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Meandering in Malabar

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The Malabar region is Kerala’s best kept and loveliest secret. The truth of the statement sinks in as one drives to Kadavu, an off-trail resort 14 km from Calicut airport. And it is reinforced as one sits in a traditional coracle or circular boat and punts down the 95 km stretch of backwaters that flow towards the sea, 6 km away.

Though these backwaters were not as popular as the one further south they are equally enchanting. The waterway is edged by coconut groves and rimmed by the crumpled ridges of the Western Ghats, melting into a blue horizon. Thickset matrons clean shrimp at the water’s edge and ebony skinned fishermen cast their nets with the grace of ballerinas. Villages float by in dugout canoes laden with farm produce and kids cast fishing lines into the water. With the onset of dusk, and a molten sunset whose golden lavender hues are reflected in the all encompassing water, one drifts back to Kadavu and a romantic poolside barbecue.

The next day set off to explore Calicut, the historic heart of north Kerala which Marco Polo described as the great province of Malabar. Indeed, Calicut is where European voyagers journeyed in search of aromatic spices, timber, and ivory. The town has even lent its name to a fine hand-woven cotton cloth called Calico which reportedly originated in Calicut. A short detour from here is Kappad beach where the Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama first landed in India in 1498 and a small stone monument commemorates this historic landing.

Top off the day with a generous helping of culture in the form of a Katakali dance performance, where watching the artists putting on their war paint is part of the act and an amazing martial arts Kararipiat demonstration where participants attack each other with an amazing assortments of weapons and emerge from the battle without a single scratch.

The North Kerala saga then takes one to the dense untamed rain forests of the Waynad district. The road here coils, serpent like, upon itself past foamy waterfalls which like white pillars of water thunder into green pools. In the distance jagged peaks reach out for the soft caress of nomadic clouds. After clearing the crest of Thamarasseri Ghat pass, the road winds down to Vythiri Resort located in the heart of the rain forests.

This rustic resort is built around what was formerly a row of residential cottages for the management staff of the surrounding tea plantations. Secreted away in the fertile folds of this hilly district are villages inhabited by some of the oldest tribes in the country and as yet untouched by civilization. The resort’s complex of thatched mud tribal huts plays on this leitmotif. From here, one can go trekking, bird watching and on jeep excursions to nearby tourist spots. Or swim in a natural pool at the base of a cascade which then winds through the property like a silver skein. Or go boating at Pookot, a perennial fresh water lake which is swathed in silvery mist.

A plantation trek into the neighbouring hills is a heady cocktail of rich fragrance of cinnamon, lemon grass, tea and coffee. And the landscape is painted in a million shades of green. Yes, when the creator was busy creating paradise, North Kerala was probably the site of his experiments!

Fact File
Calicut airport is well connected with most major cities in India.

The nearest railway station is Calicut and most of the trains heading down south stop here. Kadavu is 14 km away from Calicut airport. There are a number of hotels to suite all budgets in Calicut city.

Since Vythiri (65 km away from Calicut) is on the Calicut to Bangalore (via Ooty and Mysore) highway, a number of state and private transport buses run through the town. Taxis and cars can be hired in Calicut.