We visited the Dutch Palace. It was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Raja of Cochin in 1555. It became known as the Dutch Palace, after the Dutch carried out major structural improvements in 1663. Its interiors are decorated with murals and there are some fine displays of royal costumes.
Next, we visited the Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568, and the oldest active synagogue in Asia. On the other hand, apart from tourism, the synagogue is these days not too active, as there are just six Jews left in Cochin. There was a thriving community in the early days. Here we saw the copper plates, in which the grants of privilege made by the Cochin rulers were recorded, and the exquisite Chinese blue and white hand-painted floor tiles. There are hundreds of these tiles, with each one different in design – all the tiles are the same size, so it was quite spectacular. We were asked to remove our shoes so as to protect these amazing tiles.
Afterwards, we went to St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi, a short walk from our hotel. The church was originally built as a Catholic church by the Portuguese in 1510 and is thought to be the oldest church built by Europeans in India – it later became Dutch Reform and later Anglican. It is here that the remains of Vasco da Gama were initially buried and later his mortal remains were transported to his native Portugal.
We then walked to the port and viewed the Chinese fishing nets that line the sea-front, watching the same mechanical method of catching fish by local fishermen in Fort Kochi, as had been practiced for centuries. We stood and watched the fishermen hauling up these bamboo and wood structures with the nets full of fish. This fish is then transferred to the local fish market, where, if you so wish to, you can get it prepared and cooked for you. It doesn’t get fresher than that! The method was introduced by traders from China. Apart from their functionality, they also make a very beautiful water front attraction, and have old world charm, in keeping with this delightful ancient city.
Early evening, we went to a Kathakali dance performance.
Kathakali is a most complicated Indian art form that is a dance drama, noted for its attractive make-up and elaborate costumes. It has detailed body movements, especially of the face and eyes, amazingly synchronized with the hands and the music – the stories presented are very vivid and moving. It is similar to modern-day mime, but is far more dramatic and extremely professional. This form of dance was reserved for the Royal Palace until the mid 20th century. The Kochi based “See India Foundation” started India’s first regular and professionally run Kathakali theater in 1964. We saw a makeup demonstration before the show – an hour to apply the facial make-up, using layer upon layer of beautiful colour and contour.
Later in the evening, we went out for a fish dinner in the port, revisiting the restaurant of the previous evening. The food was excellent, even though a bit pricey on Indian standards. Kochi is, of course, very much an international tourist destination, and it was high season, so we were not surprised to pay a bit more for quality. In case anybody’s interested, Alf had “Kochi Fish Curry”, based on Mullet and Marilyn had local salmon, cooked in banana leaves. We washed it down with a bottle of Sula Sauvignon Blanc – this is an Indian domestic wine which is very popular, especially with us!
We enjoyed Kochi and tomorrow we are off to Thekkady for three nights – there, we plan to do an eight-hour hike and hopefully see some wildlife! We have a long road journey ahead of about five hours, but we are expecting magnificent scenery, so as usual, please watch this space!