Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district that boasts a unique blend of varied landscapes, culture, languages and cuisines, is on its way to becoming an exclusive, eco-friendly tourist destination.

A breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea from a projection in Kasaragod's Bekal FortA view of the Arabian Sea from Kasaragod's Bekal Fort | Susheela Nair
Features Travel Saturday, April 30, 2022 - 15:47

Standing 130 ft above sea level near the outer boundary of the seaside fort of Bekal in Kasaragod, the northernmost district of Kerala, I could feel the soulful melody of maestro AR Rahman’s Tu Hi Re playing in my mind. The spot evoked memories of the hero crooning on its rain-drenched ramparts, whilst waiting for a clandestine meeting with his burkha-clad paramour. This lilting song sequence in Mani Ratnam’s 1995 film Bombay had lured many a movie buff and tourist to this fabulous fort, catapulting its fame as a tourist destination. 

Kasaragod abounds in forts, housing several architectural beauties such as Chandragiri, Hosdurg and Panayal. The star attraction, however, is the Bekal Fort, which stands on a promontory overlooking a turquoise bay. From Bekal, I headed to the 17th century Chandragiri Fort, famed for its stunning sunset views. Clambering up the steep laterite steps to the fort, I came across a spectacular view of the serene Payaswini River and the Arabian Sea at a distance. With its 293-km long coastline, Kasaragod boasts of many pristine beaches such as Bekal, Kappil, Kanwatheertha and Pallikara.

The Malik Ibn Deenar Mosque, built in typical Kerala-style architecture, and the twin ashrams – the Anandashram and Nityananda Ashram – with 45 caves cut into the sides of a hillock also merit a visit. About 30 km away stands the 9th-century Ananthapura Lake Temple, the original abode of Anantha Padmanabha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu and the powerful deity of Thiruvananthapuram’s famed Padmanabhaswamy Temple. What makes the Kasaragod temple unique is that it is the only lake temple in Kerala with a crocodile moat. Legend has it that the lake houses only one crocodile at a time. When one crocodile dies, another invariably appears.

Ananthapura Temple, the only lake temple in Kerala
Ananthapura Temple, the only lake temple in Kerala

To savour the scenic beauty of the region, I embarked on a boat cruise along the Tejaswini-Valiyaparamba backwaters, fed by four rivers, and dotted with numerous little islets and narrow strips of beaches. As I headed to the tranquil Thekkekadu Island, with the boat drifting along the placid Valiyaparambu backwaters, I watched women diving for shellfish, farmers collecting mussels, clams and oysters by immersing themselves into the backwaters, fishermen hauling in the day’s catch, and seaweed farming among other activities.

The serene backwaters of Valiyaparamba in Kasaragod
The serene backwaters of Valiyaparamba

Mussel fish farming along the Valiyaparamba backwaters
Mussel farming along the Valiyaparamba backwaters

For those of an adventurous ilk, the hill ranges of Ranipuram and Kottencherry in the Western Ghats offer myriad trekking trails. With its forests, abundance of wild flowers, verdant grasslands and misty moors, Ranipuram is a great getaway from a coastal area to a hilly altitude in a matter of a few hours. No other district in Kerala can boast of a vibrant culture like that of Kasaragod. The region is also known as the Saptha Bhasha Sangama Bhumi (the land of seven languages), as seven languages – namely, Malayalam, Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Konkani, Beary, and Urdu – are spoken here, unlike the other districts of the state.

A view from the Ranipuram hill range
A view from the Ranipuram hill range

Besides the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC), the latest to enter the fray for the comprehensive development of tourism in the north Malabar district is the Bekal Tourism Organisation (BTO). “Our focus is to promote experiential tourism like aqua sports, especially kayaking in the mangrove forests, besides plantation walks, backwater cruises, visits to cashew factories, and a tour of the surangas, which are unique water channels dug into the hillside to serve as water harvesting systems, etc. We also encourage homestays to promote north Kerala delicacies by procuring locally available products and making villagers and homemakers as a part of their operations,” says Manoj, Secretary, BTO.

A grand sweep of the silvery beach from the ramparts of Bekal Fort
A grand sweep of the silvery beach from the ramparts of Bekal Fort

Meanwhile, there are a couple of government projects such as the airstrip in Periya in the pipeline, close to Kasaragod town, which would enhance visits by upmarket tourists to the district. Plans are also on the anvil to start heli tourism to make travel easier. New tourist centres will also be opened in the northern part of Kasaragod, which includes the Kanwatheertha beach, Posadi Gumpe hill station, etc.

“We are optimistic that if other projects, featuring the culture and ethnic diversity of Kasaragod, are completed, tourists would tend to stay longer in Kasaragod to experience other attractions instead of just visiting the Bekal Fort for a day. Our aim is to convert the day guest into a tourist who spends two to three nights here, thereby promoting the destination and creating more opportunities for the public in terms of employment, business opportunity and infrastructure development,” says Lijo Joseph, Secretary, District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC).

The pristine beach stretching for miles
The pristine beach stretching for miles

The Malabar River Cruise Project, one of the prestigious tourism projects envisaged by the Government of Kerala, is also expected to enhance tourism to unexplored destinations of northern Kerala, by offering an array of activities and attractions that showcase the local culture, art forms and cuisines, along the rivers, coastal stretches and beaches, to captivate the tourist. The cruises will cover seven rivers in Kannur and Kasaragod regions with 48 boat terminals and jetties. They will be centred around different themes – there is one on mangroves, another focusing on music, others on handloom and handicrafts of the state, another on water sports, and even a Yakshagana cruise.

“Under the Little India Kasaragod, a small initiative by the DTPC Kasaragod, cuisine, culture and enthralling dance artforms of the region such as Yakshagana, Theyyam, Kasaragod sarees, and the elaborately embroidered Thalangara caps, etc, which have not been given due importance in the tourism sector so far, will be showcased to the outside world,” says Joseph.

The Bekal area has been earmarked for massive tourism development. “The state-owned Bekal Resorts Development Corporation has set in motion a tourism project spread over 230 acres in four panchayats. Bekal is the first planned beach destination developed without disturbing the eco-balance of the region. BRDC’s backwater cruises have been operating successfully along the Valiyaparamba backwaters,” says US Prasad, Manager (P&A), BRDC.

A view of the Kappil beach and the backwaters from the Kodi cliff
A view of the Kappil beach and the backwaters from the Kodi Cliff

Thanks to the marketing efforts of the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, BRDC, BTO, and DTPC, Kasaragod has emerged as a prime tourist destination of the Malabar region. Move over Goa, the unspoiled coastal beaches of Pallikkara, Kappil and Bekal are waiting to be discovered, and Kasaragod will soon be transformed into an exclusive eco-friendly international destination. So, pack your travel bags and head for this idyllic Eden before it is unveiled.

All photos by Susheela Nair

Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bengaluru. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.

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