The Malabar Introduction

On my first journey to Kerala, I was seated opposite a monk. The train whooshed out of the Mangalore station and even before we had left the city limits, the monk untied the strings of his lunch box. His lunch, a mix of raw veggies and fruits was neatly wrapped up in a banana leaf. The fruits and veggies were wrapped in separate leaf’s, just as we have containers for a salad and the cooked veggie in the home tiffin. Inside it was the monk and outside it was the green intermittently taken over by water. It seemed that inside the train was in complete harmony with outside. It did not last for long though, we had just entered the most densely populated state in India. We were in Kerala.

The script changed from Kannada to Malayalam and there were more houses around me than there were just a few minutes ago. Strangely though the concrete merged with the greenery. The monk started to talk to me about the North Coast of Kerala. He seemed much happier suddenly, I thought coz his lunch was done but I realized later that he was home. ‘Malabar’ he said was home. That was the first time I heard the word, ‘Malabar’, and when I asked him, “so will you get down on the next station?”. He smiled and said, “We still have 4.5 hours to go before Calicut comes, before Malabar ends”.

It’s been 18 years since I met the ‘Monk from Malabar’ and got introduced to the North of Kerala, with words from the monk inside the train and in silence form the passing scenery outside. Calicut came, and I woke up, but the monk I learned had got down much earlier, somewhere in Malabar. It has taken me all this while to head back to the scenes from that train journey. This time I was away from the railway tracks and on the road and this time Malabar did not speak to me in silence. It welcomed in screams and it hugged in silence.

Malabar Coast

We started from Mangalore at 6 pm and in an hour I realized I should’ve possibly stayed back. The rains in South India were already at their peak and the night came sooner than I thought. To drive in the dark meant to not know what was passing by and on that first night as I went to bed in my hotel in Kasargod, I thought, what if Malabar sounded good only in the Monks words? I couldn’t know unless I found out for myself. I did not have the monk to guide me, so I resorted to what we all do, the internet. The experience of driving on the Wild Atlantic way in Ireland, helped. I told myself if I could do it in Ireland I can in Malabar. That helped, helped me sleep.

The next morning I was up before my alarm, It felt like back in school when I had to get ready for a school picnic. I did not have to be woken up by my mother, in fact, I was up even before she was. Travel does not change that way, from going on a planned school picnic to planning an itinerary for people, a new place always excites. Malabar felt so new that morning, that the need to explore grew with every turn on the road. The more we turned towards the inner roads, and away from the highway, the better it got, not only with the traffic but also with how the people seemed. I couldn’t help but compare the North with the South, the North felt more welcoming. I even told my team “this feels like Myanmar”.

Malabar temple architecture

There are things on day 1 which I could write about here. From the breakfast at the 60-year-old dosa place to a welcome drink in a 100-year-old house, all of it felt pure. It took me only the first 2 hours of the first morning in Malabar to know that a tour here will be a good experience for people. While in Kasargod to Kannur did not only make me fall in love with Malabar, it also made me rethink of my priorities of travel in general. From wanting to explore only out of India, to maybe start looking at stuff back home.

When I started writing this, I thought I would fit in everything from Kasargod to Kannur in one blog post. Well, I have written but I am only still at Kasargod. I guess it will take me one more hit to get to Kannur, or who knows even then I would still be hovering around the first 50 km of Malabar. After all the monk did say, “We still have time to get out of Malabar”.

Kasargod day 1 highlights

  • Visit the Ananthapadmanabh Swamy Lake temple. One of its kind in Kerala.
  • Meet Shantala Nair at Thalathoor Heritage and if possible stop for lunch.
  • Try Vasanth Vihar in Kasargod for breakfast.
  • For accommodation try the City Tower hotel. Cheap and Clean.
  • Fort Bekal, 15 km down south. But that will be for the next post!
Shantala Nair at her house

to be continued

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Noman Sayyed is a freelance front-end web developer, consultant — focusing on HTML5, SVG, CSS, and JavaScript. He writes for various high-profile blogs and magazines including the Adobe Dream Weaver Blog, Opera Developers’ Blog, Smashing Magazine, Netmag, and CSS-Tricks, among others. You can find her writing on her blog, and follow her on Twitter @NomanSayyed.