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Kochi once upon a lagoon

by on September 14, 2007

The massive port of Kochi encompasses Fort Kochi and Mattancherry a weekend getaway, from Bangalore a cluster of islands on Vembanad Lake and Ernakulam and Thripunithura all to me was my idea of enjoying the weekend with my family. Welcomed with traditional warmth and contemporary gumption I’m at the airport of Kochi with constructed sloping roof typical of traditions Kerala homes. The beautiful highway to bustling Ernakulam confirms this enjoyable contradiction. Till recently Kochi was Cochin, and it was a lagoon which made Kochi a cherished destination as far back as the early 16th century and it is the same port which makes Kochi one of the nation’s busiest ports now. The rich aroma of spices and sandalwood drew the Europeans here and they soon wrested the profitable spice trade from Arab merchants.

Well leave the history now everybody knows about it. After check in the hotel and resting we left for the most important heritage sight seeing is Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. The distance between the interesting ancient and famous places in Fort Kochi is surprisingly short. We had little nature or leisure walks here however one needs many days to scroll the place well. Santa Cruz Basilica a Portuguese built church was celebrating its 500th anniversary so we went to see the ceremony. Its Gothic façade with soaring spires is imposing but it was the interiors that were truly impressive. Princess Street is one of the oldest in fort Kochi; the buildings are all in colonial style, with their peeling pastel, bronze stucco walls and flowerpot laden windowsills. St Francis Church at the northern end was built in timber, by the Portuguese. /the famous Vasco da Gama was originally buried here in some 1500’s and his remains were later taken to Lisbon, but the tomb still exists. A short walk from Princess Street was Vasco da Gama Square and just before the beach are the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, a legacy of traders from Kublai Khan’s court. The fort Kochi beach was itself a quite small though cleans and has a pretty lighthouse at one end of it. And as the light house turns back and walk down a street parallel; to the beach, to the Dutch cemetery, final resting place for the scores of soldiers and merchant adventures from 17th and 18th century Netherlands.

kochi-fort-street.jpgOnce the Keralite Jews occupied all the houses in the Jew Street, today most of their former inhabitants living in Israel, the old residence are shuttered. Their firework arches, often inscribed with a Star of David, wear a forlorn look and their once audacious blue and green facades are fading. There were few shops still running who sell antiques, spices and curio. Anchoring one end of the Jew street is Jew cemetery road with its Malayalam and Hebrew tombstones. A walk through several blocks brought us to the wrought iron gates of the Pardesi Synagogue. It is 400 years old and its interiors holds carved brass columns, an intricately carved teak ark, Belgian crystal chandeliers and Torah crowns of solid gold set with gems. The floor has hand painted porcelain tiles from Canton, each tile with a different pattern.

Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese’s in 1557 and presented to the Raja of Kochi, its exterior is quite boring but the interiors are good. The Central Hall on the upper story was once used s the venue for the coronation of Cochin’s Raja’s and has a beautifully carved wooden ceiling. In various rooms there were some excellent murals.

ernakulam.jpgErnakulam, Kochi’s new face was exciting. Many of the Broadway’s buildings retained their sloping roofs and inverted elevators. There is nothing a shopper can’t get here and the place has an exotic cardamom and cumin charm about it. Fronting Broadway is the city’s pride the seventy feet road and beyond it, the backwaters. And there it was the old jetty was all strangled in kelp and faded fish ropes, there is now the Marine Drive Promenade. We sat here and watched the Ernakulam-vypeen ferry made its slow passage. The lagoon was making a frown where the boat has disturbed its reverie. Ernakulam got it’s name from Rishinaga- kulam, a Shiva temple’s pond. This where according to the legend, a sage was finally freed from a curse. The temple is dedicated to Shiva in his Virata or primordial hunter avatar. The annual festival is in January and is spread over eight days. On the 7th day is Pakalpooram, when the deity is taken out in a procession with caparisoned elephants accompanied by the panchavadyam orchestra. It culminates with the famous Pandimelam which is a percussion extravaganza and fireworks. In August – September is Onam, Kerala’s harvest festival and the Indira Gandhi Boat Race is a benefiting climax to a week of revelry. Sleek serpent boats vie with one another, the furious paddling turning the waters fronting Marine Drive into one frothing melee. I liked and enjoyed the racing.

kochi-broadway.jpgMattancherry and Jew street in fort Kochi and Broadway and MG road in Ernakulam are the shopping hubs. I picked up antique items, spices, coffee from Mattancherry. Do look out for door jambs, old mirror frames, metal locks, and quaint early 20th centaury ceramic and Meta utensils. Shopping for gold is best in MG road of Ernakulam with few branded shops. In simple words I enjoyed the backwaters and the fort and would love to come here again and again.

There are many sites that are providing few holiday packages for Kerala.

Find driving directions to Kochi here

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One Comment
  1. Prasad permalink

    It give a immense pleasure to in photos. I can imagine how it would when I saw it really

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