Tourism hasn’t actively taken off here yet, and that’s one of the many things that makes Kannur endearing. I find the place as historic, artistic and attractive as its bigger, louder neighbours in Kerala. I also find that it has become well recommended.
Marco Polo, the intrepid traveller, christened Kannur many centuries ago: “The great emporium of the spice trade.” No wonder then, that this scenic coastal town, serving as a major port and maritime centre back then, was lustily eyed by the usual colonial suspects: the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.
Many who came, stayed, and left behind substantial evidence of their presence. Take the Portuguese, for instance, who built the St Angelo Fort in 1505. Today, this enormous red laterite stone edifice, constructed on a rocky promontory, still provides refuge and sanctuary. If only for the couples that stroll amid its serene gardens against the backdrop of the fishing harbour and the palm-fringed beaches it overlooks.
Meanwhile, their historian friends scrutinise the canons, horse stables and chapel that are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
I leave feeling humbled by the grandeur, only to be elevated at our next halt, which exudes the bliss of a great piece of music. We stroll down what may well be Kerala’s only drive-in beach, where you can motor along an entire length of 4 kilometres of sand by an exotic, lovely sunset. Local lads play football at one end of the sands and burst into Shakira’s
, with variations all their own, as they see us approach. The black rocks glisten. The water is safe for swimmers as the rocks protect the beach from strong currents.
Another highlight of Kannur is the experience of theyyam, for the novelty it holds. Theyyam is Kerala’s spectacular dance ritual, aimed at appeasing ancient village deities — the mother goddess, ancestors and spirits. The season for theyyam is usually between December and May, but the Parassinkadavu Temple, just 20kms north of Kannur, hosts a performance daily. Inside the temple, authorities separate the men from the women for the performance, which finally begins with the singing of a thottam, in praise of the deity. The song is followed by an impassioned dance-display — in which the dancer really appears to have become the dance.
Apart from being vital, the performance showcases the strong influence of Kerala’s martial art tradition of kalaripayattu. The masks and headgear sometimes rise to a staggering height of over seven feet. The high you experience, however, is immeasurable.