Vasco da Gama landed here on May 20, 1498. Though the visit is etched in stone, the monument is a picture of neglect, says K.V. Prasad
Browsing through the travel literature lying in the hotel room, a sudden realisation struck that Kozhikode or Calicut in the Malabar region of Kerala has a historical reference in travelogues of the world.
A few brushes off the history subject I pursued in school nearly four decades ago and a quick glance through the documents available at hand showed that the spot where Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama landed in Kappad was barely 16 kilometres from the hotel.
Excited to be so close to a historical monument that stands as a silent reminder to the landing was somewhat tempered by a colleague from the State in a matter-of-fact statement that the place has a historical linkage but the area around is free of such trappings.
Whatever be the reason — politics or local sentiments — the fact is that one is almost certain to miss the pillar that stands on the edge of the road that leads to the picturesque Kappad beach till the taxi driver pulls the vehicle by the narrow single-strip road by the side to point out the pillar.
The monument, a cement pillar, offers a pitiable sight. The whitewash on it is barely visible in contrast to the ungainly concrete fence on two sides that is broken at places. The pillar, bearing a marble tablet etched with the words in black “Vasco da Gama landed here in Kappadvu in the year 1498” is virtually lost in the backdrop of a waist-high bare brick wall that marks the boundary of residential dwellings on either side.
It is another matter that an entry in a history book on the city notes that May 20, 1498 is the day when the Portuguese explorer set foot in Calicut, which was ruled by the Zamorins.
But Kozhikode has much more to offer than just this historical reference, with the beach near Kappad among the best. The beach area some two kilometres away from the pillar has been developed for the purpose of tourism with rock-paved walls from the shoreline protruding into the sea offering an interesting sight.
Then there is the more expansive Kozhikode beach, which is the popular destination both for the denizens of the city as well as visitors. While the fitness freaks can be seen jogging along the coastline during the day, making their way through morning walkers, others can be spotted simply enjoying the early morning breeze and turning the pages of newspapers. Yet, the most memorable sight is the sunset. Being on the west coast, it is a sight to see the orange ball gradually vanish behind the horizon and vast expanse of water.
For the art lovers, there is the Raja Ravi Varma art gallery, while for foodies the place offers amazing variety. Being close to the sea, Kozhikode has a range of seafood that goes with a staple offering of rice and beef curry.
For the vegetarians, the Malabar parantha, a coiled version of bread made from wheat and maida dough that is prepared with a helpful quantity of ghee (clarified butter), can be had with curries or stew, vegetable or chicken.
And, of course, you cannot afford to miss out either on the delicious biryani or appam, made of batter in a special rounded pan. It is an all-time meal that can be had right through the day, as breakfast, lunch or dinner with stew or anything else one may prefer to go with it.
There are plenty of established hotels in the city and not the least among them is Paragon, a multi-cuisine restaurant where one would find difficult to get a seat during lunch or dinner. The place of late became a talking point for being a restaurant where Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi dropped by for a meal during his visit to the city.
Besides the long list of cuisine, the city, like any other place in Kerala, offers wafer-thin banana chips that come in various fried forms. On any regular day, one can notice people at roadside stalls peeling dozens of raw bananas, slicing them and dipping them in water before moving them to a boiling cauldron of coconut oil. Interestingly, it is common practice for the stalls to use peeled coconut covering as fuel, which takes care of handling the by-product that otherwise goes into the making of coir. Another special offering is chips made from jack fruit, tapioca and even bitter gourd, as also a variety of mixture.
For those with a sweet tooth, Kozhikode offers a delightful range of halwa. Made from a variety of fruits and dry fruits, one can dig into the different flavours — banana, mango, badam, et al. For those in North India, its taste is close to the Karachi halwa that is available in regular sweet shops.