Saturday, 27 October 2007
Cannanore, Kannur, day 7
The entrance to Kannur Fort
The pass of eleven bends turned out to be, if anything even more spectacular, and interesting even than the one that we had climbed up into the Wayanad on our way from Kozhikode.
At the top we met a tremendous gale of wind coming in from the sea, and being forced up as it climbed up and over the ghats. The trees growing at the summit were bent over in the wind, much like those along the coasts of the South West of England.
Indeed there was something almost alpine, about the views we could see, quite like the scenes one might expect to see when crossing one of Englands high moors, especially in the form of the plants and trees.
Soon however the road drops down through dense bush, formed or verdant palms, and tall trees, deeply furrowed by waterfalls and streams plunging down the slope. These slopes must be most spectacular during the monsoon, judging by the sheer size of the boulders that the streams are obvious capable of moving.
Small monkeys sat along the verge, and from time to time we passed workmen toiling away to keep the road open, in the face of landslides and monsoon water damage.
Soon we were dropping down through the bends into the coastal plain. I could not help wondering if this had been the Coteaddy Pass that Thomas Baber had fought his way up in 1812.
Colonel James Welsh had written about the part played by Thomas in 1812 with Colonel Webber in fighting up the ghats.
“by a force under Colonel Webber from Cannanore, accompanied by Mr. Baber, the Judge of Tellicherry, whose authority also extended to Wynaud. They had been opposed in the Coteaddy Pass, coming up from Cannanore, and had Captain Hunter and Lieutenant Inverarity severely wounded, with seventeen or eighteen men.”
The pass I was travelling was definitely not the Periya Pass, which I was travelling down, and I knew from discussions with local people that the Periya was a few miles to the north of the pass I was currently travelling down. However, I could not find out whats name was.
Can anybody identify what this pass is called today? Was it the Coteaddy Pass?
I believe that I have been able to pick its approximate location out on the following map.
Click on the map for a larger version.
When we got to the bottom of the pass, we were soon entering small towns and villages strung out along the sides of the road.
It soon became apparent that this area is just as fiercely contested today by the various political parties who's slogans and initials adorned virtually every available wall, and even appeared on the road itself. As it was when the Pazhassi Rajah and the Mappilas fought it out in the early 19th Century.
In one town, our driver told us that this particular area was known to be strongly Muslim, and that it was therefore potentially quite dangerous for him, and indeed any Hindu driver. In the event of an accident, it would be quite likely that he would be pulled from the car and badly beaten, if not worse.
That he was not exaggerating was confirmed by a report in the local paper only a few days later, of a bus driver to whom this had just happened.
We had arranged to meet a local journalist at Kannur Fort, so we passed through the outskirts of Thalasserry, and onto Kannur. We would be returning to Thalasserry in the evening.
Kannur would turn out to be a particularly fascinating place, and well worth a visit.
Located at a point where a large promontory projects out into the ocean, it provides a sheltered anchorage on the coast, as well as an ideal location for a fort of some kind.
Traders moving along the coast had recognised this for centuries. Most traders had however passed on to Calicut and Cochin. The best locations for trade had altered over the centuries. Cochin had been the preferred location for the Chinese fleets in the early 1400's, whilst Calicut had been the point where Muslim traders had tended to congregate.
Generally these traders came in quite small numbers, and although they could swing the balance of power, and often did, between the various local Rajah's, the effects were often short lived.
However, the arrival of the Portuguese was to change all that.
Leaving Melinde on the African coast on the 6th of August 1498, and making use of the south-west monsoon, Vasco da Gama's fleet, was being guided by a local pilot who was familar with the route. As the pilot had fortold, the first land to be sighted was Mount Deli.
This hill which is 286 metres high stands out over the otherwise low lying coast. It is also called Ezhimala. Many of the earlier voyagers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo record it when passing along this course.
Da Gama was well informed about the coast and its ports, and was making for Calicut, home of the Zamorins. They looked into the bay, and recorded that there was "a large town of thatched houses inside a bay."
It wasn't until Da Gama had fallen foul of the Arab and Indian merchants at Calicut, and had had to flee to Pantalayini Kollam, that the Portuguese first visited Kannur.
The Kolattiri Rajah was a bitter rival of the Zamorin, and they welcomed the opportunity to trade with the Portuguese, at the expense of their competitors in Calicut. The Portuguese stayed at Cannanore from the 4th of November 1498 until the 20th of November 1498 when they moved off to Angediva and eventually Portugal.
Over the following years further Portuguese fleets explored the coasts seeking out the best options for trade. Cochin, and Quilon as well as Calicut and Cannanore were tried. In November 1502 after fighting a fierce naval battle with a Moorish fleet, whilst voyaging from Cochin towards Cannanore, during which many Moorish vessels were sunk, or sent burning onto the coast around Calicut, Da Gama put into Cannanore.
He appears to have needed to lighten his ships, and to redistribute his cargoes. To do this he unloaded much of his artillery at Cannanore and buried it. He got permission from the Kolattiri to build a stockage and wall around the site.
Da Gama arranged to leave two hunfred of his men behind at Cannanore, and this appears to have led to the founding of the fort. 
Overtime this stockade developed into the current fort. This fort was named Fort St. Angelo by the Portuguese. The fort changed hands several times, being controlled by the Dutch, the Beebee of Arrakal,and Tipu Sultan before being captured by the British on the 16th of December 1790, following a battle to the south east of the town.
 From Logan's Malabar Manual
Copyright Nick Balmer November 2007