January 31 – February 2
Accommodation: SS Residency Hotel (bookings.com); 850INR/night; very basic hotel but had a nice hot shower that was welcomed after our time on the beach; the free Indian breakfasts were good; nice host; unfortunately located on a very stinky canal; not the cleanest room.
Transportation: arrived via India Rail (Madgaon – Kannur 990INR (through a ticket agency); in Kannur many auto-rickshaws (metered) and two nice bus rides (down the coast and back).
Food: Our hotel recommended the nearby Mascot Restaurant which was excellent. Surprisingly few customers (off the beaten path?). Good food at very reasonable prices and a great waiter.
We chose to stop in Kannur mainly because it seemed like a good distance to travel. Our guidebooks had little about Kannur but did mention the Theyyam ceremonies, which intrigued us.
Our first day, first thing, we walked from the hotel to the beach. Luckily maps.google guided us as we had no physical map. What appeared to be streets often turned out to be small lanes or paths, wandering through the heavily treed suburbia. It seemed we were in the countryside, in lush greenery with the homes set far apart. We eventually popped out onto huge Payyambalam Beach and enjoyed a shoeless walk on the sand, heading south towards our goal: St. Angelo Fort.
We turned inland from the beach and crossed a bridge festooned with iron and sickle flags – a reminder that the state of Kerala was one of the first in the world to freely elect a Communist government. We walked past some very pleasant looking residences, on or near the waterfront. Our southward progress was stymied by a large military installation. Not being able to figure out how to circumnavigate it (and getting very hot) we rode an auto-rickshaw to the fort.
Once there Sue took a break in the shade while I wandered. I had an interesting chat with a priest from Goa who was doing research on the Goan diaspora into Kerala. When I returned to Sue I found her surrounded by a group of Indian women and children, along with a policeman and an UK tourist. Photo ops were exchanged and we had a lively and informative conversation.
We caught an auto-rickshaw downtown to pick up some information from the local tourism centre. Although it showed on my maps.google app we could not find it so stopped at a juice bar. One pineapple juice led to another and then fruit sundaes. Finally refreshed, and with new directions from the shop owner, we set off. We found the tourism office, were given a town map, a brochure and written directions to a Theyyam we could attend the next day.
We were up early and first took an auto-rickshaw, then a bus out of town and then (with the aid of many bystanders!) another auto-rickshaw to get to the Theyyam. The auto-rickshaw driver took us down narrow country lanes and delivered us to the Kaitheri Puthiya Valappil Temple, near Pinarai. We were greeted by a friendly man who led us into the temple grounds. We were given packets of spices (which seemed to be mostly tumeric) for smearing on our foreheads and top of head (which I did, but not Sue). Next we were led to another shrine where we were given a dollop of paint to dab between our eyes. We then visited two covered areas were performers were being painted. We had arrived on the third day of the festival; many of the people were very tired and lay resting while others we being prepared for the next stage of the ritual.
Soon a dance ceremony began. The chenda drums beat a frenetic rhythm, a man bearing closely held torches led two heavily costumed performers into the square, surrounded by a huge crowd. I’ve little idea of what was being enacted; what I read on Wikipedia only gave an outline and mentioned that there are many variations of the Theyyam. Basically we saw a performance, followed by several families gathering at the shrine, followed by another performance in which a young, costumed boy interacted with a rather devilish looking character. (If I can find and pinpoint more information on what we saw I will update this post.)
All the while many people stopped and talked with us. We met a few people who had returned to the village for the Theyyam from overseas jobs (usually in the UAE) . We were the only Westerners at the Theyyam and we were made to feel very welcome. I think they would have liked us to stay until the end (how many more days?) but we were feeling very hot and dusty and needed to move along. However, in the few hours we were there I took many photos (which was encouraged; I had a local photographer accompany me just before we left to make sure I had photos of the body painting).
We went a little further down the coast to Thalassery, hoping for some of the town`s famous mussels, but due to the death of a local MP all the shops and restaurants were closed. We settled for a short walk to the small local fort. Interestingly Thalassery is where the British introduced India to cricket (on that very day India and England were locked in a critical game – I`m still trying to figure out the rules).
Although our time in Kunnar was short I’ll never forget the energetic experience of the Theyyam and the locals who welcomed our presence.