Thanks to the region’s seafaring tradition and a sprawling seven-km seafront, Ezhimala in Kerala is a fitting home to Asia’s largest military training institution, the Indian Naval Academy.

Just north of Kannur lies a beach that is possibly the most beautiful in India. A cluster of hills forms an imposing promontory, the last of which protrudes into the Arabian Sea. There are remnants of a Portuguese fortification on this hillock as well as clusters of abandoned undated shrines.

The place has been a restricted area ever since it was taken over by the Indian Navy to create what is the country’s largest military training institution.

Rich in history, Ezhimala was ruled by a king named Nannan, who fought the Cheras in the 5th century AD. His heroics are well-documented in Akananooru and Purananooru, two great poetic works of the Sangam era. Mooshikas, believed to be Nannan’s descendants, ruled the place for some time before it came under the reign of several powers, including the Portuguese and the French. Ezhil malai, as it finds mention in Sangam poetry, is the birthplace of two legendary poets of that period: Paranar and Azhissi. Portuguese seafarers were said to use what they called Mount Deli as a navigation aid to find Calicut.

The sprawling seven-km seafront was instrumental in the area being chosen for the academy. Though the idea was mooted in 1987, its commissioning happened only in 2009, thanks to litigation leading to a delay in land acquisition.

Conceived as a premiere maritime defence school for moulding young men from across the country into professional naval officers, the academy is evolving by the day. With close to 1,000 cadets in five squadrons, it seeks to strike a balance between brain-racking classroom and laboratory sessions required to fashion its permanent commission direct-entry cadets into engineering graduates.

Understanding science with a fair mix of military orientation, a cadet here receives simulator-based training for learning the rules of the road in navigation, damage control and the like; watermanship training (kayaking, windsurfing, parasailing and rowing) to acquire seamanship; equestrian practice for fun, confidence and leadership; firing practice at its baffle range; and activities such as paragliding, hiking, rock-climbing and mini-marathon, besides parade and drill in a methodical fashion for physical toughness and discipline.

Meanwhile, there’s a system in place to acquire soft skills, sportsmanship in a variety of indoor and outdoor events, and pick up lifetime hobbies too. A year after it was commissioned, the academy began to hold every December the Admiral’s Cup sailing regatta in the Kavai backwaters for friendly navies, and the event has become a festival for bonding and honing skills.