Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Old World Charm of Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi with its mixture of Kerala, Portuguese, Dutch and British traditions, and flavoured by an enchanting sea coast, is one of the most charming places in South India. Staying in Fort Kochi is pleasantly disorienting - a traditional mix of Indian culture, colours and spices is transplanted against the backdrop of colonial architecture.


This first part of a post on Fort Kochi focuses on general information, seaside and religious places to visit. The second part of this post will look at art, culture and day-trips opportunities in Fort Kochi.

Brief History of Kochi

The Malabar coast in the western side of south India was a famous maritime centre even before the Roman empire. Artifacts from 2500 BCE found in what was ancient Sumer, mention the famous port of Muziris on the Malabar coast. Kochi (Cochin) is a part of that maritime tradition. In its culture and in its people, it carries the signs of intermingling of people from distant lands over thousands of years.


Kochi was the site of the first European settlement in India when the Portuguese arrived here in 1503 and were given permission to establish their trading post. Gradually, over the next decades, the Portuguese became very powerful and came to control even the king of Kochi.

In 1663 Kochi came under the Dutch rule. The Dutch were defeated by the Mysore king Hyder Ali in 1773. In 1814 Kochi came under the British and remained under them till India's independence in 1947.

Sea trade of spices was an important part of activities of the Europeans. They all created their trading warehouses in Fort Kochi and in the neighbouring Mattancherry, small seaside areas in the city of Kochi.

Staying in Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi with its colonial architecture, old houses and quaint streets is a fascinating place for holidays. It is full of small and big hotels as well as home-stays.


Restaurants here offer a wide variety of eating choices. And, the seaside promenade offers leisurely walks along the sea. My favourite places for eating out in Fort Kochi included Annapurna near the bus stand for vegetarian food, Rossetta Wood Castle on Rose street for north Indian and Tandoori cooking, and the Tibetan restaurant near Santa Cruz Basilica for their momos (dumplings), noodles and soups.

However, if you like a beer with your food, the choices are rather limited outside the big hotels. The only place for a beer that I discovered was the XL restaurant on Rose Street near the sea. There is a wine and liquor store behind the XL restaurant, but it is a seedy looking place.

Kochi international airport is about 50 km from For Kochi while the main railway station is in the twin city of Ernakulam. The most convenient way to reach Fort Kochi from the airport is to take the orange-coloured AC bus of KSRTC starting from the airport.

Seaside Walk and Monuments

The huge cantilevered Chinese fishing nets along the sea coast are a symbol of Fort Kochi. These were introduced in Kochi around the end of 14th century. I have also seen similar home-made systems of fishing nets in Assam in the north-east of India. With seagulls and other birds hoping to get some of the fish caught by the fishermen, this area is usually full of persons clicking pictures.


Close to the Chinese fishing nets starts a promenade along the sea-coast, where you can admire the sea waves breaking against the boulders, beautiful sunsets and a refreshing breeze for most of the day. At the same time, you can also admire the seaside colonial houses, many of which have been restored beautifully.

Along the seaside promenade, you can see some remains of the old Fort Emanuel built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. An old canon marks this place (in the image below).


A little further down from the ruins of Fort Emanuel, there is the Dutch cemetery. The place looks abandoned and the cemetery gate is locked. However, along the cemetery wall, some persons have placed some stones, from where you can still see inside the cemetery (in the image below).


Along the seaside promenade, there are a couple of small beaches, usually very crowded on the weekends. However, the sea is often very rough and swimming here is not advised. Though some persons do take bath here but they usually stick close to the beach.


Along the seaside promenade, there is a beautiful art installation called Fish Cemetery to create awareness about the environment and pollution (in the image below).


Along the promenade, in the evenings, the local families come out for a walk. Roadside stalls along the promenade sell ice creams and trinkets, as well as, pineapples and mangoes dipped in spicey sauces.

Churches, Temples, Synagogues and Mosques of Fort Kochi

Christianity in Kerala dates back to Roman times. The old Christians have their own traditions rooted in the local culture and include groups like Syrian-Malabar, Jacobites and Orthodox Syrians. For example, the image below shows a traditional Christian shrine at Mattancherry, not far from Fort Kochi, that shares some symbols and rituals with other Indic religions.


The European colonizers brought their own churches to Kochi. St. Francis church is very close to the seaside in Fort Kochi. On this place, the first church was built by St Xavier in the 16th century. The Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama was buried here for a few years, before his body was exhumed and taken to Portugal. This is one of the most important pilgrimage centres for Christians (in the image below).


Santa Cruz Cathedral, about 250 metres inland from St Francis church, is a beautiful building in neo-gothic style (in the image below). Its old 15th century building was destroyed and the present building is from late 19th century. The paintings behind the altar of the present building are by Br Antonio Moscheni from Bergamo (Italy).


The Santa Cruz Cathedral includes an outer chapel painted in Turkish-blue colour.


Fort Kochi also has some traditional Syrian-Malabar and Orthodox churches like the St. Paul church shown below.


The most important Hindu temples are at Mattancherry along the sea, a few kilometres from Fort Kochi. Till the 1930s, entry to the traditional Kerala temples was restricted to Brahmins. Now, all Hindus are allowed inside the temples, though there are areas where non-Brahmins can not visit.



All visitors have to remove their shoes and sandals to enter the temple. Men have to enter bare-chested in the traditional temples, thus they are also asked to remove their shirts. Inside these temples, no photography is allowed. Non-Hindus are also not allowed inside the old temples.

The image below shows the Bhagwathi temple in Mattancherry (the image below was clicked from outside the temple)

Malabar Jews are the oldest groups of Jews in India. Some say that they came here during the time of king Solomon. There are 12th century documents confirming the presence of Jews in this area. Another big group of Jews arrived here in 16th century after their expulsion from Spain. Now most of the Jews of Fort Kochi have migrated to Israel. However, Mattancherry near Fort Kochi still has the Jewish Synagogue surrounded by the old houses of the Jews.

The clock-tower of the Jewish Synagogue has four clocks - each with the numbers written on it in different styles (in the image below).


Fort Kochi also has a number of beautiful Muslim mosques.


If you look out of the window of the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry you can see a Hindu temple, a Jewish Synagogue and a Muslim mosque, all located close together.

Conclusions

I loved my holidays in Fort Kochi. In a way, with its ambiance, it reminded me of my visits to different seaside towns across the world. I loved taking long slow walks on the seaside promenade, sitting near the sea and talking to strangers or reading or simply soaking in the lovely breeze. I am looking forward to going back there.


This first part of the post on Fort Kochi focused on general information, seaside and religious places to visit. The second part of this post will look at art, culture and day-trips opportunities in Fort Kochi.

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5 comments:

  1. Beautiful place, Nice to read.

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    Replies
    1. Fort Kochi is a beautiful place for holidays and a visit. Thanks Rupam :)

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  2. Never headed to south so far but will travel very early and off course Kochi will be our destination. Its ancient as well as beautiful city .

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    Replies
    1. The treasures of South India are waiting for you! :) Thanks Yogi

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  3. That was a great pleasure to read various posts here, as well as a fantastic opportunity to get a new knowledge. Fort Kochi in Ernakulam | Kerala Tourism



    ReplyDelete

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