Formerly one of Asia’s most prosperous trading capitals, the busy coastal city of Kozhikode (Calicut), 225km north of Kochi, occupies an extremely important place in Keralan legend and history. It’s also significant in the chronicles of European involvement on the Subcontinent, as Vasco da Gama landed at nearby Kappad beach in 1498. After centuries of decline following the Portuguese destruction of the city, Kozhikode is once again prospering thanks to the flow of remittance cheques from the Gulf – a legacy of its powerful, Moppila-Muslim merchant community, who ran the local ruler’s (Zamorin’s) navy and trade. The recent building boom has swept aside most monuments dating from the golden age, but a few survive, notably a handful of splendid Moppila mosques, distinguished by their typically Keralan, multi-tiered roofs.
Kozhikode’s international airport, at Karippur, 23km south of the city, is primarily a gateway for emigrant workers flying to and from the Gulf, but also has direct flights to many other Indian cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Chennai and Hyderabad. A taxi from the airport into town costs around ₹550.
There are three bus stands. Government-run services pull in at the KSRTC bus stand, on Mavoor Rd (aka Indira Gandhi Rd). Private long-distance – mainly over- night – buses stop at the New Moffussil private stand, 500m away on the other side of Mavoor Rd. The Palayam bus stand, off MM Ali Rd, just serves the city.
Hotels in Kozhikode are plentiful, except at the bottom end of the range, where decent places are few and far between. This is one city where travellers on tighter budgets might be tempted to upgrade. The beach is a great place to stay, though you’ll need to head into town for the best places to eat.
Kozhikode is famous for its Moppila cuisine, which has its roots in the culinary traditions of the city’s former Arab traders. Fragrant chicken biryanis and seafood curries with distinctive Malabari blends of spices crop up on most non-veg restaurant menus. Mussels are also big news here; deep-fried in their shells in crunchy, spicy millet coatings, they’re served everywhere during the season (Oct–Dec; at any other time, they’ll have been imported and won’t be as fresh). Finally, no Kozhikode feast is complete without a serving of the city’s legendary halwa: a sticky Malabari sweet made from rice flour, coconut, jaggery (unrefined sugar) and ghee, it comes in a dazzling variety of colours and flavours.
The three most impressive mosques lie off a backroad running through the Muslim quarter of Thekkepuram, 2km southwest of the maidan (the auto-rickshaw-walas will know how to find them). Start at the 1100-year-old Macchandipalli Masjid, between Francis Road and the Kuttichira Tank, whose ceilings are covered in beautiful polychrome stucco and intricate Koranic script. A couple of hundred metres further north, the eleventh-century Jama Masjid’s main prayer hall, large enough for a congregation of 1200 worshippers, holds another elaborately carved ceiling. The most magnificent of the trio of mosques, however, is the Mithqalpalli (aka Jama’atpalli) Masjid, hidden down a lane behind Kuttichira tank. Resting on 24 wooden pillars, its four-tier roof and turquoise walls were built more than seven hundred years ago.
Top image: Scenic view of Calicut from the top of Wynade, Kerala © Bhagith/Shutterstock