On Wednesday afternoon, we left Pune and headed to the city of Trivandrum, via Bangalore and a one hour wait in the airport.
The full name of the city is Thiruvananthapuram (pronounced “Thee Ru Va Nun The Poo Rum”). We had just called it “Thing-a-ma-bob” up until we got here and found that most people use the shortened version, Trivandrum. It is located in the state of Kerala and is at the Western Southern tip of India..
We were once again picked up at the airport by a driver and headed to our hotel. I knew that we were next to the ocean and asked the driver where the coast was. He pointed out the window and said “there” and we looked and could see the breakers in the moonlight…..our first view of the Indian ocean.
As soon as we unpacked, we headed to the comfortable chairs. Here is the sultan relaxing on his chaise lounge…..
Breakfast on Thursday morning was a buffet once again featuring both Indian and Western food. My meal consisted of Chicken sausages, fried potatoes, grilled tomatoes, medhu vada (fried lentil doughnuts) served with a savory Chutney and a new pastry called Battura…..
We were picked up by Hema, Michael’s host at the IISER institute in Trirvandrum. She first suggested coffee and as Michael has NEVER turned down coffee, our first stop was at a Café Coffee Day. I appreciated a sign in their shop that told people not to come behind the serving counter. It said that “trespassers will wash dishes”.
One of the first things that I noticed as we drove was that many of the men were dressed very differently here,wearing long white “skirts” called Lungi……
Hema said that the religious divide was very different than in the rest of India…..it was 50% Hindu, 30% Muslim and 20% Christian. She said that Christianity dates back thousands of years as it is a tradition that one of the apostles, St. Thomas, spent time in India. It was interesting to see the mix of churches, including this cool looking Mosque…..
We were heading to the area where the new ISCER facility was being built and drove for about an hour, soon leaving the city and driving thru gorgeous forests and small villages. I loved the colors of the houses….so reminiscent of Bahamian beach houses…..
The IISER (Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research) is an elite institution that trains Undergraduates and Graduates in the areas of Mathematics and Science. It is different from other Universities in that the Undergraduates are very quickly immersed into a research (hands on) culture. They pull from the very top tier of students so all of them are highly motivated and very astute. There are six such institutions around the country.
This IISER in Trivandrum has only been in existence for 7 years and started out on one floor of the Engineering School building. They added another floor and took it over and are now BURSTING at the seams. To alleviate this problem they are building a state-of-the-art facility on the outskirts of the city. It is built against the west flank of the Western Ghats , a mountain range that runs parallel to the west coast of the country. Accordingly, the views are gorgeous!!!
We saw the scale replica of the facility as it is expected to look when it is finished in the next few years…..
Their goal is to be a completely self sufficient unit with Solar power and water treatment plants, etc. There will be dorms/apartments for the students and housing for the Professors and other staff in a small area away from the research unit…..
Construction is going on all over the compound with buildings going up at an amazing rate. We had a chance to walk thru the Chemistry building…..
Although I am sure that the scientific facilities will be state of the art, I was more interested in the aesthetic qualities of the building. All of the walkways are open air and I loved the geometry of the design….
Each of the four main science buildings have small auditoriums for classes but there will be a building containing large auditoriums for the larger classes and meetings. All of these buildings (the science buildings and the Auditorium center) will be connected by overhead walkways. This is one of the smaller rooms…..
The two young men in the photo joined us on the tour, going ahead of us and turning on lights and making it easy for us to see everything. Although he didn’t look nearly old enough, one of them was the “Assistant Project Manager”!!
There was some discussion about whether it was a butterfly or a moth but Krushnamegh (our butterfly expert) has now confirmed that it is a Parthenos sylvia (Clipper).
While they were looking at the fauna, I was once again looking at the floor (pardon the toe). It is a bit hard to see, but I can see making a block out of the combination of squares and rectangles….
As we drove thru the property we were told more about the facility. There will be electric fences around the boundaries to keep the large animals out, but there will be openings that will allow the animals to have access to the waterways. They are building observation towers around the waterways so that the animals can be unobtrusively watched.
We passed one area and one of the young men pointed and said that this area was known to have lots of King Cobras. I poked Michael in the arm and told him to take the camera and go but I would wait in the car!!!
We visited the Director’s home and saw that it was progressing along nicely….
I was reminded that so much of the work is done by hand and with sheer hard labor….
We left the area and started driving up thru the mountains so that we could see more of the area. We passed several monkeys but our driver was channeling Mario Andretti and was driving too fast to take a decent photo. However, we passed one and he slowed down so that I could hang out of the window and take a decent photo. First there was one monkey…..
….and then a whole tree full. I think that there are 7 in this photo……
Our destination was “Ponmudi” (meaning Golden Peak), a hill station 55 kilometers Northeast of Trivandrum.
We found that being in a government (IISER) vehicle was like a pre-paid pass. We didn’t wait at the gate with all of the other cars and didn’t have to pay to get into the park.
We were astounded with the number of visitors on a weekday….. but were told that the day was actually a holiday…Eid al-Adha, a Mulsim festival that many Muslims celebrate with special prayers, greetings and gifts. Interestingly we had originally been told that this holiday was on Friday and not Thursday, but apparently the moon phases were slightly different than what was expected so the day was changed at the last minute.
The scenery was delightful, even though rainclouds were threatening all around us…..
In the distance we could see a tall observation tower with a steady stream of people making their way to the top…..
…it was time to make the trip DOWN the mountain. Going down, the driver could go even faster, often passing on blind curves, but honking loudly to let the other drivers know where he was.
The rubber trees are tapped and the rubber is poured in thin sheets onto metal pans. Once it has solidified the sheets are put out on the line to dry.
Hema suggested that we needed to stop for a quick snack and bought several Red Bananas. They are shorter and plumper than regular bananas and are soft and sweet….
You can be fairly sure that they are fresh when the grocer is cutting them off of the stem!!!
It was decided that we had time for a quick lunch and stopped for Dosa, a crepe-like pastry made from a fermented rice and lentil batter…..
It is served with several tasty dipping sauces and was a perfect end to the tour.
We dropped Michael and Hema back at the IISER building so that he could give his talk and then the driver took me back to the hotel.
We were on our own for dinner so decided to go to The Orbit Bar and have drinks and goodies. This time I chose a local beer, Kingfisher, and enjoyed a HUGE bottle although I thought that I had ordered the smaller one….maybe this WAS the smaller one???….
We enjoyed a mixture of fried shrimp, beef and pepper stir fry and spicy chicken fingers. The staff did a great job of spacing them out so that we had lots of time to talk and catch up about our trip. We knew that we HAD to have dessert so I ordered the fried ice cream dipped in chocolate and Michael had Gulab Jamun and ice cream……
Both were excellent!!!
After a good night sleep, we arrived at breakfast to be greeted by smiley faced tater tots…..
He did so with much grace but then got ribbed by the other employees after I walked away….poor guy!!!
It is hard to fathom how they can keep everything straight!!!
When we had been picked up on the day before, I had noticed this statue not far from our hotel…..
Hema saw me straining to see what it was and helpfully divulged that it was a government regulated Handicrafts store….and within walking distance of the hotel!!!! So, today, when I had checked out of the hotel, the car picked me up and made a stop here on the way back to IISER. I had a very fast visit thru the shop and picked up a few more things to bring home….just what we needed!!
This driver was different from most as he seemed to believe that buses COULD indeed kill you and he didn’t pull out in front of them like others had done. He also stayed off of his horn, but did use his headlight flasher to signal others to get out of his way.
We were taken to lunch by several of the professors, Michael had one last meeting with a student, and then we headed back to the airport again. This time we were able to get a few photos of the ocean…..
Next time we come, we will definitely have to do a bit of paddling here so that we can say that we have been in yet another of the earth’s oceans.
We were late leaving the Institute and were afraid that we might miss our flight but everyone at the airport was kind and efficient and we made it with enough time to get something to drink before we took off.
All in all, our visit to Trivandrum was absolutely perfect. Everyone we met was kind and wanted to know if we had a good trip and then invited us to return again…..we plan to!!!!