A visit to Kannur in north Kerala is incomplete without stepping into the historic St Angelo Fort. Visitors love to take a stroll through the fort that stands tall facing the Arabian Sea on the west coast.
The 500-year-old historic monument has a trove of some amazing stories that throw light on a bygone era. And if you want to listen to these awe-inspiring tales, you should meet Gokulan K M, who knows the fort inside out and is part of the state tourism police. When Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat visited the fort recently, he showered praise on Gokulan, for his impressive guided tour.
Gokulan, who got chief minister's Best Tourism Police Award in 2010, takes all visitors on a guided tour through the fort and his narration, akin to masterful storytelling, help realize the immense value of even trivial things in the old structure. His mastery over Hindi, French, and English languages make him a favourite among both domestic and foreign tourists.
The spikes fixed on the fort's gate serve the purpose of discouraging elephants from breaking it open. All visitors can make it out. But why a wall was constructed so close to gate? The travellers have a perplexed look on their faces when Gokulan raises this query. After a while, the affable guide makes the visitors at ease by saying that a jumbo could have easily broke open the spiked gate if its leg had wooden protection. But the elephant has to take a few paces back to gain momentum to hit the gate hard. The wall close to the gate restricted the movement of the pachyderm so it won't attempt to break the gate. This ingenuity in the construction of St Angelo Fort made this structure a military base in Kannur.
After explaining the funda behind the wall, Gokulan swiftly moves to the next spot on the fort premises and the travellers have to keep pace with him if they don't want to miss the pulse of history. Beyond the boundary walls of the fort, there is nothing but the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea. Gokulan is quick to chip in that the sea has receded a lot, as earlier, high tides would hit the fort's boundary wall.
There were many jails inside the fort and most visitors are unaware of that past. The portion of the fort which is now known as 'Kuthiralaayam' is where the soldiers were housed. The popular song 'O Sainabaa…' from Malayalam movie 'Amrutham' was shot on the corridors of 'Kuthiralaayam.' War prisoners were locked up in a dark small cave on the wall beyond 'Kuthiralaayam.'
The fort also has an underground jail. This is situated where the fort abuts the sea and the visitors walk over this facility while looking for a panoramic view of the sea from the fort. A small manhole could be found on the ground through which the prisoners were put in the pitch-dark underground jail. Apart from darkness, the prisoners also have to overcome the challenges posed by water seeping into the jail during high tides. Usually, hardcore criminals were locked up in this notorious jail.
Gokulan takes all guests to 'Kuthiralaaym,' the store where 30,000 bullets were secretly stored and building which is supposed to have housed Kerala's first hospital. Whoever goes to St. Angelo Fort should meet Gokulan to know the rich history behind the fort where the Dutch, Portuguese, and British ruled the roost during different eras.
The cannons positioned to fire at the sea were mute spectators to all atrocities that happened long ago. These cannons had a range of close to one kilometre. Any idea how that range was accessed? Gokulan has the answer. The cannons were fired after tying local people to the mouth of the artillery! When a knowledgeable person like Gokulan is around, snippets of information take everyone on a rollercoaster ride through history.
The fort was built by Portuguese in 1505 and later it was captured by the Dutch and British, and was converted into a military base. The historical fort is just 4 km away from Kannur city centre.
NB: The St. Angelo Fort is temporarily closed due to coronavirus outbreak. In the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone should follow the directions by the government.