When Vasco da Gama arrived at Kozhikode 500 years ago he put the sea port on the map of the world discovering the first sea route to the Indian subcontinent. Just as in the time of the ancient sea faring traders Kozhikode continues to be a prosperous centre for domestic and international trade of commodities produced locally as well as in the neighbouring districts of Wayanad, Malappuram and Kannu.
Traders seeking its fragrant, exotic spices grown on layered hills plantations ushered in influences transmitted and incorporated into the culture and flavours of the region- Malabari food characterized by Arabic and Christian sensibilities, mappila pattu and oppana songs sung in Arabic and malayalam and history replete with interventions from overseas.
Yet the land retains its culture unblemished- annual vedic debates, an ancient and magnificent tradition of martial arts kalaripayyattu, and the vadakkan pattukal or folk songs immortalising the exploits of a local hero. These influences and local traditions seem to flow together unhurried and time tested like the Backwaters beckoning a revisit- and it does seem like a revisit even if its your first time - the natural beauty seems dreamlike and familiar from some land before time you know first hand. Kozhikode is at peace with itself and has much to offer therein…
Kozhikode is a city and a district located in the state of Kerala on the south west coast of South India. The district shares its boundaries with Kannur district in the North, the Arabian sea on the on the west, Malappuram district in the south, and Wynad district on the east.
How to Get There
Road travel to and from Kozhikode is pleasant. Kozhikode, Koyilandy and Vadakara are connected by the National Highway which runs practically parallel to the Kozhikode district coast. Kozhikode can be accessed from Mangalore, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore by road. The drive from Bangalore to Calicut is beautiful; the route through Gundulpet and then Sulthan Battery is advisable. Do not travel after dark - especially in small vehicles - as wild elephants roam the stretches of jungle.
Kozhikode can be comfortably accessed by train from intrastate cities such as Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram as well as interstate cities such as Chennai, Mangalore, Bangalore, Bombay, New Delhi, and Calcutta. There is also the Palakkad railway line which enters Kozhikode at Kadalundi and courses through past Feroke, Kallai, Kozhikode, Vellayil, West Hill, Elathur, Chemancheri, Pantahalayani, Thikkodi, Payyoli, Iringa, Vadakara and Nadapuram – all road stations as well.
The closest airport from Kozhikode is the international airport at Karipur 23 km away. Daily flights can be accessed to and from Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and the Middle East. The Kochi International Airport which is at Nedumbassery is the next closest airport.
The district named Kozhikode is the Malayalam version of the name originally Kalikut in Arabic; and later anglicized to be what we popularly know as Calicut. Also called the Cock Fort, Kozhikode is a derivative of two Malayalam words koyil meaning ‘palace’ and kodu meaning ‘fortified’. Calicut, once a prosperous cotton-weaving center, is reputed to be birthplace of calico.
Five hundred years ago, Kozhikode, a prosperous and bountiful port offered the ancient mariners - the Jews, Arabs, Phoenicians, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese - freedom and security. The seafaring traders in turn preferred the port over many others and gained immensely from their trade in the local spices - black pepper, cloves and cardamom and myriads more. During this period the Zamorin ruled the Malabar region amongst others, maintaining Kozhikode as their capital. The Zamorin Udaiyavar of Ernad who ruled from Nediyiruppu desired direct access to the sea. After waging war with the Polatthiri King over a period of 48 years the Zamorin acquired around Ponniankara and built a fort at Velapuram which consequently lead to a consolidation of power and the evolution of Calicut around the 13th century. The Zamorin having consolidated his power and raised the prestige of his capital Nediyirippu began to be known as Swami Nambiyathiri Thirumulpad which over time became Samuri or Samuthiri and finally anglicized as Zamorin. The rise of Calicut and the sovereignty of the Zamorin was acknowledged by princes and chiefs north of Cochin specifically.
Vasco Da Gama the explorer arrived at Kappad in 1498 and soon received sanctions to carry out trade in Calicut. The Arabs, so far unrivalled in their commercial prowess in the area, resisted the Portuguese and consequently engaged in bitter conflicts with them. The Portuguese in turn headed out to the nearby port at Cochin formed an alliance with the Raja of Cochin who granted them trade sanctions in return for their assistance in defeating the Zamorin whose supremacy he wished to weaken. The Zamorin and the Portuguese battled on for decades, the Zamorin aided by the hereditary admirals Kunajali Marakkars. The greatest of them was Kunajali II fearsome against the Portuguese. The extended period of fighting weakened the Zamorin who entered into a treaty with the Portuguese allowing them monopoly over the Calicut port and later residence in Calicut itself. The Kunajali IV opposed this decision and disobeyed the Zamorin. Consequently the Zamorin assisted the Portuguese in destroying the Kunajalis who surrendered and were executed. The advent of the Portuguese on these shores ushered in colonists - the Dutch, French and English - who also successively invaded and occupied the region.
It is after independence that the Kozhikode district came into being in 1957 when the states of the Indian Union were reorganized on a linguistic basis. Kozhikode district as we know it today was clearly defined in 1980.
The Tali Temple was built in the 14th century by Zamorin Swamy Thirumalpad as a part of his place complex. Characteristic of the Kerala style of architecture the Tali Temple hosts the annual cultural event the Revathy Pattathanam, when Vedic scholars gather together for a their famous intellectual debates- a tradition carried through since ancient times patronized by the Zamorin himself!
16km from Kozhikode centre is the picturesque Kappakkadavu beach. Called Kappad the beach is of historical interest as it is at this very point in 1498, where Vasco da Gama first made contact with Kerala, subsequently opening up the Malabar Coast to the Portuguese colonists and others that followed. A stone monument on the beach marks this decisive point in history. The ‘Gateway to the Malabar coast’ is a tourists’ getaway simply for the quaint ambience it possesses, of a typical South Indian coastal town. The beach sports rocky outcrops where an 800 year old temple sits, timeless.
Pazhassiraja Museum in Kozhikode displays mural paintings, antique bronzes, ancient coins, models of temples, umbrella stones, quadrangular burial chambers also called dolemide cists etc. It is a great opportunity to be able to recreate a time so culturally and historically vibrant long past today, through objects once functional. Beside the Musuem complex is an Art Gallery where the sublime works of the great artists Raja Ravi Varma, internationally acclaimed and his uncle Raja Raja Varma. The paintings of Ravi Varma immortalize the poignancy and essence of Kerala people which simplicity and depth all at once. Both the Museum and the Art Gallery are named after Pazhassiraja Kerala Varma of the Kottayam royal family.
Located 10 km south of Kozhikode town, Beypore is an ancient maritime centre which even today carries out the 1500 year old ship building trade it was so famous for that it was sought after by many traders in Western Asia and beyond. Beypore was especially known for the construction of the Arabian trading vessel the Uru.
48km from Kozhikode Vadakara was a bustling centre of trade and commerce during the times of the ancient sea farers. Also known for its magnificent tradition of Kalaripayattu a martial art form Kozhikode is famous for, it is the area where the local hero Thacholi Othenan fought many of his legendary duels.
The Backwaters of Kerala have been a tourist haunt perhaps since tourism discovered God’s Own Country, Kerala. The Backwaters in Kozhikode, characteristic of the Backwaters of the region, ironically seem undiscovered; as if life has slowed down keeping pace with the water that flows gentle, meandering, unhurried. Journey down the backwaters through the Korapuzha River until it brings you to the beach. Korapuzha Jalotsavam (literally translated, it means ‘waterfest’) is held on this river and is in recent times known to be a water sports destination. While exploring the Backwaters take the opportunity to visit the Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary and a route down Kallai River that tours the city and Kozhikode’s historic Timber Trade yards.
Tusharagiri meaning ‘mist capped peaks’ is a hill station situated 50 km away from Kozhikode. The hills are layered with plantations replete with rubber, areca nut, pepper, ginger and spices. Ideal for trekking; the popular trail begins from the second water fall, through the lush forests. Keep watch for birds and animals indigenous and otherwise. If you begin at dawn, you will then be sure to reach Vythri in the Wayanad district by dusk.
Mananchira is the heart of the city. A site where there is a conglomerate of important institutions - the Town Hall, the Public Library, the old Commonwealth Trust Office Building, and a large pond and park.
Kallai was once a bustling, prosperous, large trading centre – one of the largest in Asia where Kozhikode’s Timber trade was localized. The Timber Trade has long since faded out, and Kallai remembered for the prosperity that one was.
Kozhikode Beach is not crowded and chaotic. In fact it is yet to be explored as a tourist spot. The local people gather at day break and dusk to watch the sun as it rises and sets. Sea piers a little short of 125 years that extend into the sea are a novelty here. The Lions Club Children’s Park and the ice-cream create the opportunity for a well spent family evening. Fishermen off to sea navigating rowing boats, ride the crests and waves and finally return to shore with their catch – varieties of fresh fish - a novel sight to watch. Other curious distractions at the beach are the marine water aquarium displaying marine and fresh water fish and Dolphin's Point. Dawn at Dolphin's Point almost always offers a sight of these friendly marine mammals playing out at sea.
One cannot but talk of the food typical of the Malabar coast- especially when Kozhikode has been known fro over 500 years for its exotic fragrant spices.
Vegetarians may feast on a full plate of food, 'sadya' - inclusive of rice, sambhar (lentil curry) and eleven different curries added to it, with a crunchy rice crispy called Pappadam. Non-vegetarian fare is a mouth watering blend of Muslim and Christian preparations - the Moppila or muslim mildly flavoured Biriyani; Rice cooked in clarified butter accompanied by meat curry; different preparations of seafood - prawns, mussels, mackerel, sea-fish and skein-like Pathiris to accompany spicy gravy. The banana chips - crisp and wafer thin and the 'Kozhikode Halwa' are both Kozhikode specialities. Husked wheat cooked with chicken or ‘alisa’ and the egg dish “muttamala’ are popular side dishes. If you like sea food, especially mussels, don’t leave kozhikode without trying the arikadaka – mussel cooked in rice flour- another dish that carries strong traces of Arabic influence.
The food is prepared so as to introduce flavours unique to Kozhikode- in a manner that can best be described as subtle, aromatic, and lingering.
Where to Stay