BANGALORE: Zipping past me, on my right, were lush green fields, sleepy hamlets, rain washed forests with abundant open spaces while on my left, in contrast, was cramped nothingness with frozen unknown faces- each looking lost in a reverie. Soon it started raining again and water started trickling in. I struggled to shut the rickety window and before I realised there was another hand helping me with it.
It was in this second class train journey from Coimbatore to Calicut that I had my first tryst with Kerala’s hospitality. What followed was an hour long conversation with multi-ethnic neighbours in my train compartment. They were all natives of Kerala and we interacted mostly using hand movements, smiles and an occasional word or two in Hindi. I was headed to Calicut- more out of curiosity than any specific travel plans. I did not know what to expect. I knew from history that Vasco da Gama landed here- opening the pathway for an influx of Portuguese, Dutch, Arabs, French and British to this spice centre on Malabar coast. And I knew that this city had stood the test of time. But what more ? I was not sure.
My hosts in Calicut were a local couple with a gorgeous two-floor villa called Krishna Leela, located away from the hustle and bustle of modern day Calicut city. It turned out to be one of the most authentic home stay experiences I had in a while!
Calicut is largely known for its spice markets, Calicut halwa and some beaches. Without much expectation, I randomly decided to explore it and found some really good authentic food, rare architectural forms, vast serene beaches and some rare professional skills preserved by a few.
Here are my recommendations:
1. The Mosques of Malabar- The old traditional mosques in this region stand out for architecture. Without the usual domes and minarets, they might look like temples to an unaware eye. Islam spread in this region much before North India due its strong trade relations with Arabs and was based on mutual cooperation and religious tolerance. When Islam was at its inception in this part of country, it is said that, local artisans did not know what a mosque should look like, therefore they built it using local designs. These fascinating mosques have withstood the test of time and are rare to find. Do visit Mishkalpalli, Kuttichira Juma Masjid and Muchundipalli when in Calicut.
3. Pulimuttu in Beypore- Walking on this 1.67 km long stone walkway into the sea is an exhilarating experience. Waves crashing on the walls, sight of men fishing, smell of the sea, old rusted lampposts, small red crabs crawling out of sea water onto side stones, people taking a leisurely walk- all this makes it a perfect choice for a stroll.
You can also visit Calicut Beach and West Hill Beach.
4. Tasara Weaving Centre- This is no ordinary weaving centre. Tasara is an institution dedicated to traditional weaving forms. It’s a paradise for artists. Tasara also runs an annual workshop with limited seats. It's a good platform to interact with artists and weavers from various countries, share ideas and learn about Kerala culture up close. You can also just visit the centre, which has a marvellous architectural design, and have a look at the sample products.
5. The Local Food- Well, there is certainly no dearth of good food in Calicut. While a visit to Paragon Restaurant seems mandatory, Sagar and Bombay Restaurant are quite good too. Apart from the traditional Kerala food, one has to try the Calicut biryani. It is loaded with various spices, very filling and has a distinct local flavour. It's definitely worth a try. Also, once there, it's impossible to miss Calicut halwa, which is sold in every street shop, railway station, bus stands.
Richa Gupta is an avid traveller and also passionate about writing and encouraging responsible and alternative travel ideas. Her work and writing can be found at http://travels-and-stories.blogspot.in