One of the Malabar Coast's oldest harbours, KOLLAM (pronounced "Koillam", and previously known as Quilon), 74km northwest of Thiruvananthapuram and 85km south of Alappuzha, was once at the centre of the international spice trade. The port flourished from the very earliest times, trading with the Phoenicians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans and Chinese. It finds mention in the Persian Book of Routes and Kingdoms compiled by Ibn Khurdadhibh in 844–48, and again in the fourteenth century journals of the Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, who saw Chinese junks loading pepper here in the 1330s.
Nowadays, Kollam is chiefly of interest as one of the entry or exit points to the backwaters of Kerala, and most travellers simply stay overnight en route to or from Alappuzha. The town itself, sandwiched between the sea and Ashtamudi ("eight inlets") Lake, is less exciting than its history might suggest. It's a typically sprawling Keralan market community, with a few old tiled wooden houses and winding backstreets, kept busy with the commercial interests of coir, cashew nuts (a good local buy), pottery, aluminium and fishery industries.
Of the few surviving colonial vestiges, the only one worth a detour is the former British Residency, a magnificent 250-year-old mansion on the shores of the lake, now used as a Government Guesthouse. Among the last monuments surviving in India from the earliest days of the Raj, it perfectly epitomizes the openness to indigenous influences that characterized the era, with typically Keralan gable roofs surmounting British pillared verandas. Much of the structure is literally falling apart, but you're welcome to visit: there are no set hours – just turn up and ask the manager if you can have a look around.