The Cultured Traveler – a column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.
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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Kannur is the land of everyday gods. Here you let go of fear as you come across blood-drinking yakshis, serpent gods and animal deities. There are camphor-lit performance of Theyyam. The primitive essence of animals embody the oiled bodies practicing Kalari moves and achieving tricky, almost impossible, physical postures.
The cradle of such colorful folk-art forms, Kannur is considered to be the ancient port of Naura, from whose shores King Solomon’s ships collected timber to build the great temple of Jerusalem. Known to the Greeks, the Romans and the Arabs, Kannur’s trade links go back a long way.
Acclaimed by celebrated traveller Marco Polo as “the great emporium of the spice trade” and by Jawaharlal Nehru as the “Garden of India,’ this region showcases its noteworthy past in the earliest forts, longstanding shrines and cultural celebrations that enhance the beauty of its scenic landscape. Bound by the Western Ghats in the East and the Lakshadweep Sea in the West, Kannur has many pristine beaches, which explains its residents’ love for seafood.
Bored and unhappy because unable to adjust with the new place, Sir Arthur Wellesley on idle mornings gathered his butler, dhobi, gardener and others for a game of cricket. Thalassery thus became the first town in India to be introduced to this foreign sport. In 1860, the town cricket club was built. The famous Maidan which hosted the first matches in the country is situated on one end of the Gundert road. The opposite end in the park is named for Herman Gundert, a German scholar who compiled a Malayalam-English dictionary.
But this model town is indebted to the colonial period for more than just cricket and dictionaries. It was here that the first cakes in the state were baked. The legacy lives on through Mambally Bakery which was patronized by the Britishers for their cakes and biscuits. Established in 1880 the bakery is still around with an assortment of both traditional and an English fare. The Petti Pathiri, stuffed bread with meat and egg, is a must indulge delicacy. The colonial influence remains in old and bold edifices like the Thalassery Fort built by the British.
Located in the gradual slopes of Western Ghats, the Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the Lion-tailed macaque, and the Nilgiri Languar. It is also home to birds such as Malabar Pied Hornbill and Great Pied Hornbill.
The Wildlife sanctuary borders Kannur, Kerala and Coorg, Karnataka. It has different altitude and different regions and hence is home to varieties of flora and fauna. The sanctuary receives very high rainfall and therefore has high humidity. Apart from usual activities such as trekking, one can indulge in jungle safaris and camping.
Vellikkeel Mangrove Eco Tourism village
18 km from Kannur are vast mangroves, an ideal one day trip for boating. The area is home to around 200 varieties of birds, including 70 species of migratory birds. The ecotourism village also acts as the nursery ground for over 300 varieties of fish. Kayaking through the mangroves is a must do while you are here.
Muthappan is a Hunter God, a deity who demands toddy, pan-beetle and fried fish as offerings. The Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple, situated on the banks of Valapattanam River, has two idols of dogs on either side of the entrance. Here dogs are divine, because of the myth about a dog who followed Muthappan when he decided to leave home after being chided by his Brahmin father for being friends with the tribal kids and eating fried fish.
Every evening, in the yellow light of oil lamps, the Theyyam artist who plays Muthappan wearing fish shaped headgear studded with chipped mirror, sits on a wooden stool in a trance. It is believed that the god possesses the artist. He then begins to recite the ritual song in sync with the drum beats of Tudi, Kuzhal and Chenda. With a shield and sword in his hands, he circles the shrine, runs to the courtyard and continues dancing in the open air.
Lord Brown of British East India company established a cinnamon estate on the banks of Anjarakandy river in 1767. For a while since then, the local king, Pazhassi Raja, and the British East India Company were involved in a tog of war to control the cinnamon estate, which was the prime source of income for the locals.
This is Asia’s largest cinnamon estate and the associated processing plant is still functional. Here one can watch the step-by-step preparation of the cinnamon spice and the extraction of cinnamon oil. Lord Brown kept record of the land transactions and this resulted in a new department of Land Registration in the British government. This office is a 242-year-old building in the center of 200 acres of land, which constitutes the Cinnamon Valley. Not just barks of cinnamon but the white pepper grown here is also very popular throughout the western countries.