Kappad beach owes a huge debt of gratitude to Vasco da Gama, the seafarer who became Viceroy in the process of discovering a new sea route. The European sailor Gama was not exactly setting foot here but asserting his authority. The beach also bears the fetters of slavery that this visit gifted it. But some habits just do not change. Kozhikode has that history and tradition of being the perfect hosts, then and now. We were on a mission to explore the warm hospitality of this sea side town. We started from Kappad, the place where Vasco da Gama landed.
Reefs and silver sands make this shore a unique one. A road is being constructed parallel to this beach up to Koilandy. Locals say that once the road is completed, the number of people coming to enjoy the drive and take a dip in the sea will shoot up. Lovers are ubiquitous in the midst of the casuarina trees.
The famed hospitality
Our mouths had begun to water even as we saw Kappad in the midday sun and got back into our Creta. Pangs of hunger besieged us. We set the navigation in Creta's touch screen. Our destination was Hotel Salkara. When we reached the town, we switched off the A/C and downed the one-touch power window. We activated the human GPS for seeking food – our noses. The aroma of chicken biriyani wafted in. There, right next to us on the right was Hotel Salkara, part of the famed Paragon group. Without a second thought, we got in and ordered two chicken biriyanis and a meal. It was not just sumptuous, but was made extra special thanks to the liberal serving. We asked the hotel manager Charles for a cup of payasam; we got not one but three different varieties. There was a steady flow of customers - families, teenagers and biriyani lovers trooped in and left satiated. After the meal, we wanted to take a photo of the chef. That required permission from Liju, the wife of hotel owner Sumesh. Normally restaurants do not permit one to take a look at the kitchen. She led us to the kitchen without any hesitation at all and we discovered that cleanliness was the secret behind Salkara's reputation.
Driving in Kozhikode is a pleasure. We did not hear people honking while we cruised along on the Creta, looking for our next destination. Could it be because Creta's interiors are totally soundproof? Not quite. Patience and a willingness to accept others are traits inherent in the people of Kozhikode. The honesty of their auto drivers is well-known. We enquired of an auto driving brother named Sadanandan the way to Sarovaram Biopark. We were listening to Kozhikode's own singer M.S. Baburajan. 'Kanmani nee en karam pidichal/ Kannukal enthinu verre?' ('Beloved when you hold my hand/ What need there is for other eyes?'). Equally interesting as the song was the clear direction that he gave with the body language of a ghasal singer.
Sarovaram Biopark in Kottuli is six kilometres away. It is described by the government as the only eco-friendly park in Kerala that was established to preserve and promote the state's mangrove forests and water basins. Mangroves, ponds, sweet fruit trees and amorous visitors abound here. Many people visit here for that feel of the jungle in the midst of the city and also to learn about the medicinal plants. It is run by KTDC. We went in with the intention of entering the grove, taking care not to invade the privacy of the couples.
The scene at Mananchira in the evening appeared as if the entire city was celebrating Deepavali by the pool. Many families relaxed by idling in the green grass. One wished if all cities had public places like this. Next stop Kozhikode beach. Sculptures line the beautifully laid pavement. Street lamps came on as the sun lowered in the horizon. Plenty of seats and seafood restaurants enliven this place. We had fried mussels from Alibhai's thattukada. Night had fallen and we were turning in for the day. Calicut Tower was a good host.
The story of a dhow-making
Off to Beypore port in the morning. Sights are ordinary but it is fun driving on the road along Kozhikode beach. More than the port, it is the dhow-making that Beypore is famous for. A dhow is a tiny ship. Our guide to the dhow making plant was a local chap named Suneesh. Two dhows are getting ready near the Kakkad community hall by the Chaliyar River. The sight of our indigenous engineering acumen gearing up to cross the seas is unforgettable. Several people carefully examine each nook and corner of the dhow and work diligently with local tools as well as ultramodern equipments. Sathyan, who is fondly called Satyettan runs about overseeing the operations. Each boat takes birth after multiple tests and observations. What is amazing is the fact that a a mere fifth grader pulling off such tasks which are the preserve of engineering graduates. But Satyettan knows every inch of the dhow like the palm of his hand. Precisely for that reason, practical human intelligence takes the upper hand over the make-believe formal education here.
The dhow is a modified version of our house boat. They are supposedly made for royal family members to enjoy their picnics in the sea. Building time varies with the size of the dhow. Still a dhow can be set sailing in a year's time if 15 people work daily on it. This is followed by obtaining permission from Mangaluru and heading for the gulf. The engine used is Leyland. A basic form of dhow will cost around Rs 2.45 crores. The luxury rooms and other comforts inside will cost extra. Eight of these have been made under Satyettan's supervision. It is interesting to merely watch this wonderful process of dhow-making.
Street of sweets
But then, we are talking food here. We headed out to the famous Mittayitheruvu - also known as the S.M Street or the Sweetmeat Street. Our mission is not just seeing the place, but relish the famous Kozhikodan Halwa. It is a crowded street. We pass by a group of youngsters who wore kohl in their eyes. You get everything and anything here.
Our destination was Shankaran Bakery. This bakery is about 96 years old. Rishil, who now runs the shop, belongs to the fifth generation of the family who set up this shop. Halwas of different flavours and colours are on display. They also sell various other savories such as the traditional achappam and kozhalappam. "We make it at home and we don't do any tricks.'
Most of the hoardings along the way advertised names of eateries. A large thattukada crowded like a marriage gathering was spotted past Thondayad on Thrissur Road. Yet another shop offered Kumarakom food. As Kozhikode's culinary marvels enthrall the city with their hues and aromas one could not help wondering if the people of the place actually live to eat!