This is in continuation of my earlier journey to Kochi, Tour of Kerala. Next morning we had a local guide to usher us in the amazing history of Kochi. He first took us to Dhobighat, the washer men’s place. They call it Dhobi Khana. Most of them are from Tamil Nadu as the locals refused to wash the clothes of the Dutch Army. The Vannan community of Tamil Nadu is working here since 1720 when Dutch brought them here to wash Army’s clothes. Their Tamilian origin was very obvious because of many pictures of Rajinikanth, the ultimate hero of Tamil Movies. It reminded me of Bombay’s Dhobi Ghat which is much bigger and with much more activity. Foreigners were quite surprised to see such a place. It was reconstructed in 1976 in 3acres of land, turning rest of the 10 acres in a playground.
Not far from Dhobhikhana is the beautiful Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica. Portuguese built it and Pope Paul IV elevated to the level of Cathedral. Dutch army spared it although they destroyed most of the Portuguese structures. British demolished the building and a new structure was built in 1905. Pope John Paul II proclaimed it as Basilica in 1948. The church is built very beautifully with stained glass windows, painted and carved pillars and two lofty spires. Interior is very colorful with an amazing altar. There are many colorful statues of many saints. The building is a beautiful amalgamation of Indo European architecture in Gothic style. The ceiling is decorated with seven beautiful paintings depicting the events and stories of passion and death on the cross. There is a large painting of “The Last Supper”. These are modeled on the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci by the Italian artist Fra Antonio Moscheni. These paintings, impressive wooden paneling, artwork, tiles, frescos, and murals on columns date back to the 18th century. There is a brass tower on the outside and this structure is common in temples and churches of South India. In one of my previous tour to Chennai, our guide called it the network tower connecting directly to god upstairs. On the base of this pillar faces of Christian saints are carved including one of Mother Teresa. A domed blue chapel outside adds to the beauty of the church.
This area is known as Fort Kochi and it retains the charm of an old European locality. It is a little bit of Europe in Kerala as there are beautiful heritage buildings with definite Anglo-Dutch influence, well-paved roads, antique shops, and fashionable eating places. Many buildings have been turned into hotels, homestays and are often managed by foreigners. Old street names have been retained and the popular ones are Princess Street, Burger Street, and Rose Street. There are antique shops, cafes, shops selling apparels, decorative furniture and souvenirs. It is a great place to stroll despite the hostile weather as there is so much for window shopping or actual shopping. We were enticed to buy few interesting Kerala souvenirs to take home. We also saw a house where it is believed that Vasco de Gama lived during his Kochi stay.
Walking further we reached St. Francis Church which was built in 1503, is probably the oldest European Church in India. It is a mute witness of the struggle between Portuguese, Dutch and British. Vasco de Gama died in Kochi in 1524 and was buried in this church. His body was later taken away to Lisbon. Church also has Punkhas (Fans) which were pulled by laborers sitting outside; something similar to such structures in our medieval forts. There are many graves belonging to Portuguese as well as Dutch. The altar is very colorful and impressive as are the other decorative glassed in the Church.
Chinese Fishing Nets and the beach are at walking distance. Fort Emmanuel, the first Portuguese fort is just across the road. Fort is in a ruinous state and it is difficult to believe that once it was the seat of strong power. It is being renovated by Government making it some sort of art museum. Few artists have built stone murals on the foregrounds of the structure. Fort was built in the 15th century, fortified in 1538 and remained with Portuguese until 1663. Dutch occupied it till 1795 and were dethroned by the British. Dutch and British destroyed most of the fort. Not far is Dutch Cemetery, which is also in a very sad state. It is locked most of the time and taking pictures is only possible through Gate bars. Captain Joseph Winckler was the last person to be buried here in 1913. The area around Chinese nets is poorly kept with a lot of garbage on the beach.
Fort Kochi is a picturesque setting with Fishing Nets, Arab Dhows, decorated boats, heritage buildings, gigantic steam boilers, Churches and small kiosks on the beach as well as studio shops in the bylanes.
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