The coastal town, believed to be the ancient port of Naura, has historically enticed visitors from far-flung corners of the world, with travellers like Ibn Battuta eulogising its legendary spices, wealth and beauty.

Several boats are docked adjacent to each other at the Moplah Bay, as seen from the Kannur FortA view of the Moplah Bay, a natural fishing harbour, as viewed from the Kannur Fort | Susheela Nair
Features Travel Sunday, May 22, 2022 - 17:43

Continuing our Malabar sojourn from Kasaragod in Kerala, we reached the coastal town of Kannur, believed to be the ancient port of Naura, from whose shores King Solomon’s ships collected timber to build the great temple of Jerusalem. The spice-scented shores of Kannur have always enticed visitors from far-flung corners of the world. Historically, this ancient kingdom of the Chirakkal Rajas had been a preferred destination for dauntless foreign travellers like Fa Hien, Abdul Razzak and Ibn Battuta, who have eulogised its wealth and beauty.

Kannur was a busy outpost for the spice trade, enticing enterprising voyagers, seafarers and traders from across the world. Malabar’s legendary spices like cardamom, cinnamon and pepper have beckoned the Arabs, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Dutch and the British to her shores, to trade, fight and win battles over the supremacy in spice trade. It was once lauded as a great emporium of spice trade by Marco Polo.

As I entered the portals of the St Angelo Fort (also known as Kannur Fort), it gave me a glimpse of the once-upon-a-time flurry of immense military activities and booming cannons. A sea wall projecting from the fort separates the rough sea from the inland waters, with the splash of the surf of the Arabian Sea adding to the mystery and aura of this triangular laterite structure that stands on its shores.

This erstwhile strategic seaside military base has witnessed the rule of three colonist rulers — the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. As we rambled around, we could still see the moat, imposing bastions, laterite walls, jails, barracks, stables, an armaments magazine, cement cannons and a dilapidated baroque style church. Mysterious and secret underground tunnels and routes to escape invasions added to the fort’s intrigue. From the fort, we also had a captivating view of the fishing boats moored at the Moplah Bay, a natural fishing harbour.

Besides its riveting history, Kannur has ample treats to offer tourists. For history buffs, the Arakkal Museum is a must-see, for Arakkal family is known to be the only Muslim royal family in Kerala. The museum showcases the history of the family and their influence in this region, its monopoly on the spice trade, and its relationship with European colonial power. The museum houses everything from antique furniture, art, silver weapons, old records, maps and drawings, to surveys and manuscripts highlighting the maritime activities of the Muslim royal family. The St John’s CSI English Church in the Cantonment area, the first Protestant Church in the Malabar region, also merits a visit.

St Angelo Fort
St Angelo Fort

A view of the Arakkal Museum
Arakkal Museum

St John’s CSI English Church
St John’s CSI English Church

For beach lovers, there are pristine beaches galore to explore along the 82-km coastline of Kannur. Each beach has its own allure. We stopped by the Payyambalam Beach, Kannur’s longest beach, which is a hotspot for tourists as well as local residents who flock to this beach to watch the sun go down. Here, we spotted the gigantic sculpture 'Mother and Child' by renowned sculptor Kanayi Kunhiraman. Besides, Samadhis dedicated to the lives of some prominent social and political leaders of Kannur can be found here.

Payyambalam Beach
Payyambalam Beach

Some of the smaller beaches, like Baby Beach and Meenkunnu, are isolated and relatively unknown to most tourists, which is also their biggest selling point. Cradled in rocks with verdant vegetation, just 11km from Kannur, lies one of the region’s most alluring and secluded beaches — Kizhunna Ezhara.

At Muzhappilangad beach, supposedly India’s only drive-in beach at low tide, we saw tourists zipping and zooming past on motor bikes, while others tested their motoring skills on four-wheel drives. You can take a leisurely stroll along the 4-km stretch or relax blissfully on the beach and have a look at the Dharmadam Island (Green Island), a five-acre island encircled by a river and the sea. Here, one can see the water gushing forward madly and receding just as quickly in turns. At low tide, one can dally in knee-deep waters for hours on end and wade to the island.

If you are spiritually inclined, the Muthappan temple in Parassinikadavu, situated along its banks, might be of interest. A unique feature of this temple is that the much-revered deity is propitiated with offerings of dried fish and toddy! Apparently, foreign liquor will also do. Dogs are a special favourite of the deity, and we saw several offerings of bronze dogs just outside the sanctum sanctorum. Interestingly, it is only in this temple that the ritualistic Theyyam is performed throughout the year. Just beside the temple is the Parassinikadavu Snake Park, with snake pits and cages that hold an impressive variety of reptiles.

Bronze dog offerings placed outside the sanctum sanctorum of the Parassinikkadavu Muthappan Temple
Bronze dog offerings outside the sanctum sanctorum of Parassinikadavu Muthappan Temple

You can include in your spiritual circuit the Raja Rajeswari temple, where women are allowed to worship only after 8 pm as it is said that Shiva will be with his consort Parvathi then and, therefore, will grant women their wishes. Another interesting temple is the Peralassery Subramanya Temple, where Rama and Lakshmana are believed to have halted while on their way to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita. The stepped tank evoked memories of the stepwells in Gujarat.

Peralassery Subramanya Temple
Peralassery Subramanya Temple

We drove out of Kannur to Pinarayi, the hometown of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The next stop was the Dinesh Beedi Co-operative, one of the largest beedi factories in Kerala. Here, we saw men and women cutting tendu leaves and rolling beedis, as they listened to the latest political developments across the globe read out aloud from a newspaper by a designated ‘newspaper reader’. The Weaver’s Cooperative, presumably one of the largest of the innumerable hand-weaving cooperatives in Kerala, is just a hop away from the beedi factory. It was a treat to watch weavers at work on traditional pit looms, handlooms and shuttles, weaving cotton and silk fabrics for domestic and international use. Our Kannur sojourn culminated with a Theyyam performance, featuring colourfully costumed performers playing out fascinating folk tales.

Women rolling beedis at the Dinesh Beedi Cooperative in Pinarayi
Women rolling beedis at the Dinesh Beedi Cooperative in Pinarayi

As for the lore, well, folklore is omnipresent in Kannur. But there is more to unravel in the region beyond its looms, lores, beedis, beaches and temples. It also has tourist spots including the Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, the picturesque hill station of Pythal Mala, the neighbouring town of Thalassery — the land of cakes, circuses, and cricket — and much more to offer.

A Theyyam artist performs at a temple in Kannur
A Theyyam artist performs at a temple in Kannur

A Theyyam artist gets his face painted ahead of his performance
A Theyyam artist gets his face painted ahead of his performance

 

Getting there: Kannur is connected by air, road and rail. Nearest airport is the Kannur International Airport (30km).
Contact the District Tourism Promotion Council for details. Ph: 0497-2706336

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.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.