If memory serves me right, I made 3 trips to Kerala in 2017 and early 2018. Co-incidentally on all the trips, I had the chance to traverse across the historical Malabar Coast. The mind harks back to the unforgettable moments across some pristine beaches, backwaters, magical sunsets, and succulent biryani; among a vast plethora of outstanding experiences.
Where Exactly is Malabar Coast in Kerala?
The Northern part of Kerala adjoining the beach is known as Malabar coast and the entire region is enchanting. I was instantly in love with the sparsely crowded beaches surrounded by coconut plantations, a constant stiff breeze bringing fresh air, inland waterways called backwaters and fragrant spice plantations.
My Most Memorable Experiences from the Malabar Coast, Kerala
The Peaceful Beach at Nileshwaram
Nileshwaram (Also called Neeleshwar or Nileshwar) is a small village characterised by swaying palm trees and pristine beaches. It is blessed with a charming location on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. I distinctly remember being lulled to sleep by the sound of the crashing waves in Nileshwaram.
Nileshwar Palace is the old palace of Nileshwaram Rajas. In the morning, it was magical to walk on the pristine white sandy beach with cool sand in the feet. Hammocks hung beneath towering coconut trees almost extending an invitation as we lay on sun beds soaking in the gorgeous views of the ocean. Little huts on the sand had been laid out on the beach itself and it was otherworldly to enjoy breakfast in the beautiful surroundings. I did not get to experience it, but Theyyam performances in Nileshwar are quite popular even among local Keralites.
1500 year old Ship Building Industry in Beypore
Beypore is a sleepy town located on the banks of the Chaliyar river and a traditional hub for shipbuilding on the Malabar Coast of Kerala. It is situated around 10-15 kms away from Kozhikode. I’d boarded an auto rickshaw for going to shipbuilding area in Beypore but due to the language confusion, the auto guy dropped me in an entirely different place. Google maps came to the rescue and I somehow walked to the shipbuilding area in Beypore with my (huge) backpack. I was in an awkward scenario dripping in sweat unable to adjust to the humidity of the Malabar Coast in Kerala, even in the comparatively cooler month of February.
As soon as I reached the shipbuilding lane, I was astounded to see the huge ship being worked on by a number of carpenters. They were busy working on the partially built ship of wooden logs, and for me it was like being thrust right into the middle of the action. With the limited interaction possible due to the language barrier, I couldn’t really talk much but the people tried to show me the ship from the inside and explain the process.
From the limited knowledge I gathered – Ships made in Beypore are called uru in the local parlance. The Uru is a wooden dhow, quite huge in size and a single ship may sometimes take 2-3 years to build. Jackfruit tree wood and rosewood are used for designing the interiors. According to the workers, these ships are made without any fixed work plan or blueprint; apparently the mistry gives daily instructions to the workers. It was astonishing to know thats how the entire ship is built!
1498 – First Europeans set foot in India at Kappad Beach
I’d read in history books long back in school that Calicut is the place where the first Europeans landed in India. After coming to Kerala, it was known that Kappad Beach is the historic beach where Vasco da Gama landed on 27th May 1498. That is how the Portuguese history and the colonial history of India had its inception. Kappad beach is located around 20 kms north of Kozhikode on the Malabar Coast in Kerala.
To my surprise, upon reaching Kappad beach, there was a monument commemorating the same spot where Vasco da Gama landed more than 500 years ago; it is called Kappakadavu. If you are a history lover, Kappad beach has an old world charm of bygone times and it also makes for a nice place to spend an evening to enjoy a gorgeous sunset as well.
Experiencing the Magical Backwaters on Malabar Coast, Kerala
The backwaters on the Malabar Coast of Kerala consist of a zig-zag network of lagoons, lakes & canals and is a truly memorable delight. I was lucky to experience the backwaters in the recommended, local manner. We were on a traditional thatch-roofed houseboat, locally known as ‘kettuvallam’ and it slowly floated through the maze of canals.
Almost all the houseboats plying in the backwaters around Malabar Coast in Kerala are renovated cargo boats that are complete with all modern comforts and conveniences. According to the locals I met, nearly every family owns a houseboat in this region. It was stunning to observe the sunset from the houseboat while the beauty of the colours of nature got accentuated in the reflections on water.
On the houseboat ride, we were in the pristine valiyaparamba backwaters of Kerala, and had a glimpse of unspoilt nature with age-old traditions. Villages are set in the backwaters and are surrounded by paddy fields, their main occupation is fishing. The funniest memory for me is when I pretended to be the Captain of the Ship by wearing the hat and steering the wheel left and right!
Slow Walks in the Bounty of Nature
Walks in the countryside of Malabar Coast region took me on little trails that were shaded with coconut trees. I meandered through the plantations which are perfect for short hikes. Wherever you go, the trails are blessed with stunning vistas of the backwaters, and runs very close to pristine beaches. The locals I met all through the journeys in Kerala were very friendly and inspite of the language barrier, my time in this state will remain a cherished memory.
Delicious Kallumakkai (mussels) Biryani in Thalassery
Thalassery is a beautiful old town with a fort on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. Out of the around 8000 tonnes of green mussels harvested annually in north Kerala, Thalassery is one of the top three producers of mussels. Malabari biryani, especially the Thalassery Biryani, has a subtle taste and not heavily flavoured like its North Indian counterpart. While Hyderabad is famous for dum biryani, Thalassery mussel biryani is really meant to be savoured as one of the top biryanis in India!
And what a sight it was; after we ended up at one of the recommended eateries in Thalassery town. We were 8 of us, and we ate like hungry beasts eager to devour whatever variety of biryani appeared on the table!
Apart from the Biryani in Thalassery; Mambally’s Royal Biscuit Factory is the place where the plum cake was baked in India over 135 years ago. While Thalassery’s biryanis are famous, it is the mussel biryani that is a must try. There are many restaurants recommended by the locals and Rara Avis is a safe bet. Another interesting fact about Thalassery is that cricket was first played here in India.
Sunset at Bekal Beach near Kasaragod, Kerala
If not for catching the sunset, this experience could have easily made it to the Failures on the Road – Stupidity in Changthang, Ladakh. I had started the day in Kozhikode and after visiting the Ship Builders in Beypore had decided to head in the direction of Kannur and then try and make it somewhere close to Mangalore and try and find a cheap homestay and chill on the beach anywhere on the Malabar Coast!
In reality, I somehow got to Kannur in a slow bus, reached the train station to take a train to Kasaragod. The train turned out to be quite late and it was around evening by the time I reached Kasaragod. Kasaragod didn’t quite turn out to be the tropical paradise that I had dreamed it to be. I quickly made up my mind and boarded a bus to reach Bekal. Bekal also turned out to be a town where the beach wasn’t as close as I had thought it would be. I ran shelter-skelter with my bags before it became dark to try and find a homestay near the beach. After some hitched rides and unsuccessful stories, I finally landed on the beach near Taj Bekal.
I hadn’t found a homestay yet but the sun was setting and the scene was so immense that I was torn between two feelings. I was very worried about finding a nice homestay, but also immensely happy to have made it to the pristine Bekal beach. I spent some time enjoying the after-sunset colours; walked back to the main road to get lucky, hitch a ride and found a cheap place to stay.