On the western side of India’s southern tip stands the city of Thiruvananthapuram (colonially known as Trivandrum, which is still widely used, despite the name change in 1991). It is the capital of Kerala state: a leafy, breeze-licked sliver of terraced earth with burnt pink sand beaches; air pungent with spiced and flowery odors; and unsettlingly surreal sunsets, which arrive slowly with a terminal glow that makes you feel like you’re on some other hazy planet, the slatted chatter of palm fronds and the bone-shaking crash of dark waves outlining the phenomenon. Multicolored lights fly by at night (they’re everywhere in Thiruvananthapuram), as mopeds and taxis spit along, the high pitch of a Hindu song curling in through the smoke and the sea mist. It is sense-melting and eye-opening from the fundamental to the endemic; where else might you see the skinned, marbled head of a bull awaiting the butcher’s knife atop a hot metal table, framed by the curlicue flourish of Hindi lettering on billboards and the polychrome river of a thousand passing saris outside?
Here, the five highlights and must-sees in Thiruvananthapuram and its surrounding areas. From Ayurvedic treatment resorts (Anna Dello Russo is a fan) to backwater boat trips, the region is emerging as a must-stop destination for Americans (Europeans have long been in on the secret). Plus, with India’s easier-than-ever e-Tourist visa for U.S. citizens (apply online and receive confirmation within three to five days), now’s the time to go.
Located just to the south of Thiruvananthapuram, this retro-awesome hotel and spa is set on extraordinary grounds—a clifftop peering down to the expansive water, ostensibly the meeting point of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Explore beaches on both sides of the rock; or just chill in or around the property’s beautiful infinity pool. (Niraamaya staff, if you read this, please listen: Do not conduct pipe-hammering construction while guests are trying to relax!)
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
This beautiful and complex Hindu shrine is said to be the wealthiest temple in the world (in terms of assets—mainly gold and precious stones).
Cool fact: This is the zoo that inspired the book (and then movie) Life of Pi—author Yann Martel is said to have studied animal behavior at this famous attraction.
Considered the best restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, Villa Maya offers an international roster of options set in tranquil ambiance—a nice break from the hustle of the city.
A striking beach with excellent people-watching—don’t miss it.