Kochi Pg 1

My First Visit To The Land Of Silk & Spices In India– Kerala

My First Visit To The Land Of Silk & Spices In India – Kerala

Three couples went to Kerala on 02/06/10 and returned on 08/06/10. It was the first time that my wife and I had set foot in India. We toured Kochi and Munnar and cruised in a houseboat in Alleppey. The cruise was the most enjoyable experience in Kerala. The cities were crowded and dirty, particularly in Kochi and the food was too spicy and hot.

  • Introduction

India is the seven largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country with over 1 billion people and the most populous democracy in the world. It was the first time in my life that my wife, Lucy and I had visited this country with two other couples (Kenny & Jo, KC & Sow Cheng) from 2nd to 8th June 2010. But this visit was confined to only three areas in one of the smallest states in India, i.e. Kerala.

Kerala comprises a narrow coastal strip bounded by the Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. Due to its geographical position, Kerala has played a vital role in the commercial and cultural history of India. With its evergreen mountains, dense forests, tranquil flowing rivers, extensive backwaters and blue lagoons, it is also famous for its breath-taking natural beauty.   

The three places we visited in Kerala are Kochi (Cochin), Alleppey (Allappuzha) and Munnar.

We arrived at Kochi International Airport in the late afternoon on 02 June. The next day (03/06) we left for Alleppey and arrived there at noon and boarded a Houseboat for an overnight cruise in the backwater, rivers and canals. We disembarked the houseboat in the morning of 04 June and proceeded by road to Munnar. After an overnight stay in Munnar we returned to Kochi. We remained in Kochi and explored the bustling city, including shopping by the ladies for three days and returned to Malaysia on 07 June, arriving home in the wee hours of the next day.

The tour in Kerala was organized by KC through a local tour agent. For the land tour in Kerala we travelled in an 11-seater van with an English-speaking driver called Jackson.

  • Kochi

More than 600 years ago, merchants in Kochi began trading in spices such as black pepper with the Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese. This helped Kochi to prosper and to become the gateway to India. It was in Kochi that the colonization of India started. The Portuguese was first to establish its base in Kochi, followed by the Dutch and English.

Kochi is now the financial capital of Kerala and with a population of over 2 million is the biggest city in the state.

The city consists of three main sections: The Ernakulam Mainland City to the right; the Willingdon Island in the middle and the Island of Mattencherry and Fort Kochi to the left. As Willingdon Island, a man-made island made from sand dredged from the backwaters to deepen the Kochi Port, houses the Kuchi Port and is quite sparsely populated; we only explored the Mainland City and fort Kochi.

Mainland Kochi

In Kochi, we put up in Mercy Hotel which is located on the southern end of the central business district and beside the main arterial road called Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road).

Traffic congestion is a major problem in Kochi city. This is mainly due to its narrow roads which are crowded with a mix of vastly differing types of vehicles such as Tud Tuds (auto rickshaws), motor bikes, buses and trucks.  Added to these are problems caused by poorly maintained roads, padestrain walkways and randomly placed sign boards and trafic signals. Coupled with these, most drivers ignore traffic rules and often sound their horns indiscriminately.                                            

For the men, there wasn’t much to do and see in the main city of Kochi. But for the ladies, they could do a lot of shopping for silk, textiles and clothing. When we were in Kochi, the three ladies spent a full day shopping in Seematic, one of the largest retail showrooms in Kerala!

The food in Kochi was spicy and hot. Even in a Chinese restaurant within the Mercy Hotel complex, the cooks and attendants were all Indians and the dishes we ordered did not bear any taste resemblance to the Chinese food we are used to at home. They were basically “Indianised” Chinese food!

But luckily we could choose to have English breakfast buffet in the hotels we stayed. And we had no problem with Kingfisher for our happy hours

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi is located about 15km from the Mainland Kochi. It has a long and eventful history. Due to its location, it became a haven for seafaring adventurers and traders from all over the world, and became the first European township in India when the Portuguese first settled here in the early 15th century. The Dutch wrested control of the Fort from the Portuguese in the mid 17th century followed by the British in the late 1700s. In those days Fort Kochi became a prime commercial centre and its fame spread far and wide as a rich spice trade centre, a major military base, a vibrant cultural hub, a great shipbuilding centre and a centre for Christianity. Today it is still a very important centre for spice trade attracting traders from far and wide.

Fort Kochi is now a tourist enclave with old colonial buildings, narrow streets, and antique shops.

In Fort Kochi, we visited three sites - the Chinese fishing nets set up along the Vasco De Gama Square, St Francis Church and the Jewish Synagogue in the city.

The Chinese fishing nets are fixed land installations used as shore operated lift nets. It was reported that they were set up along the Vasco De Gama Square, the narrow promenade beside the beach by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century.

The structure of the fishing net comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the water on one end and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. The system is so well balanced that the weight of a man walking along the cantilever beam is sufficient to drop the net into the water. The net is left in the water for a short time before it is raised by pulling on ropes. The catch is usually modest and sold to fish “restaurants” located beside the nets.

The Chinese Fishing Nets

Store selling fish caught by the Chinese Fishing Nets

St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi is one of India’s oldest churches. It was a Roman Catholic Church during the Portuguese rule in the early 16th century. It became the Dutch Reformist Church during the Dutch rule and Anglican Church during the British rule. Today it is governed by the Church of South India. It is reported that Vasca Da Gama who died in 1524 was buried in this church and his remains were returned to Portugal 14 years later.

The Jews in Kochi migrated from the Middle East and other countries in 700 BC to trade with Kerala. The Jewish populace in Kerala decreased significantly when they left to settle in Israel after the foundation of Jewish state of Israel. It was reported that currently there are only a handful of Jews still living in Kerala. There were 7 Synagogues in the old Jew town of Kochi, but now only the Pardesi Synagogue or a synagogue belonging to foreigners remains and functions as a reminiscence of the old colonial times.

St. Francis Church Jewish Synagogue

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