Compared to the southern and central parts of the state, the northern part of Kerala is relatively tourist-free. But that does not mean it is any less attractive. Less than two hour’s drive from Mangalore, the nearest airport, Kasaragod, can be your base for exploring the region that is still off the crowd’s radar.
Kasaragod, the eponymous headquarters of Kerala’s northern-most district, is located on the bank of the Chandragiri River. A centre of commerce, it sees brisk business in coconuts and arecanuts. But what many do not know that it is also home to handloom sarees. Usually made by the Shaliya community, this special variety of cotton saree has also earned the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. The town and its neighbourhood is also known for old temples, churches and mosques.
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Begin with a visit to the over three hundred years old Bekal Fort, located about 16km south of Kasaragod town. Built by the Kadampa dynasty, the fort changed several hands before being occupied by the British. Said to be the largest and best preserved fort in Kerala, it is shaped like a giant keyhole. The sturdy observation towers, once sporting cannons, now serve as a deck for tourists to look upon the sea below. The waves break recklessly at the base of the fort. The fort rises nearly 130 feet from the sea level. Well laid out lawns and gardens enhance the beauty of the sprawling fort. The fort is open to visitors daily between 8am and 5.30pm. Carry sun-protective gear and drinking water.
Stretching below the Bekal Fort is a long beach washed by the Arabian Sea. From the beach, the towering fort looks invincible indeed. The garden complex near the beach is a popular hangout zone.
You can also pay a visit to the cliff-lined Kappil beach, about 6km from the fort. Enjoy a crowd-free stroll along the beach or clamber up the cliff to catch a view of the sea and the shoreline.
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About 7km from Kasaragod is a lesser known fort, Chandragiri, located at the confluence of the Payaswini River with the Arabian Sea. The Shiva Temple inside the 17th century fort is visited by local pilgrims. If you are missing the familiar sights of Kerala, the boating and the backwaters, check out the Chandragiri Boat Club; it offers speed boat rides and house boat cruises along the backwaters here. You may also visit some of the nearby islands. Local fishermen too sometimes agree to show tourists around but settle on the price before embarking.
The Valiyaparamba backwater, which take the name from the fishing village that it encircles, is about 30km from Bekal. Here you will find the traditional kettuvaloms offering cruises past the coconut-tree lined shores. The area is also known for mussel farming.
North Kerala is also home to one of the state’s popular ritual art form, Theyyam. Similar to dance dramas in form, these are performed in select temples, usually between December and April. The performers wearing elaborate make up and attire represent various mythical deities and figures. They dance to the music of various local instruments and sometimes go into a trance. It is said there are over 400 varieties of Theyyam. The Kuttikkol Thampuratty Bhagavathy Temple, about 30km from Kasaragod town, holds its annual Theyyam in February in winter. Known as the Kuttikkol Thampuratty Theyyam, it showcases several varieties of the ritual performance.
Getting there: Lying near Kerala’s border with Karnataka, it is convenient to approach Kasaragod through the neighbouring state Mangalore, about 50km by road from Kasaragod town, is the nearest airport. Kozhikode Airport (Calicut International Airport) is about 200km away by road. Kasaragod railway station under the Southern Railway is connected to major destinations in Kerala and Karnataka. With the rising popularity of north Kerala, the area has started seeing a spurt in hotel and resort building. There are several luxury resorts and hotels around Bekal, Kappil Beach, etc. Check out the Kerala Tourism website for options.