In North Kerala lies the area which the legendary traveller Marco Polo described in 1320 A.D. as the "great province of Malabar". Much of this richness today lies buried in the glory of a past grandeur, a past replete with the trading visits of European voyagers calling on the ancient port of Kozhikode (/kOzhikOd/) on their regular journeys of commerce, lured by timber, ivory, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and other spices.
The great traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited Kozhikode at least six times in the mid-13th c. wrote ofthe prosperity he saw: "The greater part of the Mohammadan merchants are so wealthy that one of them can purchase the whole freightage of such vessels as put in here and fit out others like them".
After the 13th c. Kozhikode grew in importance as a port and the capital of the powerful kingdom of the Samoothiris or the Zamorins, as they were called by the Portugese. In fact, some historians say that Kozhikode derives its name from the fortified palace (`koyil kotta', /kOyil kOTTaa/) built by a Samoothiri ruler.
Kozhikode's commercial glory was also praised by the Arab traveller Abdur Razzak in 1443 A.D.: "Kozhikode is a perfectly secured harbour, which, like that of Ormuz, brings together merchants from every city and from every country". Interestingly, Kozhikode has lent its English name, Calicut, to `calico', the fine variety of handwoven cotton cloth said to have originated from this place.
Kozhikode was also Vasco da Gama's first halt in India. He set foot on the sands of Kappad (/kAppAd/) beach, north of today's city, on 27 May 1498 A.D., a landing commerated by a small stone monument at the beach. This event marked the beginning of a new epoch in world history and specifically in the history of Kerala. Against the backdrop of bitter rivalries between local rulers began a period of unbroken strife among foreign powers for the domination of the trade in Malabar.
Today, Kozhikode is an important trading centre for timber and tiles, and hunting ground for that famous delicacy Calicut halwa.
Just 15 minutes from the city centre is a place called Dolphin's Point,where one can see dolphins playing in the sea of an early morning. The long tree-lined beach, about 2 km away, is popular with the local people because of the Lions Club Park, the lighthouse, and two piers - and of course, the opportunity to soak in the evening breeze.
Located at East Hill, the Pazhassiraja (/pazhasshirAja/) Museum, run by the State Archaelogical Department, displays ancient murals, antique bronzes and old coins, as well as models of temples, megalithic monuments like dolminoid cysts and umbrella stones. Timings are 10 am to 5 pm. (Closed on Mondays)
Situated next to the Pazhassiraja Museum, the Art Gallery contains paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and Raja Raja Varma. The Krishna Menon Museum has a section in honour of the great Indian leader V.K. Krishna Menon, whose personal belongings and souvenirs gifted by world leaders are exhibited here. Timings are 10 am to 5 pm. (Closed on Mondays and Wednesday forenoons) Mananchira (/maananchiRa/) is the heart of the city and sites important institutions like the Town Hall and the Public Library. One of Kozhikode's oldest institutions, the Commonwealth Trust's office is located here. The large pond and park are well-known landmarks.
Six km away is Kallai (/kallaai/), once the bustling nerve-centre of Kozhikode's timber trade, said to have been the largest such trading centre in Asia. Today, though some business does take place, hard times have fallen on the timber trade and Kallai is just a shadow of its busy past.
Beypore (/beypooR/), 11 km from Kozhikode, is a small coastal town famous for centuries as a ship-building centre and still is known today for its country crafts called uru (/uRu/) built by traditional shipbuilders known as khalasis (/khalashIs/). Beypore is still a favoured destination for Arabs shopping for large boats.
A commercial centre also famous for the ancient Kerala style of martial arts, kalaripayattu (/kaLaripayatt~/), is also the birthplace of Tacholi Othenan, whose heroic deeds have been immortalised in the ballads of North Malabar (the /vadakkanpAttukaL/ or `northern songs'). Tellicherry (/thelisshEri/) and Sulthanbatheri (/sulthAnbathEri/, previously known as Sultan's Battery), 98 km away, are important trading centres of Kozhikode. The road from Kozhikode to Sultan Battery, though full of steep climbs and hairpin bends, offers a breathtakingly scenic drive. From Sultan Battery, it is only six hours to Bangalore. Kozhikode has an airport, at Karipur.
To know more about Kozhikode district and for government information, get in touch with the District Information Office, Civil Station (Tel. 51225).
Tourists should head for the Tourist Reception Centre, KTDC corner, Hotel Malabar Mansion (Tel. 76101).
Businessmen would want to call on the Malabar Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 1113, Cherootty Road (Tel. 55282 / 55292).
Every Sunday, the Tourist Reception Centre, KTDC Corner, Hotel Malabar Mansion operates a conducted tour which covers Kozhikode, Beypore, Peruvannamuzhi Dam, Lokanarkavu Temple, and Kappad Beach.