Everyone I meet in the district tells me that Kasargod’s Bekal Fort is famous as the location where Mani Ratnam’s song “Tu Hi Re” was shot. The beaches, blue waters and coconut tree-lined roads around the region also served as the backdrop for scenes from the movie David. While these film connections do give the otherwise sleepy sites a brief flash of fame, the area’s family-friendly, white sand beaches are better reasons to spend some time in the scenic location. Kasargod is the northernmost district of Kerala, sharing a border with Karnataka. To the north are the Kannadiga cities of Mangalore and Udupi, and to the south is the entire Kerala coastline.
Though Malayalam is the administrative language of the district, everyone in the town (including my car driver) insists that Beary, Tulu, Kannada, Konkani, Marathi and Urdu are just as frequently heard in Kasargod. Those are a lot of languages for a small town.
Kasargod is the sort of place where shops close for the afternoon, and it can be hard to find anything apart from a rice plate, or thali, for meals. The placid pace of life is part of its charm. There isn’t much to do in the town but its close proximity with many beaches, temples, forts, and hills makes Kasargod a good base, from which to explore this district.
The fort (10 km south of Kasargod town centre) is spread over 40 acres and has a water tank, tunnels, an observatory, and well-manicured lawns. It’s so huge, it’s joyfully confusing trying to decide which of the many paths to take. As it turns out, most of them lead to the central tower, the top of which offers fascinating views of the towns of Kasargod and Kanhangad. It also has views of the golden sand and waves beating against the wall of the fort. Most visitors eventually park themselves at one of the exits to have a lunch picnic or just laze around. The walk from one end of the fort to another will probably take a couple of hours so be sure to wear a good pair of shoes. Keyhole-shaped windows offer pretty views of the ocean. The walk involves some slopes, steps, and even a cluster of rocks that adventurous visitors can clamber over. Others can walk around on the sand.
Adjacent to the fort is a stretch of well-maintained beach, half of which is occupied by slim, colourful fishing boats. The rest is open for swimming. There is a lifeguard on duty during the day and, unusually, a beach park with clean showers and changing rooms. Horse-carriage rides, swings, as well as occasional magic, music, and dance shows keep children entertained while adults lounge on chairs on the shore. Restaurants here serve up Indian and Chinese dishes.
There are plenty of small beaches to explore near Kasargod. The Kappil Beach (12 km), Pallikere Beach (17 km) and Bekal Fort Beach (16 km) are all clean stretches of shore a short distance from town. For those who fancy driving, Muzhappilangad (100 km) is said to be Asia’s longest drive-on beach, and offers a rare experience of driving on sand for 4 km. For a day trip, head to Kaup (90 km) and Malpe (110 km) near Udupi. Kaup has an impressive lighthouse and a few restaurants. It is especially peaceful during the evenings, when a few stalls selling freshly fried fish and peanuts are open for business. Note, the waves are dangerous and swimming is not recommended. Malpe, the neighbouring beach, is completely different. It usually has a lot of visitors, food stalls, and facilities offering water sports such as speed boats, parasailing, banana boats and jet skiing. A ferry tranports visitors from Malpe to St. Mary’s Island, which is known for its clusters of distinctive, pillar-like rock formations that rise out of the sea.
A quick 12-km drive away, is the ninth-century Ananthapura Lake Temple, which locals claim is the only lake temple in India. Legend has it that there is only one crocodile in this lake and when it dies, a new one mysteriously appears. This guardian crocodile, named Babia, is believed to be vegetarian, and survives only on offerings of prasad made of rice and jaggery.
The secluded island of Valiyaparamba (30 km south of Kasargod) is full of stony beaches and green backwaters. There are only a handful of tourist houseboats here so the water is still empty and peaceful. Many water taxis operate to ferry locals. Those who aren’t renting a houseboat could hail a water taxi for a ride along the river. There is a bridge from the mainland to the island but the roads are small and rough so renting a boat from Kasargod and cruising around the backwaters to the island is a better option.
The rainforest-filled hills of Kottancheri (30 km) are popular for short hikes in the Kottancheri Wildlife Sanctuary and have several picnic spots along the way. The Veeramala Hills in Cheruvathur (50 km) have the ruins of an 18th-century Dutch fort on the top of the hill. Ranipuram (65 km) is a hill station with a trekking trail up dense forests to grassy hills. The trails are well-marked and a large section has steps too. There are buses from Kanhagad to Panathady, from where jeeps can be hired to get to Ranipuram.
Inside A Working Lighthouse
The lighthouse on Kaup beach is open for visitors between 4-6 p.m. Only four to five visitors are allowed at a time. To reach the top, travellers must remove their footwear, promise to be silent inside and then, climb nearly a hundred steps, carved in rock. The walk up is best avoided by those afraid of heights, as the spiral stairs are steep and can make one dizzy. The view from the top of the glimmering ocean, sandy beach and shoreline that extends as far as the cities of Mangalore and Udupi, is worth the trudge up. The lighthouse keeper acts as a guide and proudly points out to the new computerised mechanism that activates the flashing light.
Apsara Regency This centrally-located budget hotel, one kilometre from Kasargod railway station, has air-conditioned rooms, hot water, attached bathrooms, and a travel desk. Small and simple, it is best suited for the budget conscious (04994-230124; doubles from ₹590).
Hotel City Tower This is another basic hotel located right next to the bus stop, a short walk from Kasargod town centre. This is a simple, practical option for short stays and the staff is helpful (04994-230562; doubles from ₹850).
Nirvana @Bekal A few steps from Bekal Fort, these cottages are just a 100 metre-walk from the beach. The secluded location works well for those who want a quiet holiday by the sea. Rooms are small but clean and food is local and fresh (0467-2272900; doubles from ₹3,200, plus taxes).
Geetanjali Heritage Ten years ago, this 65-year-old home was converted into a homestay and it feels more like a friend’s house than a hotel. The host family prepares traditional Malabar cuisine for their guests and organises day trips to Bekal Fort, nearby beaches, and can also arrange a visit to theyyam performances (www.gitanjaliheritage.com; 0467-2234159; doubles ₹5,000).
Neeleshwar Hermitage This resort has plush, spacious cottages and a stretch of empty beach in front of it. Rooms have modern amenities including an iPod docking station (www.neeleshwarhermitage.com; 0467-2287510; doubles from ₹13,860 including breakfast and a yoga session).
The Lalit Resort and Spa, Bekal A resort and spa spread between the beaches and backwaters of Kasargod, this is only a short walk from Bekal Fort and beach. The backwaters flowing through the property are beautiful enough to keep visitors lazing inside the resort (0467-2237777; doubles from ₹15,000 plus taxes, includes breakfast).
Vivanta by Taj, Bekal This is a luxurious getaway by the backwaters. The hotel lawns are lavish and end where the soft sand of Kappil beach begin. The hotel also organises visits to spice plantations, along with boating, kayaking, trekking and fishing trips (0467-6616612; www.vivantabytaj.com; doubles from ₹11,000, includes breakfast).
Appeared in the March 2013 issue as “Unseen Sands”. Updated in November 2017.
Kasargod is the northernmost district of Kerala and shares a boundary with Karnataka. It is around 380 km west of Bengaluru.
Air Mangalore is the closest airport (60 km) from Kasargod. There are daily flights from Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Chennai. Hire a taxi from the airport to Kasargod.
Rail Several trains from Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Bengaluru halt at Kasargod station.
Road The NH17 (Mumbai- Kochi) runs through Kasargod. Roads are generally in pretty good condition in and around town.
March to June is hot with afternoon temperatures often crossing 40°C. Reserve beach walks for early mornings and late evening during this time of year. June to August has heavy rains but the hills and fort are green. November to February brings in a cool breeze with an average temperature of 20°C for most of the day, save for a couple of hours around noon, which are hot and humid.