Kerala Chronicles Part II. My tete-a-tete with the Jew Town
Fort Kochi lured me with its rustic charm, pulling me to its streets like a magnet. I wandered the long and cramped alleys where shops bursted with souvenirs, cutlery, armours, chandeliers and unique antiques from the bye-gone eras of the Portuguese, Jewish and the Dutch. Plush price tags dangled around them, but were too irresistible to be missed!
In the vicinity of the famous spice market, stood the Mattancherry Palace aka Dutch Palace in a combination of chrome and brown. The walls were ordinary and roof was crafted from wood. Just next to the Palace, I caught a glimpse of Jewish Synagogue (Chapel), better known as Paradesi Synagogue that it preserved some eye-catching artefacts in gold and porcelain dating back to a time when the Jews reigned over Kochi.
After a quick visit to the Saint Francis church, the burial place of Vasco Da Gama, I head to the Kerala Kathakali Centre for a vis-a-vis with Kerala’s deep-rooted and well-fostered art-forms. While Kalaripayattu, an ancient form of martial art bought chills down my spine with its swift and dangerous moves, Kathakali, the traditional dance form of Kerala, mesmerised me with its vibrant make-up, elaborate costumes and mind-boggling performances! Read more about my blog on Kathakali here: https://gauricosmos.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/the-saga-of-a-dying-legacy-kathakali/
No trip to Kerala could be deemed complete without a visit to its celebrated Chinese fishing nets. Popularly referred to as ‘Cheenavalas’, they are believed to have been introduced in Kochi by a Chinese explorer called Zheng He. The nets are appended to huge wooden structures that have ropes tied with heavy stones suspended to their tips. These fascinating nets can be seen across the Kayals (backwaters) of Kerala but the ones in Fort Kochi are world famous. While a few fishermen kinetically pulled the nets up and lowered them into the sea, an off-the-cuff conversation sparked off. The nets that once used to help catch fish in large numbers were not of great help now. The fishermen repeated the process of manually lowering the bulky nets at least 200 times everyday to catch enough fish to sustain a day’s business. Most of these nets were beyond repair and hence not in use. Each time they sang a war cry to sync their energies to operate the nets, their eyes gleamed and their hearts smiled. I sensed the power of an unspoken hope overpowering the catastrophes of life.
Well, I had one more thing on my bucket list before I could leave. I too, needed a share of the most photographed sights of Kerala- the gorgeous silhouettes of these Cheenavalas! Not many know of the fact that the best photographs are taken not at Kochi, but Vypin, situated on the opposite side of Kochi, accessible by a 10-min ferry ride from the Kochi Jetty. I could have died for what I was able to freeze through my lens!
Roaming in the sultry weather of Kochi was exhaustive. While I desperately looked for a place to rest my tired feet and satiate my craving for sea food, I bumped into an open-air restaurant named “Fort House”, right on the backwaters! Fort House was dimly lit with a touch of elegance. I sat at the corner-most edge of the restaurant, admiring the sight of huge vessels sailing to and fro from the jetty and the pleasant sound of their foghorns, just a few meters away. A candle light dinner, a pint of beer in hand, lip-smacking sea-food, the sound of splashing waves and the cool breeze of the backwaters under a starry sky seemed like the perfect way to wind-up my tete-a-tete with the old Jew Town.
What not to miss at Fort Kochi
Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performances at Kerala Kathakali Centre, Fort Kochi
- Chinese fishing nets at sunset from Vypin
- Delicious Kerala meal served on a banana leaf
- Fish delicacies, especially the Karimeen Polichathu (fried fish with a thick gravy of onion and tomato, cooked in banana leaf is out of the world!)
- Freshly fried Banana, tapioca chips and varieties of authentic Kerala halwa from a local deli.
- Dining experience at the Fort House restaurant