With the unmistakable scent of spices in her name and a hint of pride in
With the unmistakable scent of spices in her name and a hint of pride inits legacy, Kollam, also known as Quilon and Desinganadu, offers the heady swish of coconut palms, the mesmerising sounds of the backwaters setting a soothing background score. The name ‘Kollam’ is thought to be a derivative of ‘kolam’, the Sanskrit word for pepper. This small town has inspired much poetry, and is sometimes called ‘swapna desham’, or dreamland, locally. Marco Polo, who passed by in the 13th century, could only describe it in glowing terms.
The lustre of Kollam’s history remains bright, though this region is known for the Ashtamudi Lake, dotted with noisy egrets who dip in and out of its clear waters, particularly beautiful on moonlit nights. Thus, while the historical cashewnut trade is no longer bustling, the region has much to offer by way of the many temples, churches and mosques in this small town, waiting to be discovered and explored so their stories can be told.
Things to See & Do
Most of the sights in Kollam lie within a radius of 8–10km from the heart of the town. It is a good idea to start one’s tour from the Residency Guest House and the Adventure Park, stop by Chinnakada for some shopping, and eventually head to Thirumullavaram and Thangasseri beaches. At least half a day can be spent on a relaxing backwater cruise, perhaps concluding with a scrumptious meal at one of the lakeside resorts. Neendakara Port in the vicinity is also a must-see.
There are a number of facets of Kollam that are a reminder of the Colonial presence in the town. The 70-year-old square clocktower, visible from almost any part of the historic Chinnakada Market, is one of them – and an excellent place to begin exploring Kollam. The clocktower is located very close to the Velankanni Church and the English Cemetery. Here, visitors will find 19th century tombs of various British explorers and officials.
A visit to the Residency Bungalow, or the Government Guest House, at Ashramam, takes one back in time. Its spacious rooms and verandahs speak of a bygone era. Once the home of British Resident Colonel Munro, the 1810 construction finely blends European and Kerala styles of architecture, set within a sprawling compound. The high-ceilinged rooms with fine wooden doors are sparsely furnished with old teak furniture, and crockery used by the British is on display on walls alongside old prints.
The Ashramam Maidan, housing the British residency, also has an Adventure Park run by the District Tourism Promotion Council. Although the park itself is nothing exciting, it offers a view of the Ashtamudi Lake, which makes it quite worthwhile. Thangasseri, which was called Dutch Quilon in the Colonial period, was a British enclave whose beauty was indeed a rare sight. The lighthouse at Thangasseri, with its breathtaking views of the sea, is often regarded as the greatest contribution of the British to Kollam.
Built in 1902, its light can be seen from 13m way. Before the advent of electricity, the lighthouse used kerosene vapour lamps. Another monument worth visiting at Thangasseri is the Portuguese Fort, now a protected monument that dates back to 1517 CE. Although all that remains of the fort now is a broken wall.
Every year in February, near St Joseph’s Convent, the poomaruthu, or the ‘queen’s flower tree’, is in full bloom. This tree is also known as the ‘painter’s sorrow’, because of the belief that it is impossible to render perfect painting of its blossoms. The headquarters of the Kerala State Cashew Development Corporation was built here in 1935 by an American cashew broker designed by his wife.
Location 4km from Kollam, 200m from the lighthouse
Six kilometres from Kollam is the beautiful Thirumullavaram Beach, from where, at low tide, visitors can see the Nyarazhacha Paara, or Sunday Rock’, about a kilometre and a half into the sea. The Mahavishnu Temple near the beach is believed to have been consecrated by Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu and legendary creator of Kerala. A special feature of this temple is that there are two idols in the same sanctum; the idol of Vishnu faces east and that of Shiva faces west. There is a belief that the original temple is buried beneath the sea, a kilometre from this spot.
The Thevally Palace, recently whitewashed and in use by the army and the Public Works Department (PWD), is ideally viewed from the Ashtamudi Lake. Legend has it that a British resident who lived across the lake fell in love with a lady from the palace. His faithful dog swam across the lake everyday with letters for the lady, but one day, the dog was found dead in the palace grounds, either due to exhaustion or because it was injured. A monument was erected to commemorate the dog and his loyalty, though only a crumbling pedestal remains today.
Taking on the backwaters in a houseboat is an absolute must in the Kollam itinerary. DTPC Kollam offers a number of rides along Ashtamudi Lake and the many canals that feed it. There are also a number of private operators at the jetty near the bus station, and it is also possible for guests of the lakeside hotels to board the boats at the hotel itself.
Local cruise operators will take visitors out to sea and to Munroe Islands for fares as low as ₹50 and as high at ₹750. The 10-hour DTPC Kairali Darshan Tour (Fare ₹750; Timings 8:00am–7:00pm), which takes visitors around to local villages and old houses by bus, also includes a traditional Kerala lunch.
Located around 8km from Kollam on the Alappuzha route (NH47), Neendakara was developed as a fishing harbour under an Indo- Norwegian collaborative project. Today, it is more famous for a postmonsoon phenomenon called chaakara, which occurs just off the cost of Neendakara, when mud banks are formed under the sea, creating a lagoon teeming with millions of prawns, sardines as well as shrimps.
From the bridge, you can see Ashtamudi Lake joining the sea and Chinese fishing nets silhouetted against the sky.
Where to Stay
Kollam has many excellent resorts and hotels which rival the services of its more famous neighbours Alappuzha and Kovalam, but at much more competitive prices. There are excellent resorts outside town and a few good homestays beside the lake.
Stay at The Quilon Beach Hotel & Convention Centre (Tel: 0474- 2769999; Tariff: ₹7,000–22,500), hotel featuring state-of-the-art business facilities as well as swimming pools, a spa and wellness centre, restaurant and bar, Wi-Fi connectivity and a whole lot more. WelcomHotel Raviz (Tel: 2751111; Tariff: ₹4,500–28,000) in Thevally is another luxury option with similar facilities. Fragrant Nature Retreat and Resort (Tel: 251400; Tariff: ₹6,000–19,800), a newer resort in Paravur, has 29 villas, two restaurants and a swimming pool. The resort also offers boat trips and Internet. Nila Palace (Tel: 2529301-04; Tariff: Rs. 3,500–6,000) in Ezhukone is another new resort, offering 19 rooms, a restaurant and bar, coffee shop, swimming pool, travel desk, Internet and shopping arcade.
KTDC’s Tamarind Easy Hotel (Tel: 2745538; Tariff: ₹990) in the Ashramom area has 24 rooms and restaurant and arranges boating excursions. Hotel Sudarsan (Tel: 2744322; Tariff: ₹450–1,650) offers 29 rooms, a restaurant and bar in the heart of Kollam. Hotel Sea Bee (Tel: 2744696; Tariff: ₹900–3,300), near the bus stand, is also a decent option. The Shantigiri Ayurveda Panchakarma Centre (Tel: 2763104; Tariff: ₹700–1,500) is an attractive option for those not wanting to pay fancy rates for Ayurvedic treatment. It has a lovely little lawn by the lake, from where you can relax and watch birds.
Lakeside resorts further away from town offering top range accommodation include Aquaserene (Tel: 2512410-17; Tariff: ₹7,600–9,100). It has 28 cottages with elegant interiors, each on a little island of its own, connected by canals. Overlooking the lake is Hotel All Season (Tel: 2757575; Tariff: ₹6,000– 15,000) with all decent comforts. Valiyavila Family Estate (Cell: 09847132449) on the lake shore, 12km from Kollam, offers good accommodation with temple visits, village tours and fishing trips. They also offer Ayurveda and yoga facilities. The hotel is currently under renovation.
Club Mahindra Ashtamudi Resort (Tel: 0476-2882310/ 4000; Tariff: ₹8,000–13,500) is one of the best hotels in the district, located at Chavara, just north of Neendakara Port. The seaside resort has 46 rooms, a restaurant, a pool and offers Ayurvedic treatments and backwater rides.
Where to Eat
Here, in cashew country, one must taste locally prepared food which uses the dry fruit as its ingredient. Visitors can try the nuts and the delicately flavoured cashew biscuits, as well as some grape and green pepper pickle at Supreme Bakery, all homemade and excellent for carrying back for friends and family. Their ginger chips are also nice to snack on after a meal. Crown Bakery has five outlets in Kollam. Their banana nut cake and egg puffs are very popular.
Most hotels and restaurants serve typical Kerala fare, ranging from vegetarian meals to delectable seafood. Hotel Prashanti serves Kerala vegetarian food, as well as some Chinese and north Indian items. Hotel Sudarsan offers chemmeen (prawns) and erachi (beef) ulathiyathu, and the fish biryani. The India Coffee House serves good appam and egg curry, as well as excellent meat cutlets which can be washed down with homemade ginger lime. Must try are the Chinese and Arabic dishes at Wok & Grill. Also on their menu is the Thalassery biryani, during noon. Foodys on Beach Road serves Mexican and Continental fare. The mutton biryani at Hotel Ramees is quite good.
The oldest toddy shop in these parts is on Thirumulluvaram Beach. The shop, a simple thatched hut, has changed hands over the years but the menu of toddy and crabs remains unchanged, straightforward and timeless.
When to go From August to April, just after the monsoons and before the summer heat strikes
District Tourism Promotion Council
Directorate of Tourism
Location Between the eight-cornered Ashtamudi Lake and the Lakshadweep Sea, at the southern extremity of a network of backwaters
Distance 63km N of Thiruvanathapuram
Air Nearest Airport: Trivandrum International Airport, Thiruvananthapuram (67km/ 1.5hrs). Prepaid taxis to Kollam will cost around ₹1,150
Rail Nearest Railhead: Kollam Junction. It is connected daily to Mumbai by the Kanyakumari and Quilon Expresses, and to Delhi by the Kerala Express. All trains that serve Trivandrum Central serve Kollam
Road Kollam is served by three national highways: NH47 that links Salem to Kanyakumari via Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Alleppey, NH220 to Theni via Kottayam, and NH208 to Thirumangalam near Madurai originate in Kollam
Bus Kollam’s KSRTC Bus Stand (Tel: 0474-2751053; Enquiry Tel: 2752008) has frequent services to Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Alleppey and Kottayam
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