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Sunday, July 31

Google Earth Kerala: Charting the change

Google Earth has been progressively updating the eagle's eye view of Indian subcontinent. Being a travel and places buff, an enthusiast for urbanity, development and dynamics, I've found it pretty fascinating. Take a look and see the dynamics from the heavens.

Full and continuous updating of new Google Earth imagery is right here on this thread of Urban and Architectural Forum Skyscrapercity Forum. Go on, click and it will open in a new tab ---> Kerala towns and cities: Google Earth. Do sit back and enjoy with a cup of tea.

Trivandrum NH Bypass in 2005, and at present. Pictures tell the tale, highrises are comprehensively edging out coconut tree-tops along this stretch.

Technopark fringes. The 150hp engine behind Trivandrum's surge forward surely does exhibit the graphic metamorphosis of the once quaint suburb.

Phase III of Technopark has erased the greenery along the NH Bypass. Necessary evil of progress. But all for good.

Massive Software Campuses of Infosys and UST Global rising side-by-side. And in 2016 this frame will be completely filled by some iconic modern structures.

City dynamics. Pattom Junction. The erstwhile Gateway to the city is now a thriving downtown area. Numerous apartments and commercial complexes stand testimony to this.

Cochin. Kakkanad. Infopark.You know it all! The massive Wipro Software Development Campus fills the frame.

Panampally Nagar, Cochin. The premiere residential enclave is almost a concrete Amazon!

Green makes way to cleared, brown patches of land, then transformed into highrise shelters. Cochin vista continues...

Vallarpadam Container Terminal taking shape in 2005, followed by the finished product in 2011.

Marine Drive (Extension). Kerala's most premium waterfront address taking shape in 2005, and the present state. New bridges to the western archipelago and the waterfront boulevard connecting the North-western fringes of the city are ready now.

New apartments fill the waterfront montage on Marine Drive (Shanmugham Road) , Cochin.

The islands on Cochin backwaters have transformed since getting connected to the mainland. Vallarpadam Terminal and the Petronet LNG Complex seen here.

Kannur. Even smaller Kerala towns haven't shied away from embracing highrise culture. First image from early 2006.

Payyambalam Beach front, Kannur. Highrises propping up here and there making way for another gorgeous residential setting.

Lot more images are there in the Skyscrapercity link above. Do bookmark for continued and thorough updates from the members. Always thanks to M/s Google! :)

On way just have a look at the development showcased below. Let's look in an anachronic manner on this one, I'll show you how Hyderababd International Airport looks from above.

And this is how the placed looked in 2005. Oye!

Perhaps the most impressive and landmark model development must be the Sabarmati Riverfront Development in Ahmedabad. The administrators of Gujrat's commercial capital have drastically changed the way River Sabarmati was viewed by the citizens. Kudos to the Gujrat Government. These sets of images prove my point.

The set of Google Earth images chart the rebirth of Sabarmati, which was another stagnant, clogged urban chokeway in 2007, but has now metamorphosed into the free-flowing bluewaters in 2011.

This will make matters more clear... Sabarmati in 2007

and in 2011

For decades, we, down in Trivandrum, have been shouting and begging for our TS Canal to be cleansed, made navigable and to turn the historic waterway into a waterfront haven for Trivandrum. Apart from ourselves developing sore throats, nothing has happened so far. There is no dearth of projects but there is one crucial difference. It stays put on paper.

One of my old photo-blogs depicts this sorry tale. Please do take a look >>  TS Canal: A passage through time (Link opens in a new tab)

Those who think such developments aren't possible in Kerala, think again. If Gujarat could turn the clogged and dead Sabarmati into a world-class waterfront boulevard then why we cant we do the same? The funds we received for it as part of National Waterway III were allowed to lapse. Criminal! Surely we're missing something the Gujjus have in plenty.

It's called will-power.


Tuesday, July 19

A tale of three cities

This is a story of numbers, as it is a story of cities, but not a complicated one. Plain and simple mathematics when you look at it from my perspective, and from any common man's or business man's perspective. And those numbers portray a simple murky scheme, the way we, the people, are held at ransom by a few 'real' bourgeois, not the extinct feudal variety our Commie friends fight in their dreams.

Now aren't we all able to see through that?

The numbers & information in this post are mostly derived from Sleeper Class data is based on the total SL coaches allocated to a train and does not reflect on the actual no of seats available for reservation between two cities. Eg: Kottayam- Bangalore sector may only have approx 100 berths in a 10 Sleeper Class, 720-seater Express Train. Trivandrum Central has been used as the base point for the post.

City #1 Mangalore

Distance: 635 km
Capital of Dhakshina Kannada
Gateway to Konkan Railway and on to Mumbai and Gujarat
2 lakh Malayalees
Commercially imprtant city for North Malabar and a major educational hub for the whole of Kerala
Major Port and industrial city

Road: Numerous Bus operators run overnight from all major towns.
Air: Kingfisher and Air India Express fly direct from Cochin
  • 6 daily Express trains including Netravati Express.
  • Total no: of trains available per week between two cities 15. This includes a Rajadhani Express, Kerala Samparka Kranthi and Kochuveli- Mumbai Garib Rath.
  • Another half a dozen trains run via Mangalore from Ernakulam.
  • Sleeper Class coaches available per week: 140 including 6 Super Fast services [inclusive of a Rajadhani, Samparka Kranti and Garib Rath] Two daily day-services, Parasuram and Eranad Expresses also service the two cities.

City #2 Chennai

Distance from Trivandrum: 909 km
Capital of Tamil Nadu
Major transit point for air travel and other Indian cities
5 lakh Malayalees
South India's major industrial, IT and entertainment hub.

Road: State and Private operators ply overnight luxury bus services.
Air: Around half a dozen daily flights from Cochin and Trivandrum.
  • 4 daily Express trains, exclusive between Chennai & Trivandrum. The new budget has presented another Duranto which takes the number to 5
  • 3 more Express/ Super Fast daily services from Ernakulam.
  • Korba- Akalyanagari- Raptisagar Expresses which operates on all days except Friday, run via Chennai Central.
  • Total trains connecting Chennai to Trivandrum stands at 11
  • Sleeper Class coaches available per week: 126. Includes 6 Super-Fasts [viz the Chennai Mail and the newly introducing Duranto]

City #3 Bangalore

Distance 840 km
Karnataka Capital City
IT hub of India; important city for Kerala's lone growing industry
10 lakh Malayalees


Road: Private bus operators make merry at nearly double the fares on Chennai sector (for lesser distance)
Air: Over half a dozen daily flights from Cochin and Trivandrum.
  • 1 daily train from Trivandrum! That too the moving disgrace called Island Express.
  • Another daily express operates from Ernakulam.
  • A total of 6 trains connect Bangalore all the way down to Trivandrum
  • Sleeper class coaches available per week: 64.
  • One lone Superfast which runs 1 day a week! Then there's a tri-weekly GaribRath. So in fact, the no: of daily Super Fast trains connecting Trivandrum and Bangalore is a big, fat, mind-boggling 0

This Bangalore situation is so diabolical when you see that even Air travel is so well flourishing between Bangalore and Cochin/ Trivandrum, so demand or viability for another half-a-dozen daily Super Fasts is clear as daylight. Even Mumbai, a distant 1600+km of wilderness away from Trivandrum has 3 daily trains from Kerala, and a total of 17 trains a week passing through Panvel or directly to CST/ Kurla.

There've been persistent demands and agitations for better rail connectivity to Bangalore ever since the city gained its IT Hub status over 20 years back, and the excruciatingly slow Island Express is the lone daily train connecting Kerala's IT Hub at Trivandrum. Apart from the erratic new weekly services announced once in a blue moon, and that too deliberately on low-demand days, these petitions and cries have fallen on deaf ears.

The last of this cruel treatment of public has been the sudden rescheduling of the #12683 Ernakulam- Bangalore Express, which, following passenger agitation has been reinstated. [See Facebook page of Save 12683 Express for more details]

I'm drawing no conclusions to the tale; I leave you to draw your own. But is it too hard to understand, analyse or guess how Indian Railways are acting a business accomplice to private transport establishments?

As I said in the beginning, who isn't able to see the scheme of things? Crystal balls anyone?


Monday, July 11

Once upon a time in Trivandrum

Aryabhatta and ancient Indian mathematicians would've never imagined on how their '0' would run out of conceivable, comprehensible limits. First the CAG of the country put the nation in shock-o-shambles when our Corporates & Ministers drained the treasury dry, but now those exorbitant numbers have turned to pure euphoria when the ancient vaults of Trivandrum's trademark temple was opened.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple

At last reports, its over 2,00,00,00,00,00,000 or a mere 2 Lakh crore, ( US $ 22 billion) and counting, with one last vault yet to be opened. Some speculative reports say it would be close to a cool 5 lakh crore or >50 billion US Dollars, enough to run the State of Kerala for a decade, after clearing out our 80,000 Crore debt, and to help out struggling European countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum and Kerala struck front page on major newsmedia across the world; from NY Times to Guardian, from BBC to FoxNews. Money always makes headlines, doesn't it? Even the weight of Gods appear to increase geometrically according to the glitter of their chips.

And Voila! Here descends a whole breed of local patriotic-cum-parochial-class gentlemen on their personal hobby-horses, riding in all directions. One demand: "Spend it! Right now! Right now!" Right-wingers demand Sree Padmanabha University, Medical Colleges, spending it only for Hindus etc. 'Left'ies want it to be distributed among the poor! Some even want to build Vizhinjam port, Cochin Metro, Airports and a few Technoparks with that money.

May be if you come across another secret chamber of  a lost Pharaoh under Giza, how ludicrous it will be to suggest to take all that money and distribute it among the poor. Who in their right senses would suggest Vatican to sell those artifacts at Sistine Chapel to swell up 'community welfare' funds?

History is priceless, we just cannot sell tradition just like that. Just. like. that. It's our pride, our roots. It is for our future generations to admire and learn where they come from.

Surely, those suggesting ready-cash-in of this priceless treasure must've gone bonkers.

Luckily all haven't lost it yet. Chief Minister Chandy has confirmed that the treasures are and will remain temple property, with the honourable SC reaffirming this stand. So Universities and Metro Trains and space-ships are out of the immediate schemes, at least for now.

So, now what? 

Protecting the treasures within the temple is theoretically and meta-ethically the best option. But there is a practical handicap to this. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple adheres to, and enforces one the strictest customs and codes of Hindu religion. It poses a very real challenge to the assemblage of security measures. Except for peripheral beats and rounds, the Commandos with boots and guns are a big no-no inside the sanctum. Electronic devices and CCTVs are prohibited. Unless we assemble together a 'Swiss Guard' type of exclusive protection force, protection is surely going to be a nightmare.

Another is the cost factor. Initial estimates suggest as much as 30 Crores per month have to be spent  on security of the temple and premises.

The temple being in the heart of Trivandrum's business district doesn't make things any easier. The whole Fort area is a notified heritage zone. Although strict building regulations are in place, a further 500m radius secure zone is planned around the temple. This may create unnecessary hassles for the dynamic city center which includes hotels, shopping centers and bus-stands a stone-throw away from the temple.

East Fort will probably never be the same again. Unless...

Unless...The Govt sits down and decides to move this to a museum of International Standards which will solve a few issues.The ownership could well lie with the temple or the Royals or whoever the Apex Court decides, but the $22 billion is the issue, whichever way we look at it.

A Travancore History Museum?

Encouraging to see some section of media proposing the idea of a 'Louvre' is Trivandrum. This is a discovery of unimaginable proportions as it is historically important. This has generated huge headline news the world over, that has created challenges but also opened up new possibilities for the Govt.

This is perhaps a God-given opportunity to globalize the name and fame of Padmanabha Swami's dear old Trivandrum. Kerala Tourism has done an exemplary job in marketing the Kerala brand, but except for Kovalam and Kochi, other destinations haven't yet cut a chord with outside world. Even many tourists visiting Kovalam and Varkala tend to appear puzzled when you say 'Trivandrum' or 'Thiruvananthapuram', but this is a chance to clear the haze.

Kerala, now has enchanting beauty, culture and and an astounding new legacy to show-off!

My argument is not for 'commercialisation of temple wealth'. It is NOT. As our left-wingers say,  "Use it for the betterment of the lower sections of society", but how? How much money will reach the needy once it filters through our bureaucratic labyrinths? Especially in India 'maharajyam', where an A. Raja has already exhibited with proof that even 1.76 lakh crore isn't much when distributed and shared among a handful of corporates, cronies and well-wishers.

Let's look at Egypt. The desert nation has stamped itself as the heritage capital of the world by preserving their artifacts and opening them to the world to embrace its history and tradition. The fables of the treasures of Tutankhamen and the Pharoes have driven curious visitors in millions every year to unlock the mysteries and richness Egyptian Civilization has left us. Those pyramids & sculptures and the numerous museums in and around Cairo has helped Egypt reap benefits from their past through present and onto the future.

Same story with the other major treasures of the world. Most of them aren't in First World countries as we call 'em, but no-one is talking about auctioning them to build schools and hospitals, are they? They're all exhibited for the believers, the scholars and visitors to study and admire.

World's Largest Treasures: 

Sree PadmanabhaSwamy Temple
In situ
Tutankhamen’s Tomb
Valley of Kings,
Egyptian Museum
Dead Sea Scrolls
Dead Sea Caves,
Israel Museum
Bactrian Gold
National Museum
Domus Aurea
-         Lost -
Treasure of Nimrud
Iraq Museum,

Credits: Wall Street Journal

Isn't it a coincidence that this discovery has come as a shot-in-the-arm for Kerala Tourism, who took a bold step towards this culture-and-heritage bracket by the critically acclaimed showreel "Your moment is Waiting" last year in London? What better opportunity does Kerala Tourism need?

Look at the World over... They all exhibit their history, their antiquity, exhibiting their rich tradition. Paris, Cairo, Vatican, Istanbul... Now Sree Padmanabhan's Trivandrum has frog-leaped into that class. It's our glittery past, our wealth, our pride. It's not just showcasing stuff and pinching dollars.

Tailpiece:  Ironic as it may seem, I've been part of discussions on what should be the brand-image of 'new' Trivandrum as the iconic frames of Sree Padmanabha Temple, Napier Museum, Kowdiar Palace, Secretariat et al were deemed to be outdated. The new Assembly Complex, Technopark, Infosys 'ships', new Airport Terminal were the leading contenders. How poetical, Trivandrum will henceforth, and befittingly be identified world-over by this one iconic image of Lord Ananthapadmanabhan's Gopuram, which has given this oriental city its name, fame, and now everything.

Images Courtesy: Hindustan Times, PTI