City of Spices

Kozhikode on Kerala’s Malabar Coast has always drawn adventurers, seafarers and traders from Asia, Africa, China and Europe to its shores. Even in medieval times, the popular maritime destination lured travelers to its natural gateway into the riches of the South Indian spice trade – hence the name Kozhikode, City of Spices.

It was here that Vasco da Gama first set foot in 1498.  He met local Zamorin Manavikrama, who greeted Da Gama’s meager offering of a dozen coats, six hats, a bale of sugar, two barrels of butter, and one cask of honey, with an amused comment.

“Even the poorest pilgrim from Mecca has more to offer!”

Today Kozhikode’s local bazaars, architecture and lanes radiate history. Combined with lush green countryside, serene beaches, historic sites, wildlife sanctuaries, rivers and hills, Kozhikode continues to be a popular destination for travelers from home and abroad.

SM street, the busiest street in Kozhikode (Photo courtsey Kerala Tourism).jpg

Every Day is a Feast

From dancing tea to biryani, the city is a culinary paradise for foodies.

Kozhikode cuisine offers a scrumptious spread – from non-vegetarian stews and fluffy white appams and pathiris in the morning, to ghee-laden, spice-scented biryanis at noon, followed by an array of fish dishes and unnakai, halwa, payasams, and stuffed sweets for dessert, which have a distinct undertone of opulence.

Every day is a feast, and every guest is kin.

Cooked in massive urulis, Kozhikode Biryani, made with a special kind of basmati rice called ‘kaima’, is truly a taste of the city and its binge-eating culture.

Tempting Biryani (Photo courtesy Kerala Tourism).jpg

Sulaimani, the quintessential black tea that aids digestion, is prepared by mixing portions of cordial and tea. Most mealtimes end with a shot of this digestive brew.

Milk sherbet and rice-flake milk are other must-try beverages proffered by street stalls across the city. Don’t leave Kozhikode without a stash of crisp, thinly sliced banana chips and gooey halwa.

Ship Building in Historic Beypore

A quick 10-kilometer detour from the city will take you to Beypore, a historic port and shipyard on the banks of the Challiyaar River. Dhows or Urus built here have sailed the seas since time immemorial. Cleopatra’s trading vessels in the first century AD were constructed here. Unlikely as it may seem, so was Lord Horatio Nelson’s flagship vessel in which he defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of the Truffle War. To fully appreciate India’s maritime history, at Beypore, you can watch Khalasis (dock workers) using traditional implements made of jackfruit wood to build an uru – typically 150 feet long and 50 feet wide.

It takes two years to build an uru, which weighs nearly 1,000 tons. Workmen use simple wooden winches called davars and long wooden handles called kazhas – along with thick coir, to assemble the vessel. The architectural plans, computations, and instructions for these ships are a legacy passed on through oral transfers of knowledge, in the form of verses. Each stanza is dedicated to details of a specific ship component. The Pullimuttu (stone bridge) at Beypore beach, which extends a kilometre and a half into the sea, is also worth a visit.

Beypore Beach (Photo courtesy of Kerala Tourism).jpg

Mananchira Square 

Originally built by Zamorin Manavikrama as a bathing pool, the Mananchira freshwater lake and its lush grounds are a relaxing spot for young and old alike. It opened to the public in 1994. Situated at the heart of the city and a five-minute walk from the railway station, the park could be your first stop in Kozhikode. Pebbled paths surround the lake and a laterite-sculpted wall fences the park perimeter. Benches scattered throughout invite you to stop and enjoy the view.

Mananchira Pond (Photo courtesy of Kerala Tourism).jpg

Timber Tales of Kallayi

Kozhikode was once known throughout Asia for its timber trade. Rafts made from logs of teak, rosewood, and local varieties of wood collected from forests in Nilambur, drifted along the Kallayi and Challiyaar rivers to timber mills dotted along the banks.

Make your way to the Kallayi  river with elongated ships and logs stacked along its banks.As you drive across a British-built iron bridge coconut palms tremble overhead, and the sound of sawing blades and woodchippers remind you of the region’s timber history.

Kallayi (Photo courtesy of Kerala Tourism).jpg

Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary 

The Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary lies 20 kilometers from Kozhikode City. The rail bridge on the left and the road bridge at a further distance, frame a breath-taking view of the Kadalundi River, with birds soaring above in a clear sky, then swooping to pluck their prey from the water. Seagulls, Brahminy kites, sandpipers, and herons are common. If you are lucky, you may spot whimbrels. You can also catch a glimpse of fishermen fishing in their traditional boats.

The best time to visit is from December to February.

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 17 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books from...