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Veli nice

India, Days 39 and 40 – Thiruvananthapuram

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Yesterday, I headed out to Veli Tourist Park and Veli Beach, a little way west of the city. The park consists of a small lake where boat rides are given, some garden strewn with modern sculpture, a fish pond, and some fairground-type attractions. It’s a pretty modest affair, but the sculpture was moderately interesting. Most impressive was a house-sized conch shell by the pond; in the pond were a number of fish families – each one with a mum, a dad and a cloud of tiny youngsters.

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The lake, at its western end is fringed with plants with bulbs in their stems that burst with a soft pop when you walk on them. The ravens seemed to find this area a big draw. This fringe of plants is bordered by the beach. On which were a number of simple fishing boats and men putting away their nets and ropes. The sand here was incredibly orange. I did my thing for about an hour before heading back to town.

Today, I took some advice from Aniche and went out to Priyadarsini Planetarium. I’d done an internet search and found that there were several screenings of the planetarium show – mostly in Malayalam, but with one in English at midday. I got there at shortly before twelve and, naturally, had to wait in the short queue for five minutes before I could get a ticket (15 rs). When I got inside and began to climb the stairs there was a party of young women all apparently waiting for the auditorium to open and all looking at me.

Eventually, the doors opened and several school groups filed in. I was last in, but my seat was right by the door. The presentation itself was OK. The projection wasn’t very bright or sharp, but it was watchable. The young-sounding female narrator had a pleasant voice and pronounced many words idiosyncratically: AStronoMICal, ANdroMEEda, nebYOOla and so on. The production was up to date enough that it took into account the recent reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet (with the ‘ar’ in ‘dwarf’ rhyming with ‘car’), along with Ceres and Eris. Halfway through, the film was stopped, the lights came on and a party of schoolboys left; then the show resumed.

The reaction of the children with the lights went down and the stars came up was quite sweet. During the screening there were two and a bit rounds of applause. I started to take a photo of the projector afterwards – a long object standing at an angle with a bulbous part at each end and various small invididual projectors projecting from it – but was told off.

The planetarium is part of Kerala State Science and Technology Museum, and this consisted of a number of galleries (also costing 15 rs) distributed through three buildings around a forecourt containing a jet fighter and some rockets (or models thereof). The galleries, while looking like leftovers from the seventies, were reasonably entertaining. Many were interactive, so in the Engineering Gallery you could toy with steering mechanisms, in the Bio-engineering Gallery you could have your pulse taken by machine, the Computing Gallery had working calculating machines.

In the gallery dealing with electromagnetism there was a Jacob’s Ladder, which, when you press the switch, sends an arc of white electricity up between to prongs. There was a demonstration of how metal loses its magnetism when heated – you press a button and a little coil with a magnet stuck to it turns orange; the magnet falls away, hanging by a chain.

I didn’t do a comprehensive tour of the galleries – the schoolkids running around all over the place (well, some places – it wasn’t all that crowded) started to annoy me … more to the point, they made me feel self-conscious playing with the exhibits.

From there I walked generally south and east towards MG Road, passing various buildings, which I photographed. I went back to the hotel briefly, then walked the short distance to Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It wasn’t very impressive. It looked like it might be from a distance, but when you get closer you realise that the tall central structure is enmeshed in cables – presumably to prevent bits falling off.

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First thing tomorrow I have a train to catch up to Mumbai. That’ll take about two days. I guess I’ll be getting some reading done, then.

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