THIS BUSY commercial town, I better known throughout the world as Calicut, was the capital of the kingdom of the powerful Zamorins (a Portuguese corruption of their title, Sainoothiri ). Under them the town prospered as a major centre of the Malabar trade in spices and textiles, and it was from Calicur that the word calico originated as the term for white, unbleached cotton.
It was in Calicut, too, that Vasco da Gams, the intrepid Portuguese explorer who discovered the sea route to India, was first received by the Zamorin in his palace in May 1498. Dominating the city centre is the large Manamchira Tank, flanked by the Town Hall and the Public Library, both fine examples of traditional architecture. Nearby is the Commonwealth Trust (Corn Trust) building, constructed over 100 years ago. Established by the Basel Mission in the 19th century, the Trust modernized the terracotta roofing-tile and textile industries. The Trust is also credited with developing the colour khaki, later used for the British Army field uniform on the recommendation of Lord Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. A shop on the premises sells textiles as well as terracotta products. A striking Roman Catholic cathedral also stands near the Manamchira Tank.
The town’s Muslim heritage is indicated by its numerous mosques, remarkable for their massive size and elaborate wood carvings. Among these, the Mishqal Palli, near the port, is the most impressive, with a five-tiered tiled roof. The Pazhassirajah Museum exhibits wood and metal sculptures, models of temples and reconstructions of megalithic monuments. The Art Gallery next door has paintings by Raja Ravi ‘Karma , the 19th-century painter who belonged to a princely family from Travancore. Kozhikode’s busy shopping area, the quaintly-named Sweetmeats Street, was once lined with shops selling the famous Calicut haiwa, a brightly coloured sweet made of flour and sugar. Today, SM Street, as it is popularly known, has only a few shops that sell haiwa. Court Road, leading off SM Street, houses the bustling Spice Market. Kozhikode is today the storage and trading centre for hill produce from Wynad spices such as cloves, cardamom, pepper, turmeric and coffee are sorted and packaged in the old warehouses along the waterfront.
ENVIRONS: A short 16-km (10-mile) drive north of the city leads to the small village of Kappad, where a lonely stone plaque on the beach commemorates the spot where Vasco da Gama is supposed to have landed in 1498. The historic village of Beypore, 10 km (6 miles) south of Kozhikode, is believed to be the fabled Ophir, referred to in ancient Greek and Roman texts. Artisans still follow the traditional methods of their forefathers at this ancient shipbuilding centre. The type of dhows that were built here for Arab merchants more than 1,500 years ago are still in demand in West Asia. Old vessels are also brought here to he repaired.