From a venue for stately functions of the royal family of Travancore, Kanakakunnu Palace, listed by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage as a heritage monument, has come a long way in welcoming people to relax and unwind in its green environs.

The palace, built during the reign of King Sree Mulam Tirunal (1885-1924), was a rendezvous for royal banquets. Later, Swati Tirunal renovated the palace and constructed a tennis court on its premises, say old-timers of the city.

The magnificent edifice, the jewel on the crest of a hillock lush with landscaped meadows, flowering shrubs and bamboo thickets, has, over the years, become a favourite haunt for the denizens of the city and tourists. It was first opened to the public in the 1960s as a venue for weddings. Now, a variety of events unfold one after another in its regal halls.

Yoga enthusiasts and members of laughing clubs, walkers’ clubs and meditation groups make it their meeting point, besides college students, senior citizens and nature lovers. The rare trees are a magnet to birds.

Over the years, the palace has transformed into a venue of choice for holding government-sponsored and other cultural programmes. But the proliferation of commercial activities in the building has now thrown up a challenge to the Tourism Department, its custodian.

Environmental activists are dead against converting the palace into a venue for fairs and exhibitions. Anitha S., member of TreeWalk, says the palace should be protected for its historical, cultural and architectural values.

“It should be protected for its role in micro-climate regulation and amelioration, along with absorbing pollutants and greenhouse gases, and as a green, open space in the most crowded part of the city. The meadows in the hilly terrain, if not trampled upon and destroyed, can become a natural herbal park with ‘Dasapushpams’ and other valuable plants. It can be a nature’s herb museum,” she says.

Intense commercial activities, such as fairs and exhibitions, should not be allowed on the palace grounds. The public should be able to walk and relax and children to play on the premises, she adds.

M.S. Venugopal, Additional Director of Tourism, told The Hindu that the best way to protect the place was a division. The palace should be made a heritage zone, restricting entry to people, probably by allowing access after collecting a fee. The green area should be left untouched for the public to enjoy its scenic beauty.

The commercial area should be clearly bifurcated, he added.