Kozhikode’s origins date back more than 800 years to the final days of the powerful Chera dynasty. After its fall, local chieftain Zamorin took over the reins of some areas and built a fort near the sea. The place within the fort was called ‘Koyil’ (palace) ‘Kotta’ (fort) which later became Kozhikode. Successive Zamorins developed Kozhikode into a major eastern destination on the spice trade routes, and for 200 years traders arrived regularly at Kozhikode, eager to buy its pepper, ginger, cinnamon and lac. Foreigners called it by different names – for Arabs it was Kalikat, Chinese Kalifo and Birtish Calicut.
In 1498, legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s naval fleet dropped anchor off Kappad Beach, 16km north of Kozhikode, opening up the Europe to India sea route and marking the beginning of 165 years of Portuguese influence. Kozhikode’s coastal location subsequently welcomed the Dutch fleet arrival in 1604, followed by the British in 1615. Finally, in 1947, after almost 350 years of European squabbling, India achieved independence and nine years later the State of Kerala was born, home to the city of Kozhikode.
Modern-day Kozhikode is still an important centre of trade in Kerala, while its coastal proximity to the Arabian Peninsula makes it a vital partner in the age-old close ties between India and the Gulf States.
The main attractions of this laidback city can be found along its 15km- long stretch of white beach; tourists who pass on their coastal journey to Goa or Mumbai would do well to pause for a few days and investigate the city’s many charms.
Central Kozhikode is a bustling, low rise city, at the heart of which is ‘Mittai Theruvu’, a long street lined with shops that sell everything from saris to cosmetics. The English translation is ‘Sweetmeat Street’, so called because of the famous Kozhikode Halwa, a gelatinous dessert made from refined wheat , which is made here.
Less than 2km from the city centre is Dolphins’ Point, a stretch of sandy beach renowned for its playful aquatic visitors and 19th century piers. Slightly further afield is Kappad Beach: as well as being the place where Vasco da Gama first set foot in India, it’s a beautiful stretch of beach with an 800-year-old temple built atop a rocky outcrop.
Inland from Kappad Beach are the Kozhikode Backwaters, a unique network of lakes, canals and deltas formed by the 44 rivers which drain into the sea here. At Purakkattiri, 10km north of Kozhikode, you can hire a houseboat and navigate the connecting waters of this self-supporting ecosystem.
With almost half a million residents, Kozhikode has numerous restaurants to tempt tourists. However, the local cuisine is usually better represented – and better tasting – than any of the international fare that restaurants may serve.
The local Malabar cuisine features many vegetarian dishes, while the city’s Arab and Hindu heritage also ensures a meaty dining experience. Popular dishes include Malabar Moppila Biryani, a mildly-flavoured rice dish; locally-caught seafood in a variety of spicy, hot sauce; meat in rich, thick curry gravy; and paper-thin pathiris – soft bread made from rice dough and cooked on a banana leaf. Other Kozhikode specialties include wafer thin banana chips and the famous Kozhikode Halwa which is available in bakeries throughout the city.
Evenings in Kozhikode tend to be quiet, and traditional nightlife usually revolves around dining out. However, many of the hotel resorts along the beach offer late night bars and discos to keep tourists entertained.
The ‘green paradise’ of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is 140km north of Kozhikode. A remote forest reserve that spills over into the National Parks of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Wayanad lies cocooned in the hills of the Western Ghats. Famed for its jaw-dropping beauty, the landscape is a green medley of rice paddies, dense forests and spice plantations. Wayanad Sanctuary is one of the few places in India that you’re almost guaranteed to spot wild elephants, and is also known for its occasional tiger sightings.