In the heart of the Malabar region, Calicut (also Kozhikode) is Northern Kerala’s largest city with beautiful beaches and a long history. It was always prominent and prosperous due to its spice trade with Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It was also once the capital of the formidable Zamorin dynasty. Besides, it was near here that Vasco da Gama first landed at the end of the 15th century.
Calicut is a city of various facets, which include a long coastline, a river, intersecting religions and cultures, temples, mosques and churches. Almost at its heart is the Manachira Square that has a spring-fed tank surrounded by a lovely park. There are also several places to go boating, visit beautiful waterfalls and bird sanctuaries and even go trekking.
One of Calicut’s foremost attributes is the Beach Road, a three-kilometre stretch that has some lovely buildings and sights, including an aquarium, an old lighthouse and ancient piers. It comes to life in the evening when people gather to watch spectacular sunsets and take long walks. Alongside, many pushcarts arrive to hawk a variety of snacks and treats.
Among the city’s many places of worship is the eye-catching, five-storied Mishkal Mosque that goes back more than six centuries. It is unique for being made almost entirely of wood with laterite superstructure and Italian tiles and influences from temple architecture. Equally old is the Tali temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, which has interesting bas reliefs and exquisite carvings on the roof. Going back to the 14th century, the Mother of God Cathedral is the most popular church in Calicut. It is famous for its red and white facade and Italian design.
Calicut’s rich and diverse history is showcased through various museums across the city. At the Pazhassiraja Museum and Art Gallery is a rare collection of copies of ancient murals, bronzes, coins, megalithic relics, including dolmens, temple miniatures and much more. Kirtads, dedicated to research and development of tribals, is a repository of household articles, jewellery, costumes, implements and a variety of paraphernalia belonging to various tribes.
Calicut is very popular for its delectable Malabar cuisine, known for incorporating a variety of local and foreign influences. The most famous dish is biryani and the best places to have mutton or chicken biryani is at Paragon or Zains. The meat is tenderly cooked and combined with spices to make a mild but flavourful ensemble with rice. For beef biryani, Rahmath Hotel is worth a try. Calicut is also famous for its own brand of chewy sweet called halwa, which is made of many colours and is translucent. The best place to sample it is on SM Road (sweet meat road), where you can also try the unique yellow Kerala chips made of bananas.
There’s something for every kind of soul in Calicut, but it is quite impossible to catch every one of the city’s facets in a single visit. The city is known to weave its inimitable magic that makes people visit again.
Words: Anita Rao Kashi