was told that it was part of their natural land management system. The blanket of leaves protect the earth from the intense summer heat and also helps to keep down loss of moisture through evaporation. And they obviously add to the fertility of the soil. Something like composting in situ. Smart!
One of the jackfruit trees was abloom with hundreds of Acampe orchids. These orchids are found growing wild in South India and are sometimes seen adorning trees along the highways.
The flowers are so tiny that most often they are not noticed. Their lingering scent, however, turns many a head.
I looked closer and found that someone had already staked claim here!
And down among the blanket of leaves, shy Caladiums peep out. Splashes of green and white in the most unexpected places, adding to the verdant appeal of the grounds.
One day, a few men walked in and there was a lot of hushed conversation. It seems they had come to buy palm leaves.
Why? To feed elephants!
This of course, was cause for a lot of excitement because we thought that we would get to see the massive animals. My children ran out on to the grounds to check but we were out of luck this time. Apparently they had not brought the elephants with them.
Maybe next time?...
It all seems so surreal now but at the time it fit right in with the ambience. Of a place cut off from modernity, where elephants would saunter in any minute, looking for a mouthful of palm leaves!
The next time I come to Trivandrum, I must try to get a photo of the nearby Kaudiar Palace, or rather, the entrance to the property still owned by the Maharaja and his descendants. It is one of the last few private palaces with no entry allowed to tourists. This very exclusivity gives it a very secretive, aloof air. I love the tall gates allowing just a glimpse of lush greenery inside.
Till then, I have my photos of Maryknoll and its grille-work which is said to be an exact replica of that in the Palace (sorry, I didnt include them here) .
But, I bet they don't have all those fruit trees on the Palace grounds, though. Nor such a dreamy lily pond.
And even if they do, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to dabble my feet in it and watch the dragonflies, like I did at Maryknoll!