Monday, 23 February 2015
One of the most beautiful things about Fort Kochi is that it is so accessible and easy to explore. In order to explore the quiet town of Fort Kochi, there is no better choice than setting out on foot or a bicycle. The island of Fort Kochi is soaked in with historical monuments and places of interest. One needs to relax and should have a lot of time to explore the colonial town. At every corner of Fort Kochi, something amusing awaits the visitor. The footprints of a bygone era are clearly visible throughout the town and it’s hard to miss it. The town offers a tremendous blend of new and old, the colonial and modern.
A short walk on the K. J. Herschel Road gives one a glimpse of Fort Immanuel. Fort Immanuel once belonged to the Portuguese. The monument symbolises the strategic alliance which existed between the Maharaja of Cochin and the Monarch of Portugal, after whom the fort is named. Fort Immanuel was built in 1503 and reinforced in 1538. Further down the road, one comes across the Dutch cemetery. The cemetery was consecrated in 1724 and is currently managed by the Church of South India. The tombstones in the cemetery remind the visitors of those Europeans who left their homeland to serve their respective monarchs. Not far from the Dutch cemetery is yet another colonial structure – The David Hall. The Dutch East India Company erected the structure around 1695. The hall is dedicated to the legacy of Hendrik Adriaan van Reed tot Drakeston, a renowned Dutch commander. Hendrik is more admired for his monumental book on the flora of Kerala namely Hortus Malabaricus. Even though Hendrik Adriaan van Reed tot Drakeston’s legacy is clearly visible throughout the hall, David Hall is named after David Koder, a later occupant of the building.
Just a few minutes away from David Hall is the ancient and famous Thakur House, which has an imposing presence in the locality. It is a monumental structure reminding the visitors of the colonial era. The building is simply astounding. It was formerly known as Kunal or Hill Bungalow and it was home to the managers of the National Bank of India during the British rule. The present day renovated Thakur House belongs to the Thakur and Company, a famous tea trading firm.
If one enjoys relaxed walks in the evenings, The Church Road is the place to be. The cool breeze from the Arabian Sea is quite refreshing and invigorating. The sea is not far from the Church Road and in between the sea and the Church Road is the famous Cochin Club. The Cochin Club is home to an impressive library and to a collection of a number of Trophies. The club is set in a beautiful park and still retains the old world charm. Not far from the Cochin Club is the Parade Ground. The Parade Ground is spread across four acres. This is where the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British had once conducted military parades in colonial times. St. Francis Church is in the vicinity. This is the oldest European church in India and it has passed through many phases ever since the Portuguese built it in 1503. Now the church is under the control of the Church of South India. St Francis Church is also famous for being the Church where the famous explorer Vasco da Gama was buried. The site of his burial is still on display.
Another attraction on the Church Road is the Bastion Bungalow. The Bastion Bungalow is a majestic mansion. This wonderful structure is an Indo-European style building that was built in 1667 and is named after its location on the site of the Stromberg Bastion of the Old Dutch fort. These days the Bastion Bungalow is the official residence of the Sub Collector.
Quite near the Bastion Square is the Vasco da Gama square. The square is a narrow promenade, which is an ideal place to relax a little. The Vasco da Gama square is punctuated with stalls full of delicious seafood, fast-food and tender coconuts. The Chinese fishing nets are a sight to behold. These nets had been erected here between AD 1350 and 1450 by the traders from the court of Kublai Khan. Tourists find the lowering and raising of the Chinese fishing nets particularly interesting. In the vicinity of the Vasco da Gama square is the Pierce Leslie Bungalow, a charming mansion. The Pierce Leslie Bungalow once had been the office of Pierce Leslie and Co., coffee merchants of yesteryears. The bungalow is reminiscent of Portuguese, Dutch and local influences. It’s famous for its waterfront verandas and skilfully contoured exteriors. On the adjacent street is the Old Harbour House. The Old Harbor House was built in 1808 and owned by Carriet Moran and Co, renowned tea brokers. Nearby the Harbor House is the Koder House, the magnificent building constructed by Samuel S. Koder of the Cochin Electric Company in 1808. This structure shows the transition from colonial to Indo-European style of construction. The Princess street is not far from Koder house. The Princess street is renowned for the number of shops selling fresh flowers and for the European style residences on either side of the street. The Loafer's Corner is also not far from Princess Street. This is the traditional hangout for the outgoing and fun loving people of Kochi.
Just north of the Loafer's corner, is the Santa Cruz Basilica, the historic church built by the Portuguese. The church was elevated to a cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. In 1984, it was declared a basilica by Pope John Paul II. This particular location is a busy area with a number of streets and buildings in the near vicinity. The Burgher street and the Delta Study, a heritage bungalow built in the year 1808 and now functioning as a high school are not far. The Rose street and Princess street are also around the corner. Near Rose street is the famous Vasco house, believed to be the residence of Vasco da Gama. This traditional and typical European house is one of the oldest of Portuguese residences in Kochi. A short walk over to the Ridsdale Road leads to the VOC gate, the large wooden gate facing the Parade ground. The gate was built in 1740. The VOC gate gets its name from the monogram (VOC) of the Dutch East India Company on it. Close to the VOC gate is the United Club. The United Club was once one of the four elite clubs of the British in Kochi. Now, it serves as a classroom for the nearby St. Francis Primary School.
At the end of the Ridsdale Road is the Bishop's house. The Bishops house was built in the year 1506. In colonial times it had been the residence of the Portuguese Governor. It is set on a small hillock near the Parade Ground. The facade of the Bishops house has large Gothic arches and other gothic influences. The building was acquired by Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, the 27th Bishop of the Diocese of Cochin.
Fort Kochi is an intriguing place. The feel of an era bygone is still lingering in the air. The sights are mesmerising and the town is bustling with life. Pleasant surprises await tourists at every nook and corner. A trip to Kerala is just not complete without a stay at Fort Kochi.