Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fort Kochi, Kerala - Place Review

Saturday coming up and the mood to explore a bit of nature, a bit of history was in. The places on to list to visit was Fort Kochi and Mattancherry in Cochin District of Kerala.

The route plan is Cherthala in Alapphuzha District to Fort Kochi and then to Mattancherry, both in Cochin district and the plan is to travel by bus alone – no cabs or ricks, only KSRTC or private buses. Cherthala to Fort Kochi is about 38 kms by road. The travel began with a bus ride from Cherthala KSTRC bus stand and the destination was Thokumpadi bus stop in Cochin, as there is no direct bus available to Fort Kochi from Cherthala and the fare is INR 20/-. From Thokumpadi buses to Fort Kochi are frequently available.  A bus ride from Thokumpadi to Fort Kochi will cost around INR 6/-.

Preceding the fort kochi bus stop is the Santa Cruz Basilica stop also known as Basilica palli stop. This is the first place you want to get down in fort kochi for a dash of history before going to the beach, especially if you are a beach baby.  Santa Cruz Basilica is a must watch in Fort Kochi, if you are interested in history and art. It is that part of history which unifies the ages with the art.   It is one of the oldest churches in the country and was built by the Portuguese when they started arriving in India. The story goes that the king of Cochin in the 15th century gave permission to the Portuguese, who had arrived as merchants, to build a fort – Fort Kochi, which is now the name of the area, and later on to build a church. The church is symbolic of the religious tolerance of ancient India as a Hindu king had permitted Christian missionaries to build a place of devotion of a religion akin to them and had allowed practice of the religion by believers too.

Centuries later the church was upgraded to a Basilica and is now one of the few basilicas in the country.  The magnificence of the interiors of the basilica is worth a watch. The interiors are mainly Gothic styled paintings. The colours are something that will not leave your mind easily. The combinations of whites and blues leave you spell bound and the windows are the tainted glass styled, again the colour combinations are just awesome.  The high ceilings may sprain your neck but they are definitely worth admiration, for some minutes atleast. The cravings on the wood as well as the walls will again leave you spell bound and the whole feel of the place is that you are witnessing a part of history, you are INSIDE history.

A half a kilometre walk towards the north of the basilica will take you to St. Francis  CSI Church, locally known as the CSI church. This is another piece of history for the history enthusiasts as it is the oldest European church in India.  History has it that the church was part of the fort built by the Portuguese and was originally a wooden structure but later on with the permission of the King of Cochin, it was reconstructed into a mortar one but even today most of the inside the church is wooden. It is apparently the only Portuguese structure, which did not undergo demolition by the Dutch or the British who succeeded the Portuguese in ruling Cochin.

A major attraction of the church is Vasco Da Gama’s grave. Though the information tablet at the church informs us that his mortal remains are now in Lisbon, Gama was originally buried in St. Francis Church in the 15th century and 14 years later his remains were transported to Lisbon.  Another attraction is that the gravestones of many of the Portuguese (the Catholics) as well as the Dutch (the protestants) remain in the walls of the church on opposite walls facing each other.
St. Francis Church is a protected monument under the Archaeological survey of India  (ASI) and while we were there, audit by the ASI was going on. There is also the Dutch cemetery opposite the church if you want to visit; I could not as time was running out. The shops in the lane outside the church towards the west takes you to Vasco junction near the Fort Kochi beach and there are interesting stuff to shop out there if you can bargain or pay like hell.

Now the final attraction in Fort Kochi  - the Fort Kochi Beach. Here you do get to see something that you cannot see at the Marina Beach in Chennai or the Juhu Beach in Mumbai. Something that is typical of Kerala – The Chinese Fishing Nets. They line the coast and one would just stand gaping at the huge, ancient but effective model of fishing.  History says that much before the Portuguese arrived at Calicut in the form of Vasco Da Gama and his entourage there were Chinese fishermen settlements in the costal regions of Kerala especially Cochin, Alapphuzha etc. and those fishermen used these huge nets for fishing. These nets are lowered during night into water and pulled back the next morning. The fresh catch is sold freshly at the beach itself in the fish shops that line the beach. One gets to see the smallest to the largest fish species here. I saw one shark big enough to gobble me up in one of the shops. Compared to other beaches in the country, the beach is considerably clean except for some water hyacinth weathered over the beach, thrown in by the sea. The walk way and benches are a good addition and there is a nice, posh feel about the beach.
It was good to be at Fort Kochi. A dash of nature and history together. My ideal. Would love to visit again. 

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