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Published: October 5th 2017
Day 13 & 14: Ooty & Cochin 30 September - 1 October 2017
After breakfast, we left Ooty, and drove to Cochin (a journey of about 300 km/ 7 hrs drive approx).
The commercial capital of Kerala and the most cosmopolitan of the state’s cities, Cochin or Kochi have long been eulogized in tourist literature as the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. Strategically located on the east–west sea route, Cochin is Kerala’s major port,
boasting of one of the finest natural harbours in the world, which forms the hub around which the city revolves. With its wealth of historical associations and its setting on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsula, the city of Kochi perfectly reflects the eclecticism of Kerala.
Apart from being a major commercial hub, Kochi is also a major tourist attraction in southern India. Cochin served as a very important seaport and centre of trade with the Chinese, Arabs, Phoenician, Romans and Greeks. One can catch a glimpse of the past through the old colonial churches, tiled houses built in the Chinese
pagoda style, the famous Chinese fishing nets, colonial buildings, synagogues and mosques - all narrating fascinating tales of this enriched harbour town.
Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Kochi was the first of the European colonies in colonial India. It remained the main seat of Portuguese India until 1530, when Goa was chosen instead. The city was later occupied by the Dutch and the British, with the Kingdom of Cochin becoming a princely state. Kochi ranks first in the total number of international and domestic tourist arrivals in Kerala. Kochi has been ranked the sixth best tourist destination in India according to a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company. Kochi was one of the 28 Indian cities found to be among the emerging 440 global cities that will contribute 50% of the world GDP by the year 2025, in a 2011 study done by the McKinsey Global Institute.
In 1925, Kochi legislative assembly was constituted due to public pressure on the state. Towards the early 20th century, trade at the port had increased substantially, and the need to develop the port was greatly felt. Harbour engineer
Robert Bristow was brought to Kochi in 1920 under the direction of Lord Wellington, then the Governor of Madras.
We went to the Bristow Hotel for one of our lunched and looked over the Bay of Bengal.
In a span of 21 years, Bristow transformed Kochi as one of the safest harbours in the peninsula, where ships berthed alongside the newly reclaimed inner harbour equipped with a long array of steam cranes.
In 1947, when India gained independence from the British colonial rule, Cochin was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly. In 1949, Travancore-Cochin state came into being with the merger of Cochin and Travancore.
The Kochi Port is one of the leading ports where international cruisers call on regularly. The city has the first marina facility in the country Kochi Marina which attracts large number of yacht-totters.
We went on a 2-hour boat trip around the Kochi Gulf/Lake, which was so quiet, and the weather was perfect – balmy with a gentle breeze. We saw many school groups in boats of different shapes and sizes, many
with loud Indian music playing on board. It w school holidays in India, hence all the festivities we had been experiencing. It was the best time to come to southern India where the rain was only occasional (we have been so lucky) and the evenings beautiful.
A little more about Kochi: A city born in storm, nurtured in rivalry and established as battling ground for European empires.
This phrase makes prefect understanding of Kochi which was formed as an ancient port city after the Great Floods of the Periyar River in 1341. With partitioning of Chera Kerala empire in 14th century, this region came under control of a new dynasty, rivalled by other local feudal lords. With the advent of colonization, Kochi became the first major battle grounds of almost all European powers. However, least it made an impact over the fortunes of this city.
Kochi merchants began trading in spices such as black pepper and cardamom with the Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. This helped Kochi to prosper and to become the gateway to old India. It was from Kochi that the colonization of
India started. Portugal was first to establish its base in Kochi, followed by the Dutch and English. The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1814, compelled the Dutch to hand over Kochi to the British in exchange for Bangka Island in Indonesia. The British managed to establish their influence over Kochi, limiting their direct administration to a small enclave of Fort Kochi (which we visited) and British Ernakulam with their capital at Bolgatty Island. The rest of the Kochi Kingdom was administered by Kochi Maharajas from their capital at Thripunithura. However, the real administration was done by Diwans
(Prime Ministers), leaving the Maharajas to patronize culture, arts and focus heavily on public health and education areas.
The foundations of modern Kochi city started when Sir Robert Bristow, felt the need of a modern large port after the opening of Suez Canal. This made creation of the largest man-made island of the country, the Willingdon Island to house new Kochi Port. We drove from our hotel, across this island via 2 bridges, to get to the Old Town or Fort.
Since the formation of Kerala in 1957, Kochi has been the commercial capital of Kerala as well as
the seat of the Kerala High Court. Since 2000, Kochi has revitalized its economy, with a focus on tourism, information technology and the port.
Kochi has a cosmopolitan culture, highly influenced by historical trading partners, Portuguese, Dutch, Arab, Chinese, and Japanese. Kochi is the seat of the Latin church of Kerala and has many Catholic churches and followers.
Kochi was traditionally a potpourri of various Indian and international communities. Syrian Christians started the first wave of immigration, followed by Jews between the 7th and 10th centuries. Arab merchants also made a strong settlement in Kochi. In the 15th century, Gujaratis settled in Kochi, especially on Mattencherry Island, where they played a strong role in spice trading and other areas.
Later, at the beginning of the colonial era, the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British all made their settlements in Kochi. The Portuguese had a strong influence in Fort Cochin. British culture was strongly felt, lending Kochi a strong community of Anglo-Indians.
In the early 1970s, Punjabis settled here, focusing their strong presence on the local automobile industry. Tamilians, Telugus, Kannadigas have all formed small settlements since the days of
royalty. Recently, students from Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia have settled down in Kochi for studies and research activities. Kochi has a sizeable expatriate population mainly from European countries who have settled in Fort Kochi. Most of them are senior citizens who settled down to enjoy retirement life and many run boutique hotels and restaurants in that area. Due to the rapid growth of the city, a majority of the local population are now immigrants.
Our driver Mohan, was from Kerala and he said very clearly, how Catholics, Tamils and Muslims live in harmony in Kerala, so much so that the Catholics and Tamils go to each other’s churches and temples. The Muslims don’t. In saying that, there is a large church in the state of Tamil Nadu, where all 3 sectors attend together.
Generally, Kochinites are modern and fashionable. Being a city that has a tradition of various cultures being given equal respect, a high level of tolerance exists. The city has a modern attitude, but some basic social modesty still prevails, especially in villages and rural areas.
Kochi has a typical tropical climate. Temperatures range between 30°C and 35°C
during daytime and around 24°C during night. Kochi is one of the first places to experience the heavy Monsoon showers starting by mid of May. Kochi experiences heavy rainfall between mid of May to first week of September. Day time temperatures during the monsoon fall to between 25°C and 30°C during these months. From September to early February, the weather is fine, marked with cool winds and light showers in between. However, by February, summer season starts. Though temperatures never touch 40°C, the presence of high humidity can make summers very harsh. This continues till early May. However frequent summer showers cool down the harshness of summer.
While in the Old Town or Kochi Fort, we saw the very historic Chinese Fishing Nets (Cheenavala
), on Fort Kochi Beach, Beach Rd. These serves as the official icon of Kochi and are a testimony of relations between Ancient Chinese Empires and the Kochi Kingdom. They were gifted by Chinese Emperor Kubalagi to Kochi King in 14th century. There were more than 100, though currently only a few remain in working condition.
We visited the Hill Palace Museum, which is the erstwhile Kochi
Maharaja's palace, now converted to a large museum along with a small zoo. The museum has paintings and epigraphy from the collections of the Travancore & Kochi royal families. There was no photography allowed inside the museum – I don’t get that!!!!
This is the largest archaeological palace in South India with more than 500 artefacts divided into 16 galleries. The highlight of the Palace is the display of multi-billion worth Cochin Royal Crown and Crown Jewels. The Crown Gallery is a high security zone which has elaborate security check procedures, photography and bags are prohibited. The Palace complex is huge with several buildings inside it.
We drove past the Santacruz Basilica, Cathedral Grounds, Fort Kochi which was the first European Church built in Asia, by the Portuguese in 1502, also the first Cathedral of Asia and seat of second Catholic Diocese in India. The British modified the structure and added oil paintings. Today, it serves as the primary seat of the Latin church of Kerala. Pope John Paul II declared it a Basilica in 1984. It houses several historical paintings, decors and artefacts. Free.
We visited the St. Francis Church
which was constructed by the Portuguese in 1503 and the burial place of Vasco da Gama (his remains were later transferred to Lisbon). His tombstone can be seen inside the church. The church has a large cemetery which serves as resting grounds of many Portuguese army officials and soldiers. The church is the only Catholic Church not demolished by Dutch which was handed over to British to re-establish an Anglican church. A large war memorial can be seen on its backyard to honour the unknown soldiers who sacrificed their lives for World War-1.
VOC Gate, Fort Kochi (opposite the Parade grounds
). The only remains of the office of Dutch East India Company is this large wooden gate with a monogram (VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Companies) emblem of Dutch East India Company).
Next was the Dutch Palace which was constructed by the Portuguese in 1568 as a gift to Maharaja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma, after he granted permission to construct Fort Immanuel. During the Dutch siege of Kochi, many parts of the original palace were destroyed. However, the Dutch Governor repaired the palace and renamed as Dutch Palace. The coronations of Kochi Maharajas are always
held here. A large throne and coronation costumes are on display and there is an extensive collection of royal chariots, swords and other artefacts. The most interesting part is the mural room, which has the entire Ramayana and Mahabharat depicted in a single mural.
We then visited the Jew Street and Paradesi Synagogue. The synagogue was constructed in 1568 after allowing Jewish refugees from Jerusalem to settle here during the Crusades making this the Commonwealth's oldest Synagogue. This is one of the very few functional synagogues in India and the structure is unique due to influence of native Hindu-Christian architecture as well as the only synagogue having two bimahs. Many Jews lived in the area until the creation of Israel, today there is only a handful.
Jew Street is a heritage zone with several antique/handicraft shops. We found so many better-quality items that were for sale. There was clothing, jewellery, artefacts and food…. with very friendly people and not too pushy – in comparison!!!!
After lunch in the evening we attended one of the 4 theatres for a cultural performance. We watch a mesmerising Kathakali performance. Kathakali represents a synthesis of
all that is best in dance, drama and music and has been recognized by connoisseurs of art, the world over as a 'total art form of immense sophistication and power’. It was the impression created by make-up and the costumes that make Kathakali a visual par excellence. We let the magic of this unique art form envelope us as we watched the emotions displayed by the performing artists.
With spectacularly different costumes, one performer dressed as a lady and the other a man (both were men), the performance was the most incredible demonstration of facial muscle control. The beat of a drum and miniature symbols, the performers acted out a relationship scene by moving their eyes, moving their face muscles as well as varying hand movements. It was very unusual.
The second act was a lady dressed very differently, but with just as much expression, but also full-body expression. The whole experience was only 1hour, which was a perfect length.
After the performance, we walked along the beach and foreshore where there were many stalls. It was heading towards dusk and it was a balmy evening so it was beautiful amongst
the noise of the evening.
We also saw a big, long procession which was a religious event. We saw a statue of Mary being carried on shoulders of 4 men. The statue was lit up brightly and was flanked by many white and grey-clad nuns and women chanting the Lord’s prayer and various biblical verses.
Down by the beach we had the option of having dinner at Fort Cochin Seafood Specialty Restaurant. It is considered one of the state's best seafood restaurants, this casual catch-of-the-day semi-alfresco pad is something of a Kerala institution. We saw that the atmosphere was charmingly rustic and the food was prepared at an open grill adjacent to a large waist-level fish tank filled with Chinese carp. Tables were set around a huge banyan tree and under light shades made from Chinese fishing baskets. A trolley contains the catch of the day, straight off Cochin's fishing nets such as king prawns, lobster, Indian salmon, snapper, pomfret, squid, mullet, seer fish and more. Once you've selected your fish, you get to decide how it's cooked. All this said, it looked like rain and dinning was casual and out in the open
so we decided not to take up the experience.
We then found a Portuguese Seafood Restaurant for dinner. As it was the 1st
of the month, and every first day of each month in Kerala, no one drinks or sells alcohol, we decided on lime+ginger+soda salted (or sweet, but we always had I salted). It was very refreshing. However, in saying that, even if it wasn’t the 1st
October, this restaurant was run by Christians and chose not to have a license to sell alcohol, so all worked in our favour.
Mohan was patiently waiting for us to back to our hotels. He was such a great driver and very accommodating. He also loved his state of Kerala. Again, it had been a day full of variety. We were aware that we would be leaving Kochi the next day having only scratched the surface of this popular tourist destination.
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