Wayanad conjures up images of lush green hills, terrace cultivation, tea gardens, and fresh spices. It’s a tiny little getaway located in the north-east of Kerala. We were at Kōḻikōḍ one weekend, when we decided to drop by Wayanad on our way back to Bangalore. Wayanad would anyway fall on the way and that very conveniently suited us. Our intention of stopping by Wayanad wasn’t the lush greenery though. It was the prehistoric rock engravings of Edakkal Caves, believed to have been incised between 4000 BC and 1000 BC, that interested us.
Situated about 4000 ft. above sea level Edakkal Caves can be reached through a flight of very steep man-made stairs. Edakkal literally means ‘stone in between’ as the cave is believed to have been formed by a big stone that fell in between two giant rocks. The flight of stairs up to the cave wasn’t easy and left us completely breathless. It was a Sunday and the place was exceedingly crowded, which only added to the difficulty.
Moreover, vehicles are not allowed near the cave entrance and one needs to walk uphill for about 30-45 mins to arrive at the cave entrance. The steep stairs start at the entrance.
The stairs start at the entrance of the cave
The stairs get steeper
The petroglyphs, however, made the climb worthwhile. There were human figures, animals, trees, wheels, geometrical symbols, etc. Such amazing creative expressions of man left us spellbound. We wondered what a test of patience and perseverance it must have been! All these figures haven’t been completely deciphered yet and are invaluable assets to archaeologists.
As we drove away from Edakkal, we went to another place nearby, called Phantom Rock. It’s a metamorphic rock that supposedly resembles a human skull. We didn’t quite find the rock, instead landed on a tiny little lake that appeared to be cut out of the rocky surroundings. Needless to say, the lake with it’s stillness and moss-green water made us more than happy.
The view from above (PC: Soumyaroop Chatterjee)
The view down below
On our way back to Bangalore, we passed through Bandipur National Park, which falls in NH 766. It’s a stretch of about 10-15 Km. (just assuming, I don’t know the exact distance). As one might expect it was a beautiful stretch with jungle on either side of a straight tarred road. No vehicle is allowed to stop in the forest. If you’re lucky you may spot an elephant. We weren’t lucky enough but monkeys, spotted deer, bisons, and wild boars delighted us sufficiently.
We had crossed Bandipur on our way to Kōḻikōḍ too but that was early morning and we hadn’t seen any animals then. Moreover, we were really sleepy after having to wait for 2-3 hours in the car as vehicles are not allowed between 9 PM and 6 AM through the forest. [So engrossed we were looking out for animals that we clicked no pictures.]
Ever heard anybody go on a weekend leisure trip from Bangalore to Kozhikode? At least I never did. If you’re someone like me, ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala, means a Munnar, a Kovalam, a Varkala, an Alleppey, and the like. Kozhikode doesn’t feature in that list.
[Note: Kozhikode is correctly spelt as Kōḻikōḍ and pronounced as ‘Ko-yi-kode’.]
Biryani: Before I left for Kozhikode, a Malayali friend had told me that I was going to the food capital of Kerala and that it was her favourite food destination in the whole world. She gave me a list of must-try food items. Being the non-foodie that I am, I didn’t pay much attention to it. My ‘nature-person’ was more interested in the beach and the sea.
It was not until I tasted the biryani at Paragon (a famous restaurant) that I understood what she had meant. I had never tasted such delicious biryani in my whole life. The biryani in this part of the country may look pale but the mix of subtle spices, the aroma, and the rich taste is beyond comparison. Thereafter it was biryani for breakfast, biryani for lunch, and biryani for dinner for the rest of of our stay. My friends tried the flaky Malabar Parotta too.
Biryani (PC: Tripadvisor)
Karingali – The red coloured drinking water
Besides biryani, something else caught my interest. The red-coloured lukewarm water they served at the restaurant, locally known as Karingali. I had never seen something like that before. The colour is derived from the organic herbs mixed with the water.
Besides Paragon, we also tried the food at Rahmath Hotel and Adaminde Chayakkada.
Milk Sharbat: Just opposite to Paragon, is the famous Nannari Sharbat stall. The famous sharbat stall looked like a make-shift tent. There is no signage and it was overflowing with people. The shop sells Plain Sharbat, Soda Sharbat, Masala Sharbat, and Milk Sharbat. The roots of Sarsaparilla, locally known as Nannari is used to prepare the drink. We tried the Milk Sharbat, which is prepared by mixing half a cup of Nannari syrup with two cups of chilled milk. The huge rush of people at the stall was a tell-tale sign of its popularity. Two of my fellow travel friends pushed their way through the crowd to get the drink for us. They thought the unique manner in which the drink was prepared was something worth watching and we had missed it.
The Nannari Sharbat stall
The famous banana chips shop, next to the sharbat stall
Halwa: A walk through SM Street and we stopped at a halwa shop. SM or Sweet Meat street is apparently named after the famous halwa of Kozhikode. Full with the biryani and sharbat, we just satiated our eyes with the colourful halwa that decked up the shop.
Colourful halwa at SM Street
A lane in SM Street
The Place We Stayed…
We stayed at a lovely and cozy Airbnb cottage just beside the sea and behind a fishing village. The place is called Shellhouse and we couldn’t ignore the warm and cozy feeling it exuded. Located away from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet very close to the city, it was just perfect. The late night leisure walk in the empty streets of the neighbourhood, chattering endlessly about everything under the sun is something I shall fondly remember.
The Temples We Visited…
Though none of us are overtly religious, we had to visit the Tali Shiva Temple after it was recommended by someone. Built in the 14th century, it is the oldest temple in Kozhikode. It’s an orthodox temple and they have a strict dress code. Women need to be traditionally dressed and men need to be clad in a mundu dhoti (A traditional South Indian garment that is wrapped around the waist, usually in shades of white).
Two of my fellow travel friends bought the mundu dhoti from SM Street just for the purpose of the temple. I was in my capris and did not have anything traditional with me. As I had no intention of buying something just for entry to the temple, I decided to wrap a stole around my waist. That partially covered my pants. I was quite sure that I would be stopped at the entrance and was all set to go back. Surprisingly that didn’t happen. I entered the temple, paid my obeisance to Lord Shiva and marveled at the unique wooden architecture, the amazing murals, and roof carvings. Photography is prohibited inside the temple and hence we couldn’t click any pictures.
The Beaches We Visited…
Kozhikode Beach: We first went to Kozhikode beach and it was a time around afternoon when the Sun was right over our heads. It was so hot that we decided to sit at a quaint little café and watch the waves till the sun moved towards west. After several rounds of mocktails, lemon teas, cold coffees and what not, we took a walk towards the far end of the beach where we could see a rocky promenade. The beach was crowded but the rocky area wasn’t. An interesting thing we saw at this beach was the remnants of the ancient port of Calicut.
Beypore Beach: We had planned to watch sunset at this beach. After whiling away a lot of time at Kozhikode Beach, we were really late to reach Beypore Beach. The sun was at it’s last stage of sliding down into the water when we reached there.
We also had plans of going to Kappad, or Kappakadavu beach because of its associated historical significance – it is said that in the year 1498, Vasco da Gama had landed here. We gave it a miss however, considering the hot weather and preferring to spend a little more time at our cute little cottage before bidding goodbye to Kozihikode.
Swaying coconut trees, rhythmic tides of the sea, and sparkling golden sand on a pristine and clean beach! Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? And if I tell you there are just a handful of people playing around in the beach. How ideal does that sound! Well, that was just how we experienced the Arabian Sea at Bekal Beach.
Bekal is one of the several beach destinations in God’s Own Country – Kerala. It’s home to the fascinating Bekal Fort, which is perched on its rocky shores, situated on one corner of the beach.
We were at Pallikara, a sleepy little lovely village in North Kerala, where all you see is green – just so characteristic of Kerala. Everything in Kerala is green! It’s like patches of concrete hidden in green unlike most other places in India where you find patches of green hidden in concrete!
It was a hot April day when we arrived at this place. As we had lunch at a roadside eatery, we found people staring at us, probably surprised by tourists at this unlikely time of the year or to see women who were on their own and look different from the ones they are used to seeing.
The shop owner had a volley of questions for us and though we displayed our disinterest, he continued. Sensing that he was probably harmless and not wanting to appear like arrogant tourists, we chit-chatted with him . The small talk turned out to be useful as he showed us a shortcut to the beach on the other side of an unmanned railway crossing that runs just behind his shop. The beach was right across and here we were all set to take an auto!
While the sweltering heat nearly baked us at the fort, the beach was much cooler. In fact, we had walked towards the beach preparing our minds to face the hot afternoon sun thinking that we would sit in the shades provided alongside the shore and just watch the gorgeous Arabian Sea. We were already roasting in the April heat of Malabar Coast since we arrived in the morning and that made us cautious.
However, the Sea was in a playful mood and seemed to have a different idea. It was cooler than we thought and we could even walk bare foot on the sand. We played in the water and walked around in the beach for a while and then went off to explore Bekal Fort.
We came back to the Sea again in the evening. This time there were more people but still it wasn’t that crowded. We walked along the length of the beach, sat on the golden warm sand, felt the cool salty breeze brush against our face, played with the waves, followed the fast and furious crabs, and just relaxed.
Evening was slowly approaching and we decided to walk towards the rocky shore where the fort is located. The fort provides for an imposing view from the beach. However, there is no way to reach the fort from the beach, though you can climb through the rocks and approach just a section of the fort wall. The fort can be accessed only through the road.
We spent the evening sitting on the rocks with the fort behind us and the tides crashing against the rocks in front of us. It was splendid to say the least. And it was my birthday. Couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift (other than the Himalayas, of course…)!
Something interesting happened in the evening. We were waiting to see the Sun slip into the sea, expecting a usual sunset that happens in most beaches. The Sun, however decided to set behind the fort providing an awesome view of the entire landscape – the magnificent fort, the setting sun, and the mighty Arabian Sea.
We watched in rapture even as the tides continued discharging their duty of systematically doing rounds of the shore, not getting distracted even once, so what if the Sun was looking gorgeously beautiful. There’s so much to learn from nature, always!
I could almost see the scintillating Monisha Koirala sauntering around with her long flowing gown behind her and Arvind Swamy yearning for her as he sings the famous soul stirring romantic melody of the late nineties. Composed by A.R Rahman, this masterpiece was sung to perfection by Hariharan.
We were at Bekal Fort, located in a quaint little place called Pallikara in North Kerala. This remarkably well preserved fort gained popularity after the legendary lyrical song from the critically acclaimed Bollywood Movie ‘Bombay’ was filmed here.
It was that time of the year – the month of April – the time to keep a promise to myself. Time for my birthday and I had to gift a travel to myself. It’s the mountains I prefer above everything else, precisely Himalayas. I have a few treks in mind that I want to do but there was a clash here. None of those were happening in April. So, I booked one for May and decided to do a small 1-2 day trip somewhere nearby just for my birthday. That’s how the trip to Bekal Fort happened.
I was all set to go alone when my sister decided to come along. Both of us are going through some financial constraints and this trip fitted well into our pockets. Google told us that Bekal Fort is about 65 Km away from Mangalore and can be reached in about an hour and a half from there. This was the best route for us from Bangalore. We took an overnight train to Mangalore. With our current financial situation, we opted to take a bus rather than a cab from Mangalore. However, we had to change two buses to reach Pallikara – Mangalore to Kasargod to Pallikara.
We had booked a homestay at Pallikara at a very reasonable rate. The room was quite small but the people were wonderful and the food they served was stupendous, at a price that is unthinkable. It’s pretty good for just a night. (http://www.bekalforthomestay.com/)
An auto from the bus stand took us to the homestay and everyone seemed to know the ‘retired Headmaster’s house’. It was late morning when we arrived and the sun was blazing. At this time of the year, Kerala is sweltering and the humidity only makes the weather even more miserable. Notwithstanding, we stepped out after a quick shower.
The lady of the house warned us against venturing to the fort at this time. She advised early evening and recommended the beach for now. We had a quick lunch at a roadside shop trying to ignore the gazing curious onlookers who are probably not used to seeing many tourists and especially women on their own. The shop owner, unable to control his curiosity, asked us a couple of questions and every answer seemed to flabbergast him.
After lunch, we went to Bekal Beach and thereafter took an auto and went to the fort. It was around 3.00 PM and the Sun was shining mercilessly. April is definitely not the best time to visit this place. The roasting heat of Malabar Coast was exhausting as the lady of the homestay had rightly warned us. The aura of the age-old fort managed to keep us engaged though we were drenched in sweat from head to toe. A pleasant surprise awaited us at the fort though. It was ‘World Heritage Day’ and entry was free. I took that as an unexpected birthday gift!
Pic 5: View from an opening on the wall
Pic 6: A gate leading to the winding pathway set around the periphery of the fort
Pic 7: My birthday gift
Perched on a steep rocky shore overlooking the Arabian Sea, Bekal Fort intrigues and fascinates with its architectural marvel and picture perfect location. The rusty red fort owes its colouration to the *laterite slabs that have been used to build it. The polygonal fort, shaped in the form of a giant keyhole surely houses a million tales of bygone ages.
[*Laterite is a soil and rock type rich in iron and aluminium, considered to have formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are of rusty-red coloration, because of high iron oxide content. Source: Wikipedia]
In the 13th Century AD, Bekal was an important port town in Kerala. The fort has changed hands a couple of times from Shivappa Nayaka to Tipu Sultan to East India Company. This is the biggest and best preserved fort in Kerala that is now maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI).
The Fort has several unique features, such as, the water tank with its flight of steps, a tunnel that opens towards the south, a magazine to store ammunition, an Observation Tower with stunning view of the surrounding landscape.
The majestic fort in its entirety against the backdrop of the mighty Arabian Sea on one side and the sea of greenery on all other sides was as picturesque as one can imagine. The vast expanse of tall coconut trees that spread out as far as the eyes can see adds charm to the already scenic location. And it’s the scenic beauty of the place that appealed to me the most.
The weather was taking its toll and we were drained after having loitered around for about 90 minutes at the fort. With no shade around, we decided to go back to the beach.
We got to know that monsoon is the best time to visit this place. Besides the pleasant weather, the fort walls are covered with a layer of green owing to the growth of mosses, lichens, and tiny plants that apparently makes it look even more gorgeous. Our April adventure was nonetheless a good one.
With another promise kept and another birthday well spent, armed with a bagful of wonderful memories we retraced our path towards the beach.