Sandwiched between the sea and Ashtamudi (“eight inlets”) Lake, KOLLAM (pronounced “Koillam”, and previously known as Quilon), was for centuries the focal point of the Malabar’s spice trade. Phoenicians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans and Chinese all dispatched ships to the city, before the rise of Calicut and Cochin eclipsed the port. These days, it’s a workaday market town and busy transport hub for the southern backwater region, with surprisingly few vestiges of its former prominence. Many travellers stay overnight here, however, en route to or from Alleppey on the excursion boats that leave each morning from its lakeside ferry jetty. To kill time in the evening, take a stroll through the town’s traditional bazaar, with its old wooden houses and narrow backstreets lined by coir warehouses, rice stores and cashew traders. A short auto-rickshaw ride south, Kollam’s beach provides a welcome escape if the traffic of the centre get too much.