Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Art and Culture in Fort Kochi

This is the second part of the post on Fort Kochi. It focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities.

Fort Kochi is like the Indian spice mixture, Masala, with different ethnic and religious groups. This part of India is known to offer refuge to persecuted persons from different parts of the world since ancient times. It offers numerous opportunities to discover verdant Kerala countryside as well as, to learn about the art and culture of this ancient land. The first image is from a visit to the Folklore museum near Fort Kochi.

For general information about Fort Kochi, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in the area, you can also check the first part of this post.

MUSEUMS

Generally I love visiting museums. Unfortunately in India, the museums are dusty ill-kept places with little information about the exhibits and old fashioned rules like prohibition of photography. However, Fort Kochi was an exception to this trend. So let me start this post with the museums around Fort Kochi.

Ernakulam District Museum is near the Chinese fishing nets and the beach in Fort Kochi. When I visited it in April 2017, it was closed for renovation. However, I could still visit its gardens and admire the various sculptures exhibited there. It is located in a heritage building known as the Bastion Bunglow. The image below presents a sculpture by Joseph M. Verghese from the museum gardens.


There is another museum at the Dutch palace, above the Bhagwathi temple in Mattancherry. It was the palace of the Kochi kings built by the Dutch in the 17th century. However, photography is not allowed in this museum. Here, my favourite exhibits were two huge wall paintings showing the arrival of the Portuguese and their interactions with the local king, his warriors and the priests.

Another important local museum is the Folklore Museum at Thevara bridge connecting Kochi to Fort Kochi. You can take an auto to go there. You can also take a public bus going to Thevara. However the bus drops you 3 km away from the museum so you need to walk or to take an auto for the last part of the journey.

Folklore Museum is a private museum and has beautiful traditional handicrafts, art and sculptures. It also has a well-informed guides who can explain the significance of each exhibit. When I visited this museum I was in a hurry and could not spend time with the guide, but I really regretted it afterwards. It would have been a great opportunity to understand the significance of so many interesting cultural artifacts from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.


Fort Kochi jail on the Tower Road, next to the Tourist Police Station, can also be seen as a museum. The earliest documents about this building are from 1865, though it could have been older than that. Different Indian freedom fighters had passed through this jail including Muhammed Abdur Rehman, K J Harshal, A K Gopalan and E M S Namboodiripad.


ARTS AND DANCES

Around Fort Kochi there are a few art galleries. You can also admire a lot of street art like the one in the image below.


Every two years, Fort Kochi holds an international Kochi Art Biennale. The last biennale was held here from December 2016 to March 2017 and the next Biennale is planned for December 2018. During the Biennale, art exhibitions are organised in different old heritage buildings of Fort Kochi. I was fortunate to be able to visit some of the art installations and exhibitions of the Biennale this year.


Different places in Fort Kochi organise daily cultural shows to present the traditional dances, especially Kathakkali and Mohiniattam. In most of these places, one hour before the dance show, you can also see the dancers getting ready for the Kathakkali performance and how they put on their intricate make-up.


VISITING VYPIN

Fort Kochi has different ferry ports for visits to neighbouring areas. For example, a 10 minutes ride costing a few Rupees on the Tourist boat will take you to Vypin island just across from Fort Kochi. I took this ferry and visited its light house. With red and white stripes, the light house looked very beautiful in the evening sun. It is located close to a popular beach.


In Vypin, I also visited a small but beautiful Shiva Temple near the light house which had colourful paintings of the deities on its walls. A couple of statues on the pillars guarding the temple-gate seemed to be very old however, I could not find someone to tell me more about this temple. The image below has the Shiva painting from this temple.


VISITING ERNAKULAM

There is another ferry connecting Fort Kochi to the twin city of Ernakulam. This 20 minutes ride, including a stop-over in Willingdon island, will take you to different malls and shopping centres of Kochi and Ernakulam.


BACKWATER TOUR

You can also try a back-water tour in Fort Kochi. Different local companies organise half or full day trips for backwater canals trips. They take you in a vehicle to Vaikom, from where you take a boat to go around these canals which go through the villages. The cost for a full day trip varies from Rs 850 to Rs 1500 and includes a traditional Kerala lunch. It is an opportunity to observe the calm village life, people and nature. The image below has a kingfisher bird seen during a backwater tour.


In an earlier visit to Kochi a few years ago, I had been to the half-day tour. Thus, this time I opted for a full day tour. In both half-day and full tours, you visit the canals, see the local village life in Kerala and visit some local small scale industries and development projects. For example, this time they took us to visit a cooperative making coir ropes.


In the full day tour they made us experience two different kinds of boats. However, except for the traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf, in terms of canals and local visits, there was hardly any difference between the two tours. Thus, if you don't have much time, take the half day tour as you are not going to miss anything significant.

RELIGIONS AND ETHNIC GROUPS IN FORT KOCHI

In conjunction with Kochi Art Biennale, Sahapedia has been involved in a mapping of different communities in Fort Kochi. The few examples of community-mapping I saw during my visit were very interesting. A mixture of persons from different religions and ethnic backgrounds live in Fort Kochi.


CONCLUSIONS

This second part of the post on Fort Kochi focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities. It is a magical place where art and culture are part of your daily living experience. I loved staying in Fort Kochi.

You can also check the first part of this post for general information, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in Fort Kochi,

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