Bengaluru to Kozhikode: Going local
The best vacations are those planned by a local who knows the full spectrum of what a destination has to offer and can marry it to your taste with the least effort. It was our fifth visit to Kerala, this time to a friend’s home in Kozhikode in the northern part of the state. We were excited to escape tourist clichés—the friend had something special lined up for us.
Kozhikode was once the capital of the Zamorins, who became powerful when the city developed as a port on the trade route for eastern spices in the Middle Ages. Over the next few centuries, Arab merchants and explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Ibn Battuta set foot here, opening up the city to myriad cultures.
We decided to travel the 350km-odd distance from Bengaluru by road. The long and languid drive took us through Mysuru, where we stopped for a banana-leaf lunch at the Kamat Madhuban Hotel, gorging on an unlimited supply of jolada rottis (unleavened bread made from jowar) with brinjal curry.
Our journey continued through the Bandipur national park, where we peered with heightened senses into dense thickets of bamboo, hoping to spot some wild animals. We didn’t have a single sighting—not even an innocuous deer. Instead, we found ourselves stuck in a meandering line of vehicles spewing thick black clouds at a forest checkpost.
Once we got past the checkpost, the Western Ghats awaited us in all their splendour.
We reached our destination, Kozhikode, late at night, welcomed by our host and his family with a sumptuous meal.
The next morning, we walked through the muddy paths of a nearby rubber plantation before sauntering around a village at the edge of the unspoilt backwaters of the Arabian Sea. Scorpions scuttled at the edge of the water and dragonflies darted across , providing hours of entertainment and rejuvenating environs to relax in. The traffic-clogged checkpost at Bandipur felt a world away.
Later, we drove to the city centre for a lunch buffet at the incongruously named Benhur restaurant. With culinary delights such as tapioca curry, upperi (dry braised or sautéed vegetables), moru pulissery (a gourd and buttermilk preparation) and versions of chicken and fish curries, we were all racing for seconds.
Happy to make us skip the iconic beaches of Kozhikode on this day, our host carted us to the ship-making yard at Beypore, 12km from Kozhikode, at the mouth of the Chaliyar river. Sivasankaran, the manager of the shipyard—famous for its Uru (large wooden dhows)—proudly explained to us how the skill is passed down through generations of khalasis (carpenters). There is no manual or blueprint for them to rely on, just memory and word-of-mouth instructions.
The khalasis work meticulously on the timber without any modern equipment, putting planks of teak together and sealing them with coir dipped in tar. Teak from local forests was used till about a decade ago, but with the trees declining rapidly in number, the wood is now imported from Malaysia. Sivasankaran took us on a tour of one of the near-ready ships. It would be embarking on a journey to one of the Gulf countries that still swear by the superior craftsmanship of the Kozhikode shipbuilders.
Next, we made our way to the Kappad beach where Vasco da Gama first set foot in India. It was a balmy evening with a warm salubrious breeze. Fishing boats lined the horizon and seagulls soaring in the sky dove cleanly into the water. One of the fishing boats seemed to glide towards the middle of the semi-circle of the setting sun on the horizon. I lunged for the camera to capture that picture-perfect frame.
The day had wound down perfectly, setting the tone for our second day. It was the same as Day 1—far removed from Kerala clichés, with plenty of local food, another village, and beaches that were not drenched in tourists.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.
Deepa Padmanabhan tweets @deepa_padma