Cochin and the Chinese Fishing Nets
Fishermen of Cochin
Kerala is known to its inhabitants, with some justification, as 'God's Own Country.' Cochin with its natural harbour on the Arabian Sea and location at the entrance to the famous backwaters of Kerala is an ideal place from which to explore the whole of Kerala.
The backwaters are a network of rivers, streams, lagoons, lakes and canals running along the coast of Kerala. They run for most of its length but have few outlets to the sea. The backwaters are home to the rice boats that serve Kerala's rice paddys. Kerala and its backwaters were identified by National Geographic magazine as one of the ten paradises of the world but Cochin has it its own attractions and not least among these are the Chinese fishing nets.
Cochin is a cosmopolitan city. It traded for many years with the Arabs and the Chinese before becoming one of India's first European colonies when the Portuguese settled there in the 16th Century. The Portuguese helped Cochin to grow in importance but lost their influence over the spice trade and in 1663 were succeeded by the Dutch. Later the city made an alliance with the British East India Company and came under Britain's influence. When India achieved independence in 1947 Cochin became one of the country's leading ports and naval bases.
Cochin's past is reflected in the diversity of its architecture, particularly in the oldest part of the city, Fort Cochin and in neighbouring Mattancherry. As well as the Chinese fishing nets one can see European and Jewish buildings, Hindu and Jane temples and mosques.
The Chinese Fishing Nets
The Chinese fishing nets are large shore based structures some 10 meters high. Each Chinese fishing net is operated by a crew of six fishermen. The Cochin fisherman of Kerala use a method of fishing not otherwise seen outside of China.
A wide net is slung from a cantilevered arm. The structure is carefully balanced so that the net can be lowered into the water by the weight of one man.
The net is not left in the water many minutes before it is pulled up again; the crew pulling on attached ropes.
Rocks attached to a long rope counterbalance the weight of the catch to keep the net out of the water while the catch is retrieved.
The whole performance is watched by eager crowds who, with the women in their brightly coloured saris, are a spectacle in themselves.
The catch is small but dispensed to the eagerly waiting crowd to be cooked at a nearby booth. The taste of freshly caught fish can not be beaten.
There is plenty else to see in Cochin. Important buildings of Cochin include:
St. Francis Church reputedly India's first European built church and one of the oldest churches in South India. Vasco Da Gama was buried here though his remains were later returned to Portugal. A notable feature are the punkahs; large swinging cloth fans on frames, operated by the punkah wallahs, that keep the church cool.
The Basilica of Santa Cruz is a 16th Century Roman Catholic church rebuilt in the 1800s.
Jew Town was home to the Jewish community of Cochin until they returned en masse to Israel in the 1940s. The furniture and non portable treasures they left behind helped to establish Jew town as a centre for antiques. One can still visit the Cochin Synagogue founded in 1568 and rebuilt by the Dutch in 1664 after the Portuguese had destroyed it.
The Dutch Palace (properly known as Mattancherry Palace) is remarkable for its colourful and intricate friezes depicting the Ramayana.
The Jain Temple is memorable for its distinctive architecture and the pigeons clustered round its belfry awaiting their mid day feed.
Take in the sights and sounds of Cochin on foot or hire an auto rickshaw (the ubiquitous chut chut) for an affordable guided tour. Either way Cochin is a great place to get to know Kerala.