If you are looking for unique places to visit in Kerala, you will find a few in North Kerala. If you compare north Kerala vs south Kerala, you will find that places in North Kerala are less crowded and not as frequented by tourists. This blog post covers the best places to visit in North Kerala.
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Mangalore to Kochi road trip
As I set out for the 450 km drive in my Scorp from my adopted city of Mangalore to my birth city of Cochin, excitement and joy filled my heart. For this trip was going to finally let me experience the magic of North Kerala, something I had been looking forward to for a long time.
I had been doing these Mangalore to Kochi road trips at least once every year for the past few years. Every time I pass through the small towns and villages of North Kerala, I think I should stop to soak in the beauty of these places. But never have I done so for want of getting to Kochi before nightfall.
The drive to the centre of Kerala usually takes me 10-12 hours (with food breaks), depending on the condition of the roads and the number of times I got lost.
Despite driving through this route 10-12 times before, I still get lost and ‘discover’ newer, long ways to get to Kochi from Mangalore. Though I don’t mind the extra time it adds to our trips, my co-passengers (my wife and son) usually grumble about this as they tumble out of the car in Kochi.
I understand – a geographically challenged person who loves to drive, in charge of the wheel can be pretty frustrating to co-passengers.
Challenges with Kerala road trip
The drive across Kerala could be frustrating to many, also because of the following:
- A narrow highway that, at times, take you through densely populated residential areas or markets, where the speed of traffic could be determined by a slow, gyrating stroll of a cow or a cyclist leading the traffic.
- Privately run buses (a.k.a private buses) that suddenly appear behind your car with a loud, irritating honk that makes you jump out of your skin, causing you to swerve off-road (Remember that introduction scene of the shark in ‘Finding Nemo’ movie? These buses remind me of the shark).
- Protest rallies blocking the way. Yes, we Keralites are very revolting.
- Ever-continuing road repairs and over bridge constructions causing diversions.
Read a funny take on how to handle all your Kerala traffic frustrations here: http://www.platform7.in/2010/01/road-rules-tips-for-driving-in-kerala.html
But, for me, this drive is always a pleasure, partly because of the anticipation of meeting my family in Cochin and partly because I love to drive.
Food and Culture: North Kerala
The backwaters, the blue tarps over anything that needs to be protected from rains, the bridges, and the buzz of people engaged in their daily lives are all characteristic sights you will get to see along the way.
The heavy influence of Arabic cuisine in Kerala of late can also be felt by the number of restaurants serving Arabic delicacies.
The other significant change that can be felt just by visiting restaurants is the increase in the immigrant population from Orissa, Bengal and some northern/northeastern parts of India. Most of them work in restaurants as waiters and cooks, cooking and selling true blue Malayalee dishes.
My favourite stretch along this route is the short one from Mahe (a Union territory part of Pondicherry/ an erstwhile French colony) to Thalassery. Mahe is lined with liquor shops and petrol pumps (gas stations), and people stop here to refuel their cars and bodies.
Kerala is a state of tea drinkers, which is very evident when you drive down the highway. You will find a tea shop (sometimes a cart or makeshift building) every 400 meters along the way with an apparatus unique to Kerala for making tea.
When it comes to food, North Kerala is famous for its snacks, shellfish preparations, Biriyani, and… for anything and everything they cook.
North Kerala also drips in history and culture, like ghee dripping out of Sri Krishna Sweets’ Mysurpas. I have grown up listening to stories about the heroes of Kadathanad and Thacholi – the gladiators of Kerala. (If you are a history buff, look up Vadakkanpattu – the ballads that celebrate the bravery and skills of the renowned characters).
So I had to include Lokanar Kavu (legendary hero Thacholi Othenan was a devotee of this Goddess) in my trip to feel it firsthand.
I had already visited a few must-see places in North Kerala – like Bekal Fort and Ananthapura lake temple, and had also been to a couple of resorts – Oyster opera and Nalanda resorts. So I did not want to include them in this trip. I also did not want to do beaches since Mangalore has tons of them unless it was unique. So I created a route plan based on my preferences and the time I had on hand.
Read these articles about Ananthapura Lake Temple and Oyster Opera resorts below:
Best places to visit in North Kerala
My first stop was Kavvayi in Payyanur. You will not find Payyanur listed anywhere as a tourist spot, but there was one article I found which convinced me that I should check it out. Here’s the article: http://wanderingtastebuds.com/2013/01/18/payyanur-kerala/.
Inside Payyanur, when I stopped and asked a local guy for directions to Kavvayi, he seemed amused.
“What is there to see in Kavvayi” he said, “If you want to see a good place, visit Ettikulam beach“.
Assuring him that we would consider his recommendation, we moved on. After a while, the road ended in Kavvayi backwaters.
Kavvayi is surrounded by small islands (Valiyaparamba being the biggest) that directly face the Arabian Sea. Kavvayi and the cluster of islands around are worth a visit to chill out.
State-run boats can take you across the islands, but while we were waiting there, I saw some of the local fishermen ferrying passengers across in motor attached thonis.
At a distance, I could see a hanging bridge (a skinnier version of the Golden Gate Bridge) and asked the local boatman if he could take us there.
He said the bridge was damaged and not usable. Disappointed, I hung around for more time listening to the waves hitting the shores and got back into the car.
Where to eat: Bamboo Fresh Restaurant (Payyanur)
It was lunchtime, and since I had read about Bamboo Fresh in the article I mentioned earlier, I decided to give it a try. It was indeed a great choice. We ordered Karimeen pollichathu, squid fry and meals. The food was fresh and yummy. Satisfied, we continued our drive to Kannur.
Drive-in beach: Muzhappilangad Beach (Kannur)
Touted as Kerala’s only drive-in beach, I wanted to see whether Muzhappilangad beach lives up to this claim. After paying an entry fee, I drove straight onto the beach.
I could hear the sound of seashells snapping under my Scorp’s tyres. My initial fears of getting stuck in loose sand soon disappeared as I saw how firm the beach surface was, and I drove the four odd km stretch of the beach, making giant splashes as waves met my car’s tyres.
It was an exhilarating experience. I hung around till the Sun went down, and this provided me with another great spectacle of silhouettes of jagged black rocks sticking out of the water, with an orange sky in the background.
This is one of the gems in North Kerala: Places to visit.
Our next stop was the famous Parassinikkadavu Muthappan temple, situated on the banks of the Valapatnam River.
Sree Muthappan is the personification of two divine figures – Thiruvappana (Lord Vishnu) and Vellatom (Lord Shiva). Here dogs are considered sacred and can be seen in large numbers around the temple.
I had heard that, unlike other temples, this temple gave fish and chicken as prasadam – and this is what I wanted to see.
I got to know from locals that every evening (6.30 pm – 9 pm) and morning, they perform Theyyam (an artist who assumes ‘divinity’ by representing God – with men adorning masks and costumes with a riot of colours). Unfortunately, the day we visited the temple, this was not on because death had taken place in the family maintaining the temple.
All devotees were offered boiled beans and tea, and I could also see people queuing up for dinner provided by the temple. Outside the temple was a line of shops selling knick-knacks.
Parassinkkadavu Snake Park
On the way to the temple, we’d noticed Parassinkkadavu Snake Park and had gone in to kill some time. The park houses a variety of snakes and other small animals, and there was a very neatly done snacks bar from where we had some great boosters.
The drink I ordered – cucumber/nannari/lime/honey – did pep up my spirits.
Where to stay: Hotel Mascot (Kannur)
Cleartrip had got me a great deal for my room reservation at the famous Mascot hotel in Kannur. That was a last-minute booking I did, thanks to the recommendation from a friend of mine, and boy was I glad I did that. This beautiful resort is located near the Kannur Cantonment on a cliff facing the Great Arabian Sea.
For dinner, I thought we would try out a restaurant that my friend had recommended – Odhens (also called Ondens?). I located the place with help from Google maps, but on reaching there, I learned that Odhens only serves lunch.
Update: I did manage to visit Odhens during one of my later trips to Kannur. You can read about it here:
So we went back to Mascot and had a candlelight dinner, which was fun. Later that night, we slept to the sounds of waves crashing against rocks all night. After a morning swim (in a pool overlooking the sea), we were treated to a sumptuous complimentary breakfast. With our stomachs full, we dragged ourselves into the car again.
Lokanarkavu Temple (Vadakara)
Lokanarkavu temple is renowned for its historical significance because Thacholi Othenan, the renowned martial hero of Kerala, used to come to the temple every day and worship its presiding deity, i.e. Goddess Durga.
The temple gave me a very positive vibe, and I felt at peace as soon as I entered it. I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any write-ups or displays/ museums detailing the history of this place.
The temple looked its age, and the ceilings had carvings depicting (I presume) the lives of people of that day and age.
Located in Iringal (a pretty little village near Vadakara, renowned resistance of Kunjali Marakkar), Sargaalaya, the Kerala Arts and Crafts village, is an initiative of the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala. Since they asked for a whopping Rs 100 for taking my camera in, I decided not to. Call me a scrooge, but I didn’t think it was worth it. Plus, as I later found out, they had a ‘No photography’ board put up in most of the stalls. So, paying Rs 100 to take in your camera and not being able to click any pictures would have been plain stupid, don’t you think? That apart, this is a place you must visit to see the traditional artisans in action and pick up some great quality souvenirs. Most of my love went to bamboo crafts and murals.
Sargaalaya Arts and Crafts Village (Iringal)
Mahe Riverside Walkway
After this stop, we drove through my favourite stretch of Mahe and Thalassery, stopping for a stroll through the Mahe riverside walkway.
I know I haven’t even skimmed the surface of what could be experienced in North Kerala. To really get drenched in the culture, food and history of these renowned places, one would need to spend days slow-travelling, probably on a bicycle. Maybe I will do this someday. But for now, it was time to double up to Cochin, where my family would be waiting.
I hope you enjoyed this post on North Kerala: Places to visit. Please leave your comments below.