November 2017


A Holiday in Kochi
November 2017




Silhoutte of the Chinese fishing nets against the mesmerising sky

Whether you're exploring its famed shimmering backwaters, planning lingering encounters in its rain soaked wealth of natural greenery, or immersing yourself in the arts and cultural scene, a holiday in Kochi can be incredibly restorative for both body and mind...


Words: Kamala Thiagarajan


My exploration of Kochi begins on the powdery sands of Munambam beach, set amidst a backdrop of lush coconut groves and paddy fields on the north end of Vypeen Island, Ernakulam. Here, in the early hours of dawn, surrounded by the swirling waters of the Arabian Sea, I witnessed one of the most breathtaking and alluring sunrises I'd ever seen.


I'll never forget how the sky was awash with the most dramatic shades of pink, violet and gold, all aglow with fiery brightness as though it were a precious jewel. Dolphins are often sighted in these waters and blue and white schooners dot the horizon through the day, but it is the sight of the famed Chinese fishing nets that fills me with a sense of awe and an appreciation for Kochi's diversity.


Chinese fishing nets - a ballet in the backwaters

Silhouetted against the gorgeous backdrop of the sky, flapping in the gentle breeze are the legendary Chinese fishing nets. For historians, these nets are symbolic of the many diverse influences that Kochi has been subjected to in it's centuries of colonial influence. It is believed that Chinese traders from the court of Kubalai Khan first brought these famed fishing nets to Kochi as far back as 1400 AD. It takes up to six fishermen to operate these mammoth nets, each 20 metres wide and 10 metres in height. Fishing begins at dawn and as though it were part of a primitive dance ritual, the nets are lowered ever so gracefully into the waters when a fisherman walks down its central beam. Earlier made of wood, this beam is now being replaced with sturdier steel. The net is left under water for over twenty minutes, scooping up the large shoals of fish that swim closer to the shore when it is raised.


The fishing nets are a stone's throw from the Munambam Fishing Harbour, which is always buzzing with colour and activity. Rich hauls of fish are unloaded by the hour and are stacked in large mounds that line every inch of the floor.


Cherai Beach

Adjoining Munambam and 25 kms from Kochi are the pristine waters of the Cherai Beach. Children fly kites with wild abandon and roadside vendors sell beautifully crafted models of Kerala's traditional houseboats that cruise its backwaters. The beach is remarkably clean and peaceful. It's an ideal picnic spot and bikes can be hired for cycling along the sandy shore.


Gunnary of Fort Emmanuel

This area of Fort Kochi is the most fascinating to explore. Every nook and corner here is steeped in history, particularly the Portuguese and Dutch influences on Kochi's landscape. One of the most remarkable sights is the ruins of the Gunnary of Fort Emmanuel. This old building was once fitted with powerful guns. An aged, withered canon is perched on top of the crumbling walls, as a reminder of yesteryear. The fort, is still impressive, a symbol of the colonial power.

The sheer elegance and artistry of Kathakali

Kerala’s traditional dance that dates back to the 17th century – is incomparable. You can catch live performaces at the Kerala Kathakali Centre, Fort Kochi. The make-up in particular is elaborate. It’s literally painted on and it may take hours for an artist to get fully dressed. Book in advance.


Matancherry Dutch Palace

This sprawling, two story mansion in Mattencherry was built by the Portugese as far back as 1555 AD. It was their gift for the reigning king. Nearly a century later, the Dutch carried out renovations and since then, it's been called the Dutch Palace. The wooden latticed ceilings are exquisite. The palace has been built in a mix of colonial and traditional Kerala style architecture, with it's four quadrangles leading into a sprawling, impressive central courtyard.


The murals in this palace are breathtaking. Painted in rich reds and browns, they reflect typical scenes from Indian mythology and temple art. There is a gallery featuring the rajas, the rulers of Kochi who patronised and supported the arts.

The palace has been built in a mix of colonial and traditional Kerala style architecture, with it’s four quadrangles leading into a sprawling, impressive central courtyard.


The gleaming floors of the palace are representative of a unique feature of Kerala architecture - it was crafted entirely from a mixture of ground coconut shells, charcoal, lime and eggwhite.

The biggest upcoming celebrations

In Kochi, the event which draws large crowds from all over the world is the Kochi Carnival, held in the last week of December. There’s a grand procession with elephants and pageantry. The music is a harmonious blend of five instruments called the Panchavadyam.


Jew Town

Jew Town, a long, winding street near the Dutch palace is dotted with antique stores. It is like you have stepped into a time machine and emerged in an ancient era where glimmering brass idols, huge vessals, circular Kerala style lamps, stone wrought tables, old porch swings with brass fittings and wooden canopy beds can be seen. There are artefacts from a rapidly dwindling native Jewish community.


The oldest documentary evidence of a Jewish community in Kerala dates from 1000 CE and according to some records, as far back as the time of King Solomon.


Jewish stars, spice shops and art cafes can be explored. The beautiful Pardesi synagogue, a place of prayer for the Jews has a captivating interior, with golden pillars and an altar decorated in beautiful contrast to the bright pink, green and honey baubled chandeliers that hang around it.


You will be awed by the diverse fabric of Kerala, which is a patchwork of many intriguing influences. That is the true magic of Kochi.

 

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    Cherai Beach, a windswept beauty

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    Ruins of the Gunnary of Fort Emmanuel

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    Bekal Fort is one of the best-preserved forts in Kerala
    ©Kamala Thiagarajan

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    ©Kamala Thiagarajan

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    Architectural grandeur of Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi Fort

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    Experience the scenic view from a houseboat

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    Kummatakali folk art dance with eloborate masks
    ©Kamala Thiagarajan

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    Gold caparisoned elephants at the Thissur Pooram Festival
    ©Kamala Thiagarajan

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    Jew town with its colonial charm and antique shops
    ©Kamala Thiagarajan

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