Cheenvala, Chinese Fishing Nets – Tourist Attraction of Kochi
Chinese fishing Nets are the most popular photographic symbol of Kochi; the iconic emblem of the city. Nets are believed to have been introduced by Chinese explorer Zheng He (15th century) or even earlier by the traders from the court of Kublai Khan in the mid 13th century. The exact timing of introduction has some confusion but it is definite that origin is from China although such structures are now not seen in mainland China. Locals call them Cheenvala.
These work on the principle of a balance. Thick teak logs stuck solidly in beach forms the fulcrum. The frame is made up of teak wood and bamboo poles. On the seaside are cantilever nylon nets hanging spider like giant webs. Net is tied with four poles that link it to pulleys and the counterweights. On the beachside are big stones hanging over the bamboo pole acting as counterweights. Fishermen walk towards the net, their weight sinking the nets in the water. Cheenvala is raised back after about 15 minutes by pulling the rope with counterweights. One of the fishermen climbs up on the pole on the net to extract the catch. In the night a petromax gas lamp is fixed over the net pole to attract fishes. Most of the time catch is very little and weak and contains plenty of sea litter. Crows and Egrets throng around the net in plenty to steal some of the catch. Cheenvala Nets are worked throughout the year except for monsoon season. There is refinery on the other side and many big shipping vessels keep moving in the area.
Fishermen very often invite tourists to come over the platform and very often asking tourists to pull up the ropes in lifting the net. I ventured in to climbing up on a platform and walked up to the net. The structure appeared very weak and rickety but desires to get a vantage position to shoot helped me in overcoming the fear. Any mishap would have surely resulted in the loss of my photography equipment apart from the possibility of breaking one or two bones.
Unfortunately, Chinese fishing net Cheenvala, a stark reminder of the glorious past of Fort Kochi has lost all its glory, heritage and charm today and has now actually become a commercial show; earning out of offering the “show” of lifting and sinking the nets. There is hardly any profitable catch and the only source of income seems to be from the tourists who actually pay and pull the nets to see plastic water bottles and other waste. Chinese fishing net Cheenvala and the mechanism to fish has become a dying art in Kerala backwaters. One of the arduous but skillful ways to maneuver to catch fish with Chinese nets is a fascinating site to the eyes. Fishermen always ask for a tip and will always ask you the double the tip citing their poor status and scanty catch. Modern fishing methods and low fish concentration in the area have made these historical structures redundant. Due to these reasons not many ventures out in this profession as it is slowly becoming less lucrative and with no government control, tourists do not want to stay longer! But one thing is for sure that future generations will not be able to see this art in their lifetime if no measures are taken to revive and provide the necessary protection. Do keep a watch on the rocky and slippery environment once you are out in the middle and also not to forget to mention about the thugs around. Take care of yourself and your valuables.
This place reminded me of the “Stilt fishermen of Galle in Sri Lanka” who just do it for tourists. Nets are most photogenic at sunset time but sadly assault of dead fish smell and litter thrown all over the beach does spoil some fun.
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