Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cochin: My Own Country

As a child I spent all my school vacation time with my grandparents in Kerala. A typical trip would consist of staying at the farm, visiting aunts in neighboring villages and trips to Guruvayur and Trichur. But never had I explored the Willingdon island or its history, or even done the museum visits. For a Keralite these would really be the priveledges of a tourist!

Early this year before I could hang my boots for a short sabatical from work I visited Cochin and stayed of course at the Taj Vivanta on the Willingdon Island a 1935 port hostel turned hotel owned by Spencer & Co Ltd., Madras.  This was built to be accomodate sea farers who arrived from the Bibby lines.

The Willingdon island is man-made, created from the sand and shells dug out while deepening channels for shipping activity for the koch harbor. The island has been named named after Lord Willingdon of the British era. The Taj Vivanta as it is now called is located at the extreme tip of the island on the confluence of Vembanad backwaters which venture out to the Arabian sea. This is the only setting in the world where you see a melting pot of a modern port, a heritage dwelling, a village settlement and Chinese fishing nets amidst the background of nature. On this waterway - a fisherman's boat, local ferries, sailboats, passenger ships, cargo ships and even naval ships are spotted in harmony. It is one of its kind experience not to forget the fresh catch of the day at the Rice Boat restaurant overlooking the waters.

Other places of interest are the Jewish Synagogue built in 1568, the Dutch Palace built by the Kochi Raja in AD 1555. The 17th century murals here depicting scenes from the Indian epic Ramayana are breathtaking. The St. Francis church built originally by the Portuguese in AD 1510 and known to be the first church built by the Europeans in India is also the place where Vasco da Gama was buried.

As I walked around the island the visits to the Jewish Synagogue, the Dutch Palace, St Francis Church, the Chinese fishing nets and the Hill Palace Museum almost answered the reason why the average Keralite could adapt to international cultures and perhaps gifted with the ability to pick up languages faster than an average indian from other states. The Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese influence is integral to the ethos of Cochin. This is as international as it could get for Kerala..