Kannur, the land of spice trade, coastal life, and theyyam

Kannur Travel Guide

How to Reach

By Train: Kannur Station is connected with Ernakulam and Trivandrum by the Cannanore, Netravati, and Parashuram daily express trains. It is connected with Chennai by the Mangalore Mail, and to Mumbai by the Netravati and Mangla Lakshadweep Expresses. The latter begins at Delhi, to which Kannur is also connected by Trivandrum Rajdhani (thrice a week) and Kerala Sampark Kranti (twice a week). info – Outlook India

  • From Kochi – There are plenty of daily direct trains between Kochi and Kannur. Choose the express options to and from Ernakulam Junction to save time. Plan better by enquiring at the station and booking your ticket in advance. The journey should take around 5 hours.
  • From Munnar: Get on an early morning bus to Kochi from Munnar. Get off after 4 hours at Aluva and catch a train to Kannur South station or Kannur Junction station. It is a full-day journey.

By Air: Karipur International Airport, Kozhikode is the nearest airport. It is 112km and the drive takes 2.5hrs. Taxis to Kannur from the airport cost around ₹2,000-2,500.

By Road: Kannur is connected to Kozhikode (86km), Kasargod (89km), Mangalore (138km), Panjim (514km), and Mumbai (1,072km) by NH17. It is a 6-hour drive from Kochi (309km), along NH47 to Edapally, then NH17 to Kannur via Kodungallur, Ponnani, Kozhikode, and Thalassery. info – Outlook India

By Bus: Kannur has regular bus services to Thiruvananthapuram, Kasargod, Kozhikode, Kalpetta, Ponnani, Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Bengaluru, and Mangalore. The town’s KSRTC Bus Stand is opposite the Collector’s Office near NH17.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the wonderful Kannur Beach House at Thottada Beach. It is a quiet place and is much loved by travelers with families. The Ivory Coaste in Kizzhuna is also very popular.

Best Time to Visit

The time between December and May is most suitable for Theyyam performances. Summer is hot and humid. Monsoon is beautiful on the Malabar Coast, though the sea remains off-limits for safety reasons.

Things to do in Kannur

Visit the beaches

  • Kizzhuna Beach in Kannur is one of the most beautiful beaches in south India. It is made of ‘virgin sand’ meaning every year, the harsh monsoon storms and high waves wash away the old beach, and  ‘new sand’ is brought in. That is why, it is one of the cleanest, trash-free beaches in India.
  • Thottada Beach is not as clean as Kizzhina Beach but is empty.
  • Payyambalam Beach is the most popular beach in the town. It is neither very clean nor empty. You can go there for people-watching.
  • Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach is a drive-in beach that is most suitable for 4-WD or ATV drive. It can get pretty popular.

See the monuments and cultural centers

  • Climb the Kannur lighthouse for breathtaking views. Entrance Fee – Rs. 60 per person for non-Indian tourists and Rs. 20 for phone or digital camera photography. Rs. 100 is a professional SLR camera fee.
  • Visit the colonial heritage of St. Agnelo’s Fort. Accessed through a gateway on its northern side, this fort remains in good condition and is worth visiting. It has massive laterite ramparts and British-era cannons. The fort offers commanding views of the sea and of Moplah Bay. Within the compound are numerous cashew trees, said to have been planted by the Portuguese. Entrance Fee – NA, Timings 8.30am–6.00pm
  • When in Kannur, visit the Arakkal Kettu or the former residence of the Arakkal Ali Rajas. Located 3 km from Kannur, the monument has been transformed into a museum and houses historical documents, weapons, various pieces of 400-year-old rosewood furniture, and other heirlooms.
  • If you like culture, then you must visit the Folklore Museum near Kannur. Housed in a 130-year old mansion located in Chirakkal just 5 kilometers north of Kannur, this splendid museum showcases extravagant costumes worn in theyyam and other less-known local art and ritual forms, including the Muslim dance style oppana. Also on display are various local masks and weapons used in Padayani rituals performed in local Bhadrakali temples.

Support the local co-operatives

  • Visit the Thotthada Beedi Workers’ Ind. Co-Op Society to get an insight into the making of the local cigars a.k.a the beedi. Used mostly by the blue-collar workers, beedis are cheap, easily found, and very addictive. While this provides an insight into the making of this highly important commercial product, the working conditions of the workers may seem distressing.
  • If you are interested in handlooms, then make sure to visit the Kanhirode Co-operative, 13km northeast of Kannur on the main road to Mattanur. It employs around four hundred workers to make upholstery and curtain fabrics, plus material for luxury shirts and saris.

Witness a Theyyam ritual

This is the most important reason why most travelers visit Kannur.

What is theyyam?
  • Often mentioned as the Dance of the Gods, theyyam is one of the oldest indigenous art forms of North Kerala. Its roots are believed to predate Hinduism and can be traced back more than 1500 years. An extraordinary spectacle, there are more than 400 different manifestations of theyyam existing in and around Kannur. Each of them comes with its own distinctive costumes, elaborate jewellery, body paints, face make-up, and gigantic headdresses (mudi).
What happens during a theyyam ritual?
  • In theyyam, actors impersonate goddesses or gods and they actually become the deity being invoked, thus acquiring their magical powers. This trance-like state allows them to perform superhuman feats, such as rolling in hot ashes or dancing with a crown that rises to the height of a coconut tree. It is locally believed that by experiencing theyyam, the audience absorbs the deity’s powers – to cure illness, conceive a child or get lucky in a business venture.
Where and when are theyyams held?
  • Theyyam rituals are traditionally staged in small clearings (kaavus) attached to village shrines. These are always performed by members of the lowest castes with the higher caste members in attendance. They do so to venerate the deity – a unique inversion of the normal social hierarchy. Theyyam takes place between November to May all over the north of Kerala (and parts of neighbouring Karnataka), with the peak season when there are multiple performances a day in kavus/temples all over the region – falling from November to December. There is a Theyyam calendar available on the Kerala Tourism website but since the events are often changed at the last minute, it’s advisable to speak with your hotel/guest house to confirm. I experienced theyyam with the help of my homestay owner.
Details of theyyam performance
  • Theyyam is generally performed in three distinct phases: the thottam, where the dancer, wearing a small red headdress, recites a simple devotional song accompanied by the temple musicians; the vellattam, in which he runs through a series of more complicated rituals and slower, elegant poses; and the mukhathezhuttu, the main event, when he appears in full costume in front of the shrine. From this point on until the end of the performance, which may last all night, the theyyam is manifest and empowered, dancing around the arena in graceful, rhythmic steps that grow quicker and more energetic as the night progresses, culminating in a frenzied outburst just before dawn, when it isn’t uncommon for the dancer to be struck by a kind of spasm. (Information credit – Along Dusty Roads
Things to remember before witnessing a theyyam ritual

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