Day Trip to Tripunithura Hill Palace

Tripunithura Hill Palace is a large palace complex with 49 buildings spread over 54 acres of prime land in Tripunithura on Hill Palace Road. Built in 1865 by the Maharaja of Cochin, it was the official residence of the royal family. In 1980, the palace changed hands to the Department of Archaeology (Government of Kerala, India) who converted it into an archaeological museum and opened its gates to the public in 1986. To get to Hill Palace from Kakkanad, turn left at Karingachira junction from Seaport-Airport road and travel around 500m to the entrance on the left – NH49 merges into Seaport-Airport road at Irumpanam junction and you are on NH49 until you get to the palace entrance. The museum timings are 9 AM - 12:30 PM and 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM all days except Mondays. The Childrens Park in the campus is also open from 4:30 PM – 6 PM.

When we reached the gates by 9AM, a small crowd was forming at the gates. Gates opened around 9:05 AM and there was a rush to the ticket counter at the building to the left. As with most places in Kerala, lines (queue) are namesake but we managed to get our tickets quickly - there was some confusion as to where exactly the ticket counter was and that gave us an opportunity to be in front. Tickets were Rs 20 adults, Rs 10 kids (5-12), and Rs 20 for camera and parking. One can always park for free outside on the road surrounding the palace. Parking inside has the advantage that you are a little bit closer to the main palace building. Video camera is allowed but is priced at Rs 1500, probably a legacy from olden times. Wide steps spanning a distance of around 300 meters lead to the museum entrance in the main palace building. Photography is prohibited inside the main building. All personal belongings and footwear need to be kept in the locker and/or in the outside cubicles – free but a small donation (Rs 2 or so) is recommended.

The main building has 14 categories of exhibits – highlights include murals, paintings, sculptures, manuscripts written on coconut leaves, jewelry, inscriptions, carvings, old coins, etc. The jewelry section is the only air-conditioned room and hosts the 1.75 kg gold crown presented by the King of Portugal – the Kochi Maharajahs had received a number of such crowns but they were never worn, as these crowns were too ornate for their simple lifestyle. Pallaks (carriage for royalty that is carried around by four or more people) and Weapons Gallery is in an adjacent building – shoes and cameras are allowed inside these buildings but photography is off the list – best to empty the locker in the main building before walking over to this adjacent building. Near these two main buildings, are a few other buildings including the office of the center for heritage studies - those are out-of-bounds for visitors.

Aside from the exhibits in the two buildings, there are other options to pursue as time allows. The walkway leads to the giant dinosaur model and a nice picnic area. Further down is a deer park that showcases a large collection of deers including the Sambar and the Spotted Deer. At the end of the pathway is a partial jogging track that marks most of the boundary of the palace complex. Not many people venture out there and maintenance of the track is below par. Nevertheless it is a good option to appreciate the flora around the palace buildings – trees with strong vines abound (Tarzan anyone?) and the path was dotted with Manchadi Kurus (a beautiful red seed). The palace grounds also host a small horticultural area (royal heritage plant nursery) where local plants can be had for reasonable prices.

The area around the park has a large pond sorely in need of maintenance. The small information hut has limited services and offers some tourism related books for sale but no curios. The snack bar adjacent to the ticket counter serves ice creams and such – seating is limited to a few chairs in the outside corridor. A popular childrens park and play area suitable for young kids is also in an area by the entrance – the park has a few small rides, slides, and swings. The park also offers horse rides around the periphery for Rs 30. Our kids enjoyed the ride and the horse seemed to be well cared for.

Overall, we highly recommend visiting this palace complex, especially for families with young kids. There are plenty of options to spend half a day or more and as with most government run attractions in Kerala; pricing is nominal for tickets and other services. The staff in the complex were generally friendly and helpful, although they have ways to go to be considered above average in the hospitality industry.



Last Updated: 09/2011.

Guam - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Guam was a Spanish possession until 1898 when it was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris following the Spanish-American War. It has a total land area of 209 square miles and a population of 178,000. It is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands located south of Japan and east of the Philippine Sea. Guam is a popular Japanese tourist destination and hosts over one million tourists a year. The Spiral-bound book ‘Field Guide to Caves and Karst of Guam’ by Danko Taborosi is an excellent companion for outdoor enthusiasts planning to visit the island.

Philatelic Profile:

Guam used United States stamps overprinted with ‘Guam’ during the period from July 7, 1899 to March 29, 1901while the post office was under the jurisdiction of the naval department. Regular United States stamps were supplied to Guam from that date onwards although the overprints continued to be used for a few more years. The first stamps of Guam were ‘Guam’ overprints from the Great Men sets of the US from the turn of the century. The set (Scott #1 to #12) is extremely valuable cataloging for around $1.5K for Mint and around $1.9K for Used. Other stamps of Guam include a special delivery stamp of the United States diagonally inscribed ‘Guam’ in Red (Scott #E1), several stamps with ‘Guam Guard Mail’ inscriptions from the 1930s introduced for the conveyance of mail between Agana and small towns which was discontinued in 1931, and certain specimen varieties. Most of the issues are valuable although counterfeits are known to exist.

Numismatic Profile:

Guam uses the currency of the United States – Guam territorial quarters from 2009 are a popular item.

Collectible Memorabilia:

Military patches and other defense memorabilia form good collectible items from Guam.

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Last Updated: 12/2015. 

Global Public School (GPS) vs Bay Farm Elementary - Comparative Review: R2I - Schooling For Kids

Bay Farm Elementary School in Alameda was the school our children were enrolled at the time of our relocation in May 2010. It was considered among the best public schools in its category in California in terms of API state rankings. In fact, one major concern when relocating was how the children would adapt to the totally different Kerala environment. To our pleasant surprise, the new school experience was an unbelievable upgrade and they thrived in their first year. When we scouted for schools in the Kochi metropolitan area in the 2008 time frame, the nearby options were Rajagiri Christhu Jayanti and Marthoma Public School, both in Kakkanad. Getting admission to these schools require a certain level of influence, especially when enrollment is sought for grades other than first grade. Openings come only if currently enrolled students’ leave for whatever reason or if they add a new division for a particular grade. At least, that was the impression imparted to us when we visited these schools. Further, the prospective students are subjected to an assessment test in language and science skills. Our kids stood no chance to ace those subject areas, for they had zero training in Indian languages (Malayalam and Hindi), French or Special English. Most students trying to relocate from the USA is faced with this classic dilemma. Rumor has it that with the right kind of influence and money, one can easily get into many of the schools, but that is uncharted territory for us. Our next option was to seek admission in one of the many International Schools in the vicinity. The well-known ones were Choice School, Global Public School (GPS), Dawn Public School, and Indian Public School. We focused on GPS for two reasons:
  • Being a newer school meant little more ease in getting in
  • A friend who relocated few years earlier recommended it.
Fees at International Schools are higher as they cater more towards Non-Resident Indians (NRI). Further, their assessment factors in students relocating from abroad.

Below was the fee structure for our kids (elementary) for 2010:

Note: The fees went up in the ~20% range every year and is now (2015) well above double these rates. 

The above fee structure compared to Rs 15K and Rs 20K respectively for annual fees at Marthoma Public School and Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi respectively (2010). Choice was around 25% higher compared to GPS overall. 

GPS offers both CBSE and ICGSE options from grade 9. A number of factors contributed to the kids preferring GPS (Kerala, India) to the schooling in Bay Farm Elementary School in the Bay Area. Below is a summary:

  1. The staff at GPS takes at-least a peripheral effort to keep the students and parents content. While this is true at Bay Farm Elementary too, as it is state run, the establishment functions pretty much as a government organization with woeful service levels.
  2. Teachers at Bay Farm survive on volunteering from parents. In a wealthy community like Bay Farm Island, where parents who do not need to work for a living are aplenty, this cry for help is a welcome outlet. Hence, on any given day, it is normal to see two or more parent volunteers in the classroom. While this may be considered a blessing by many parents, the downside is the immense pressure on families where both parents work – it is hard to put in volunteer hours but if you don’t, you run the risk of your kids feeling left out. Besides, there is no reason that a teacher responsible for a small group (20 students) needs hand holding in doing her job in the classroom – makes one wonder why employees in other fields are not incapable of doing their own work??? Parent volunteering thankfully is a foreign concept at GPS. We checked with the kids specifically on this aspect and they expressed relief that parents are absent in their school space.
  3. As with most public schools in the Bay Area, a single teacher is responsible for a class at Bay Farm Elementary. The students are subjected to the same teacher for all subjects throughout the school year. The downside with this approach is that many teachers give priority to their area of expertise when teaching. For example, if a teacher is inclined towards Art, invariably that is what the kids in her classroom will learn most. GPS, on the other hand has a teacher for each subject. When questioned on this approach, the kids expressed their appreciation in being able to interact with different teachers throughout the school year.
  4. The facility and the environment at GPS was a big upgrade to the kids. They loved the fact that swimming is part of the curriculum, being foodies they relish the decent breakfast that is provided to all, and the two-hour optional extra-curricular session were students can choose to train in two activities throughout the school year.
  5. At GPS, covering the curriculum and following standardized testing procedures is mandatory. While this is theoretically true at Bay Farm Elementary too, in reality only a small percentage of the material is covered in class, claiming students are having a tough time with the rest. The net effect is that a small section of the students who can learn on their own or have access to other resources surge ahead while the rest are fed a hodge-podge of selected topics. The issue is further worsened as students are not required to own textbooks – the pricing for new textbooks are upwards of $70 and as such only a handful of students ultimately end up purchasing them.
  6. Since GPS is a private enterprise, teachers have to perform. This is a big change compared to teachers in Bay Farm, a public school – in effect, there is zero accountability, although efforts are being made to change this. Most teachers are geared towards teaching perfect kids. The notion of being a perfect teacher to kids of different ability is an unfamiliar concept to most of the staff and parent volunteers.

Related Posts:

  1. Global Public School (GPS) Review - Ongoing Update.
  2. Global Public School (GPS) vs Bay Farm Elementary - Comparative Review (this post).

Last Updated: 04/2017.

Danish West Indies - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Danish West Indies was a colony of Denmark-Norway in the Caribbean until it was sold to the United States in 1916 in the treaty of the Danish West Indies and renamed as the United States Virgin Islands. It consists of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and a number of islands that have a combined total area of 134 square miles and a population of 110,000. The primary reason for the acquisition was to avoid Germany taking control of the area – it was determined as a strategic point to defend the Panama Canal. Tourism is the primary economic activity of the area currently with over two million visitors a year. Most of them visit on cruise ships. The National Geographic Introduction to the area and the Fodor’s Guide are excellent references, if you plan to visit the area.

Philatelic Profile:

Danish West Indies started issuing stamps under the Danish dominion in 1856. Prior to this, the only philatelic items of interest are British Post Office Pre-Stamp Postal Markings of the 1849-1855 period and stamps of Great Britain with DNI cancellations (canceled C51 or circular date stamp) from the 1865 to 1879 time period. The former on cover fetch upwards of $600 and the latter catalog upwards of $30. The first regular issue of DNI was a coat of arms issue of 1856. The issue (Scott #1) is rare and catalogs for around $200 Mint or Used. Copies on cover are very rare and fetch well into the 1000s. The first issues with ‘Danish West Indies’ inscription was a set of nine numerals (Scott #5 to #13) issued between 1874 and 1879 in bi-colors. The set is sought after and catalogs in the $1K range for Mint and a little more for Used. Inverted frame varieties exist and they fetch a huge premium. Stamps of Danish West Indies were replaced by US stamps from September 30, 1917. The first six-months of US acquisition saw a transition period when US, DWI, or mixed frankings were all used. Genuine copies from the period are rare and valuable.

Numismatic Profile:

Danish West Indies coinage started in the early eighteenth century and was based on the Danish currency (till 1849 – 96 Skilling = 1 Daler), although the values were not equal. In the late 18th and early 19th century, Danish copper and silver coins were used in addition to local coins. Decimal Coinage (20 Cents = 1 Franc) started with the introduction of Bronze Cents in 1859. Mintage was in the 200,000 range and the first issues are valued at around $35 for XF. Early Proof Like items with very low mintage (10) exist and they catalog for a few hundred dollars range.

Collectible Memorabilia:

Souvenir Collector Spoons, vintage coastguard patches, original historical photographs, etc form the most popular takeaways from the Islands.

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Last Updated: 12/2015.

Baroque Era (1600 – 1750) Music – An Intro with Books, and other Resources

The Baroque era, branded so by the nineteenth century critics from the Portuguese word baracco meaning the ‘oddly shaped pearl’, followed the Renaissance period. The highly ornate, unforgiving masterpieces of Bach and Handel probably contributed for this peculiar name. It needs to be remembered that in those hard times it was the demands of the employer that dictated the art brought forth by an artist. With that curtain of charity in place all critics concur had it not been for the diligent work of these tireless artists the music of today would have been dramatically different.

The Baroque era pushed the appreciation of art like no other for it literally brought the layman in touch with the artistic world through opulent architecture, art, literature, science, and music. Though Italy took the center stage, Germany, England and France were not behind.
Composers fine-tuned their compositions to not only enhance the listening pleasure of the audience but also to communicate effectively with them by evoking the desired emotions. Melody and harmony established themselves as powerful entities and in their wake came the practice of basso continuo. The cantata, concerto, sonata, oratorio, opera, intermezzo, suite, etc., all debuted during this era. While there were many great composers in this era the greatest were Monteverdi, Praetorius, Frescobaldi, Schütz, Scheidt, Lully, Charpentier, Pachelbel, Corelli, Purcell, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Couperin, Vivaldi, Telemann, Rameau, Bach, Handel, and Sammartini.


ComposerThumbnailISBNBest PriceDescription
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) Opera's First Master: The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi 978-1574671100 $29.99Part of the Unlocking the Masters series of books, the book reviews the theatrical experiences of his three operas: L’Orfeo – Orpheus, 1607, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria – the return of Ulysses to his homeland, 1640, and L’incoronazione di Poppea – the coronation of Poppea, 1643.
Michael Praetorius (1571–1621) Praetorius - Mass for Christmas Morning B0000057EH $16.98Paul McCreesh recreates a Lutheran Mass on Christmas Morning from 1620 using music Praetorius, Scheidt, and Schein. Lyrics are in German and Latin with translations in the notes.
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) Frescobaldi: Fiori Musicali B0026RLMB6 $7.98Three Organ Masses. Roberto Loreggian, organ. Schola Gregoriana ‘Scriptoria’, Dom Nicola M. Bellinazzo.
Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) Heinrich Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae, 1629 B000004433 $23.98Two audio CDs – Heinrich Schutz, Concerto Palatino, Barbara Borden, Nele Gram, Douglas Nasrawi, and John Potter.
Samuel Scheidt (1587–1653) Samuel Scheidt: The Great Sacred Concertos B000MRP1PA $16.98The CDs by Musica Fiata and Capella Ducale is one of only two that feature the voices and instruments of his work. The other is Concertum Sacrorum.
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687) Lully: Les Divertissements de Versailles B000063TE8 $17.98Jean-Baptiste Lully, Les Arts Florissants, William Christie, Sophie Daneman, and Paul Agnew.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1645–1704) Charpentier: Te Deum; Messe de Minuit de Noël B00005NPJ3 $6.98Choir of King’s College, Cambridge Academy of St. Martin in the Fields English Chamber Orchestra. Performer: Thomas Trotter, Andrew Davis, Eiddwen Harrhy, Felicity Lott, April Cantelo.
Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706) Pachelbel's Greatest Hit: Canon in D B000003F39 $8.98Canon in D performances: Cleo Laine (a vocal!), Baroque Chamber Orchestra, Hampton String Quartet, Festival Strings Lucerne, James Galway, Concord String Quartet, The Canadian Brass, and Isao Tomita
Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713) Corelli: Complete WorksB0009IW8SK $48.88Boxed set of 10 discs. Performer: Musica Amphion, a Dutch period instrument orchestra conducted from the harpsichord by Pieter-Jan Belder.
Henry Purcell 1659-1695 Henry Purcell (Oxford Studies of Composers) 978-0198163411 $60.00A survey of Purcell’s music, it is the first book to explore the historical context of Purcell’s music – 272 pages.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725) Allesandro And Domenico Scarlatti: Two Lives in One (Lives in Music) 978-1576471081 $50.40Explores the lives and careers of the two men with the boundaries between documented facts and informed speculation clearly defined.
François Couperin (1668–1733) Couperin - Leçons de Ténèbres B000005E4Y $18.91William Christie, Sophie Daneman, Patricia Petibon, Monica Huggett, Marc Hantai, Anne-Marie Lasla, Emilia Benjamin, Les Arts Florissants.
Antonio Vivaldi (1680-1743) Vivaldi: The Four Seasons B000003CSU $13.99Conductor: Seiji Ozawa, Orchestra: Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) Telemann: Bläserkonzerte (Wind Concertos) B0000057D1 $23.98Musica Antiqua Koln, Reinhard Goebel, Pieter Dhont, Michael Niesemann, Eric Hoeprich, Friedemann Immer, Wilbert Hazelzet, and Michael Schneider.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) Rameau - Orchestral Suites from Naïs & Le Temple de la Gloire B0000007EE $10Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician 978-0393322569 $14.93An intellectual biography that assesses the career of Johann Sebastian Bach in a scholarly manner with a focus on his performing and composing.
Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) Georg Friedrich Händel: Messiah B002KPINIE $23.81Conductor: Frieder Bernius, Orchestra: Barockorchester Stuttgart, Performers: Carolyn Sampson, Benjamin Hulett, Daniel Taylor, Peter Harvey, Kammerchor Stuttgart.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) Scarlatti: Concerti & Sinfonie B00005RFSC $16.98Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Scarlatti. Conductor: Fabio Biondi, Performer: Europa Galante.
Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700 -1775) Giovanni Battista Sammartini: Sacred Cantatas B0007ACVIM $8.99Conductor: Daniele Ferrari. Performer: Capricco Italiano Ensemble, Filippo Ravizza, Silvia Mapelli, Mirko Guadagnini. Some consider his style as a link between the baroque and classical styles.


Violin, viola, double bass, harp, flute, oboe, bassoon, recorder, trombone, trumpet, scakbut, serpent, clavichord, harpsichord, fortepiano, and the organ were the popular instruments of the era.

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