India // Kerala //

Kollam (Quilon)

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 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 heat and traffic of the centre get too much.

Of the few surviving colonial vestiges, the only one worth a detour is the former British Residency, a magnificent 250-year-old mansion on the shores of the lake, now used as a Government Guesthouse. Among the last monuments surviving in India from the earliest days of the Raj, it perfectly epitomizes the openness to indigenous influences that characterized the era, with typically Keralan gable roofs surmounting British pillared verandas. Much of the structure is falling apart, but you’re welcome to visit: there are no set hours – just ask the manager if you can have a look around.

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