TRAVEL: THE SUNDAY EXPRESS/BEKAL, KERALA

Romance in Stone
A spectacular fort, stretches of tawny sands and a virgin feel to the place... Sheila Kumar says that Bekal in north Kerala will soon be the country’s numero uno destination





Considering the 300-year old fort with its ramparts looking out at the by turns becalmed and furiously lashing sea, was occupied in succession by the Vijaynagar kings, Tipu Sultan and the rulers of the Raj, its origins are anything but romantic. However, Tipu and Co are long gone, the sea remains and the fort has had Mani Ratnam happen to it. In Ratnam’s Bombay the hero and heroine tryst at this very place… the result: the Bekal fort is pure romance.
It is also straight out of a picture postcard, the fort. A circular structure of red laterite, tinged black over the years by the aggressions of Nature, Bekal fort stands on a 35-acre headland, 130 feet above sea level. Militant ramparts, peep-holes, beautifully built-up steps leading to a cove, sunsets that hold all the drama one wishes for, all make the fort an ideal spot to picnic, to walk the grassy knolls, to chill…maybe to shoot a movie.
It’s not just the fort, either. Bekal today is just a quiet seaside hamlet, flanked by the forest-covered Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west, with the Talapadi and the Trikaripur rivers flowing in the vicinity. To one side of the imposing fort lies the shallow Bekal Beach, over-run more with vast colonies of bashful crabs than humans. There is the Bekal Hole Aqua Park, a small pier with pedal boats and water cycles on offer, the estuary in the background. Kappil Beach, a mere ten-minute drive from the fort is another secluded beachfront. The Kodi cliff to one side of this beach is worth the (not too arduous) climb for a great view of the sea.


Other tourist attractions include Anandashram, the spiritual centre founded by Swami Ramdas in 1939 and a haven of trees, flowing water and shady nooks. Chandragiri Fort is a 17th century fort, more ruins than fort now, but a climb up the steep incline affords a spectacular view of dense palm groves to one side and the Chandragiri river with its serene waters to the other, the Arabian sea beyond. The Malik Deenar Mosque is a jewel in the crown of this part of Malabar, a major centre for Islam on the western coast of India. Set on the lip of a hill overlooking the sea, the main building of the old mosque which houses the dargah of the maulvi Malik Ibn Deenar. The 9th century Ananthapuram lake temple is the ‘moolasthanam’ (the original abode) of Ananthapadmanabha, an avatar of lord Vishnu, the powerful deity of the famed Sree Padmanabhaswami temple at Thiruvananthapuram.
The lake surrounding the temple is home to an ancient crocodile somewhat improbably named Babya who is fed on rice prasadam!
And then there are the Valiyaparamba Backwaters a two-hour drive out of Bekal. Numerous little islands, narrow strips of beaches, densely packed groves of palm and areca nut, and fed by four swiftly flowing rivers, this is the Malabar’s contribution to the backwater wealth of the state.
Bekal is poised on the verge of Discovery with a capital D. True to type, the Kerala government has identified, earmarked and started work on this piece of paradise; the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation has leased land out to two major five star hotel concerns. 2005 AD is when the boom is due to take place…go check Bekal out now before it becomes discovered!

Getting there
Mangalore airport is 70 km away; Kozhikode, the Calicut International Airport, 140 km away. Pallikere station, right opposite the Bekal beachfront is the route of the Konkan Railway Line, so it is serviced by many trains on the Southern Railways. The roads are good (part of Kerala’s tourist initiative, but of course) up to Kasargode, (NH17 from Bangalore) which is 19 km away from Bekal.
Accommodation
As of now, the best places to stay are in Kasargode: Hotel City Tower (04994) 230562/230563/230564; Hotel Apsara Regency (04994) 230124/ 220424; Nalanda Resorts (04994) 782662/782925. E-mail: nalanda@md.vsnl.net.in
When to go
Just about any time around the year. The fort has a pleasant breeze that somewhat cools the place down in the heat of summer; it is achingly lovely when washed by the Kerala monsoons, and just great during the less-than-cold winters.

Houseboat cruises
Just an hour-and-a-half out of Bekal, The Bekal Resorts Development Corporation runs a couple of houseboats on the Tejaswini river, from Kottapuram in Nileswar to Kowal Kadapuram in Valiyaparamba. Go on a lazy cruise past nine islets, verdant greenery and Chinese fishing nets; swim, laze about, stay a night or two or more, aboard the 2-bedroom and single bedroom boats, all at costs considerably less than what you would pay further down south of the state. Sunset and short cruises cost around Rs 2,500 for a two- and- a- half hour duration. The houseboats are popular floating conference venues; ayurvedic massages are on offer, too.
For bookings, contact the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation. Tariff range: Rs 3,500 to Rs 6,000. Contact: 04994-20445. Mobile: (0)9447010445. E-mail: Bekalcruise@hotmail.com or brdc@satyam.net.in.

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