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 Alappuzha on the excursion boats that leave each morning from its lakeside ferry jetty. If the traffic in the centre gets too much, take a short auto-rickshaw ride south to the main beach, or a couple of kilometres west along the coastal road to the Thangassery Lighthouse, which is well worth the climb to the top for views of the fishing harbour. In the evening, 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, is a pleasant diversion.

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