We’ve had a few days at sea so we’ve got caught up on “stuff” (blog, laundry, trying to sort out our cabin). Any how’s this is our first stop in India and we’re very excited about coming back again.
Kochi is both a city and a former state (known as Princely State) in southwest India on the Arabian Sea. The region of Cochin has one of the highest populations densities in India. Agriculture is the chief economic activity. It’s also thought of as the finest port south of Mumbai. Kochi with its naval base and shipbuilding industry is the primary training center for the Indian Navy. It is bordered by Pakistan to the northwest, China, Nepal and Bhutan to the north and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. India covers a land area of some 3,287,000 square kilometres though disputed borders with Pakistan and China make this figure somewhat arbitrary. It still remains that India is the seventh largest country in the world.
Today we’re on a ship tour “Cultures of Cochin”. Our first stop is St. Francis Church. The structure was rebuilt in stone a few years after Vasco da Gama (explorer) died. It is India’s oldest European built church. Da Gama died during his third visit to Kerala. His burial site is well marked but his body was returned to Portugal in 1638 (at his son’s request). The church itself was built by the Portuguese and dedicated to Saint Antonio (Sao Antonia) patron saint of Portugal. Later Dutch settlers converted and redesigned it as a Protestant Church and dedicated it to St. Francis. This part of Kochi is very interesting in that every religion possible live side by side here. There’s a catholic church beside a mosque beside a temple.
Next we’re off to see a series of permanent cantilevered Chinese Fishing Nets along the Fort Kochi. This is just an amazing operation. There’s a system of pulleys and weights that the fishermen use when the tide is coming in to catch fish. The nets are lowered via the weights and pulleys, the fish swim in and the cantilevered nets are then lifted up and the “catch” is put into large basins. It’s thought 14th century Chinese merchants probably first brought structures like these to India. Right beside these nets you’ll find merchants selling the days catch. Talk about fresh!
Next stop is the Indo Portuguese Museum. The architecture here is just awesome. We’ll let photos tell the story here. Most of the wood is teak, the floor boards are just amazing. Many of the artefacts on display are predominantly religious. The most striking feature in our minds is the building and the materials used to make it. The original foundation is preserved in the basement level.
Our final stop and a great privilege for us is a tour of the Hill Palace. Built by Dutch merchants as a gift to Sakthan Thamburan, Raja of Kochi, 19th century Hill Palace was seat of provincial power. Here is an excellent example of classical architecture. The compound’s 4 sided Nalukettu (traditional Kerala style house) which faces a central courtyard, several harams (women’s quarters), a Dutch style bungalow and a royal durbar or reception hall are among the highlights. The great privilege is that it has been closed for renovations, but as our ship is in the ruling bodies have agreed to open it for our tour. It’s now a museum, and there’s a collection of the Rajas rich personal articles. The 2nd floors were used by women and children and the men occupied the ground floor. We were “sort of rushed” through the museum as it was close to end of day and I guess the workers wanted to go home. There are the most amazing paintings on the walls done by hand with local dyes and spices (saffron, being one of them). We unfortunately weren’t allowed to take photos in here.
We also had an opportunity to see some wonderful English and Dutch architecture, homes over 200 years are still standing, although I’m quite sure they have all been renovated. Jackfruit and mangoes grow like grass here. Every house has at least one or both of these trees. We also had a chance to see a pepper vine. Some of the seeds are taken off the pepper tree early giving you a green pepper, others later giving black peppers and even later white beads giving white or red pepper.