October 28, 2007

Calicut and Coimbatore

The Indian calendar reflects the richness and variety of the culture appropriately. Festive holidays are sprinkled throughout the year at regular intervals. Whenever one of these holidays came along, I pounced upon them as an opportunity to see more of the country. Everyone usually hurried of to their home towns during these dates, with most of Bangalore at a train or bus station on a Friday night of a long weekend. It was very difficult to find tickets for travel to the large cities or main tourist attractions during these times if I had not planned two or three months in advance. Thus, I would have to go off the beaten path to places such as Calicut and Coimbatore.

An intense 45 minute long flight from Bangalore to Calicut on a small aircraft that carried 40 souls on board was all it took before I was back in "God's Own Country" - Kerala. Calicut's airport was located on rocky highlands a distance away from the actual city which lined a
sandy coastal belt. Outside the airport there were only taxis waiting, so I loitered around until my favourite mode of motorized transport made itself present. After depositing a family of nine at the terminal, an auto rickshaw pulled a quick U-turn and was about to exit the airfield when the driver spotted me. The 19 year old at the wheel of the rickshaw, Kabir, was an amiable fellow. He did not speak English or Bengali, and I did not speak Malaylam or Hindi, but we were still able to communicate somehow.

Once we reached the city I instructed him to take me to a beach front hotel. Unfortunately, it was already fully booked. At each successive property on Calicut's Marine Drive I was rebuffed. Apart from the long weekend crowds there was also a conference being held, so rooms were hard to come by. I was then referred to the finest hotel in town, the Malabar Palace. Although not by the beach, it was centrally located and near the rail station so I decided to stay. After dropping off my travel bag there, Kabir took me back to the beach. We agreed to meet early the next morning, so that he could take me to all the sights in and around Calicut. The rest of day was spent meandering on the beach and soaking up the sun in the gentle company of several Calicuties. The Malabar Festival was in full swing, with many revelers on the beach enjoying the carnival atmosphere late into the night.

When I made my way to the lobby the next morning, Kabir was already there waiting for me. We headed for Beypore, a town 10km south of Calicut. Known for its wooden ships, I visited the port and the ship building yards. There I rented out a motor boat and was given a high speed tour of the port and its surroundings before heading out into the open ocean. After the conclusion of the nautical expedition, we passed through Calicut again, halting shortly at the aquarium, before continuing on to Kappad to the north. The gateway to the Malabar coast, Kappad Beach was the site where Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama landed when he stumbled upon India in search of unimaginable riches and untasted spices. I spent a few hours at the unspoilt beach before being dropped back at the hotel and saying farewell to my local guide.

Calicut to Coimbatore is a short distance with a travel time of only 4 hours by train between them. After my hotel graciously allowed me to stay a couple of hours past my midnight checkout time, I headed to the Calicut train station and caught a sleepy 2:30 am train to Coimbatore. The "Manchester of South India", Coimbatore is a textile town and does not have any must see attractions for a traveler to visit, so I just relaxed and observed daily life in Tamil Nadu's second largest city. I walked around the marketplaces of Kovai, ate a hearty and very spicy meal at a popular eatery, and enjoyed some pongalicious sweets from some Coimbatories before heading back to Bangalore.