Home to 14 rivers, pristine beaches, backwaters, folklores, forts, centuries old temples and mosques built by Arab traders, Kasargod, the northernmost district of Kerala, is blessed by nature’s bounties and marked by historical significance and cultural richness like many other parts of Kerala.
But for an outsider, especially a tourist, the attention towards this place is drawn by the presence of an imposing circular rampart of a medieval fort overlooking the Arabian Sea. The majestic Bekal Fort, which witnessed the creation of history through wars and trade and many more ups and downs, still holds countless visitors in awe, leaving them to think about the many secrets hidden in its womb and the mysteries shrouding it.
Located 16 km south of Kasargod town on the shoreline of Pallikkara village, Bekal has emerged as an ideal destination in God’s Own Country to get a feel of the true Kerala magic. Kerala Tourism data shows a steady increase in the number of domestic as well as foreign tourist arrivals to Bekal. According to Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC), the destination received around 4.5 lakh domestic tourists last year.
“With the commissioning of three more five-star hospitality facilities within a year, the luxury room inventory at Bekal will rise above 500. Once Kannur Airport becomes functional it will pave way for the arrival of more foreign tourists,” a BRDC official said.
“Bekal is the essential symbol of spiritual harmony which winds up my Ayurvedic treatment,” says Dr. Eberhard Will from Kassel, Germany. Visiting his favourite place, Vivanta by Taj-Bekal, for the fourth time, this chair-bound sexagenarian is living with multiple sclerosis since 1991 and has been a patient of Dr. Warrier at Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala for the past four years. Every year, he stops over at Bekal before heading off to the Kochi Hospital both for the love of the people and the place.
“While staying in Mangalore for my Ayurvedic treatment, I chanced upon an advertisement in a magazine about a new hotel opening in North Kerala. It was Bekal. The proximity was tempting and the solitude was the reason I returned year after year,” he says.
“Let me tell you that the experience of God’s Own Country is incomplete without Bekal which is the perfect spot to round off the visit and that’s how our property has been designed and developed,” says Debashish Chandra, General Manager of The Lalit Hotel and Spa at Bevoori.
BEKAL-THE LAND OF FORTS
The majestic Bekal Fort stands along the seashore at a height of 130 feet on a 40 acre land. As one walks into this 17th century structure, built by the legendary Shivappa Nayaka of Bednore, along the path strewn with wild flowers and dry grass blades, the roar of waves gets louder as one approaches the walls of the fort. The four-kilometre-long laterite peripheral wall sits in perfect sync with the Lakshadweep sea frothing on the golden sands. Old timers tell you that the sea might have receded over centuries. During the times of Ikkeri Nayaks who built this, the waves might have thunderously battered the 12-feet walls of the fort. The 14 bastions of the fort offer panoramic view of the sea and the land while the lone bastion facing the sea gives a stunning view of the fort. The high watch-towers provide sweeping view of the area extending several kilometres and let you spot the nearby towns and watch the faraway horizon where the sea melts into the sky. Intriguing tunnels, stepped wells, fireplaces, remnants of old living quarters, and the armoury for keeping ammunition are key attractions inside this colossal structure.
Witness to several battles, the porous laterite walls today exude meditative peace. “There is no place with more peace than Bekal, the beloved secret of God’s Own Country,” said an aged ‘usthad’ (local religious teacher at a Madrassa).
The Chandragiri Fort along with five others - the Hosdurg Fort, the Kumbala Fort, the Povval Fort and the Kundamkuzhi and Bandadukka Forts defended this port town for centuries. The Bekal Fort is the largest and the best preserved in the State while the three others, the Chandragiri Fort, the Kumbala Fort and Povval Fort still remain more or less intact. The Chandragiri Fort was built by Shivappa Nayaka, the same king who built the Bekal Fort. This structure is strikingly similar to the Bekal Fort and sits at the confluence of Payassini river and the Lakshadweep sea. The fortified structure houses remnants of old buildings, wells and a step well along with breathtaking vantage points. The faraway embankments, the half-built sea bridge and the railway bridge near the mouth of the Payassini river with an occasional train speeding past are sights to behold.
SANDS, TREK, CRUISE AND MEDITATE
Kasargod is geographically divided into three zones - the sandy coastal belt, the mid ranges with the laterite hills and the east bordered by the Western Ghats. The wondrous variety in tourism offerings is largely due to this geographical advantage of Kasargod. At around 25 to 40 km from Bekal are the hill stations of Possadigumpe, Ranipuram and Kottancheri.
These places offer hiking and trekking through a long patch filled with wild flowers, grasslands and evergreen forests. One can also visit Kareem’s Forest, a 32-acre patch of barren land that a nature lover single-handedly converted into a wild ecosystem.
The palm-lined virgin beaches of Bekal, Kappil, Azhithala and Kanwatheertha provide an unparallelled ambience to spend evenings. To get a feel of the backwaters head off to Valiyaparamba backwaters, fed by four rivers, about 30 kilometres from Bekal. Crossing the river on foot through Kottapuram bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge (330 metres) in the State, is also an interesting experience. Majestic houseboats await travellers with facilities ranging from air-conditioned rooms
and viewing decks to conference halls.
The Nityananda Ashram and the Ananthashramam with their carved caves and world class yoga and naturopathy sessions will let you unwind. Edneer Mutt, the seat of 1200 years old Smartha Bhagavatha tradition of Advaitha philosophy propounded by Adi Sankaracharya, is situated by the river Madhuvahini, about 10 kilometres from Kasargod.
For those interested in the cultural heritage, the Malik Idn Dinar mosque, built by and named after the Arab missionary credited with bringing Islam to the shores of Kerala, is a must visit. The triennial Uroos festival and the annual commemoration attract large crowds. Also famous are the 10th century Madhur temple with its copper plated three-tiered dome and the 9th century Ananthapura Lake temple, the only one-of-its-kind in the State, with its crocodile, Babia, believed to be 150 years old. The Gothic style Bela Church at Kasargod, built in 1890 AD, is the oldest church in the district.
A whole night can be spent watching the colourful Theyyam performance at local temples. The traditional martial art form of Kalaripayattu and other art forms such as Yakshagana and Yakshagana Bommeyatta (puppetry) are popular in this district bordering Karnataka. Visitors can also enjoy dance forms such as Poorakkali, Duffmuttu and Oppana.
Take home the six-yard wonder, the GI-tagged Kasargod sarees, known for their endurance, glitter and quality. These sarees are hand woven in the traditional Malabar looms using yarns which are strengthened with a special tapioca starch, giving them a life of 15-20 years. The Thalankara caps, once exported to Arab countries and Lakshadweep, are a surviving gem of the rich Muslim tradition of Kasargod. Hand-crafted, these caps spot intricate designs in golden and colored strands. The coir factories of the region are some of the oldest in Malabar and the sonorous temple bells and pottery are still handmade by traditional craftsmen.
EXPERIENCE LOCAL FLAVOURS
A more recent favourite is the Thonikkadavu trek where visitors get to feel a real slice of rural Kerala life. Bharat Sharma and family from Delhi looked evidently thrilled on their return. “It is a 30-acre plot of agricultural land having a hilly topography with streams and three waterfalls.” His daughter Vrinda added that sipping tender coconut water using a bamboo straw and having the Kerala Sadya with creamy ‘beetroot pachadi’ were simply wonderful. At Kanjan Junga art village, established by the famed artist Pununchitaya, one can buy artifacts from the artisans themselves. The UN had identified Bekal as a world class beach destination more than five decades ago. K Kunjiraman, the sitting MLA, has suggested revival of the proposed 80-acre air strip along with more budget living spaces. “Upgrading of Bekal Fort railway station and the proposed sea plane project are yet to take off,” he adds.
Finest Names in Hospitality
Vivanta by Taj-Bekal, Kappil
Ph: +91 467 6616612
The Lalit Resort and Spa, Bevoori
Ph: +91 467 2237777
- Globe Link Hotels at Kudir in Chemnad
- Green Gateway Leisure Limited (hospitality arm of Thiruvananthapuram-based Air Travel Enterprises Group) at Chettukundu in Pallikara
- Holiday Group of Companies (UAE-based builders and developers) at Chembarika in Chemnad
- Joys Hotels and Resorts (Thrissur-based hospitality group) at Kolavayal in Ajanoor