~To my love for massive temples, luscious greenery, banana chips and coconut oil~
Seated in an auto, as the humid-laden wind brushes across my face, I am reminded of my first visit to this place. Commonly known as God's own Country, Kerala has a separate vibe altogether. People here are quite strong-willed, and their forbearance has been well spoken of. With a plethora of holiday destinations in the state, I chose Kochi, the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
Kochi, also called Cochin, is the commercial capital of the state of Kerala. Despite being a modern cosmopolitan city, Kochi's architecture has a strong influence of the Portuguese, Dutch, and the Arabs who were it's historical trading partners. Kochi has a large number of churches, the most prominent one being the Church of Saint Francis.
The Saint Francis Church is one of the oldest of the European churches in India. It is believed that Vasco de Gama, was buried here and fourteen years later, his remains were shifted to Lisbon. The church also stands as evidence of European colonialism in the subcontinent, back in the 1500s.
The most attractive and essential feature of the ports in Kochi is the Chinese Fishing Nets. Nowhere else in the country would one find these in use. Popularly called Cheenavala in Malayalam, the official language of the state, the nets are fixed to bamboo and teak poles. A group of fishermen operates these nets. They slowly let the nets down into the ocean, which is weighed down by large stones tied to ropes. After a considerable amount of fish has been caught and at regular intervals of time, they are pulled back up. This ingenious process of fishing is considered to be a treat to watch, and a couple of tourists would even come forward to lend a helping hand.
If you are in Kochi, a boat ride to the nearby islands is a must. The first island I visited was Mattancherry. The key attractions here are the Mattancherry Palace, the Mattancherry Synagogue and market place. The Mattancherry Palace, commonly called the Dutch Palace, is presently under the Archaeological Society of India and houses portraits and exhibits from the time of the Maharajas of Kochi. A tour of this Palace would take us back to the days when the subcontinent was being governed by various rulers. The Mattancherry Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations and also has Hebrew texts inscribed into its walls.
An interesting fact about both these tourist attractions is that the Mattancherry Palace temple and the Mattancherry synagogue share a common wall.
The ever-bustling market place may seem like any other but accommodates a variety of shops that sell scented oils, authentic spices, and an exceptional collection of antiques.
My second boat ride is to Bolgatty Island. When the British first stepped here, they built a Royal Residency, which is now converted to a luxurious hotel. The island is famous for its extensive golf course, horse riding tracks, boatyard, and the International Marina, which is the first of its kind in India. Sipping on the local tea and observing the tides, as the sun sets is one of my favourite experiences to date.
But you know what really stood out for me? Kerala cuisine. The taste of coconut in almost every dish, the freshness of seafood, the extensive use of spices in their curries, accompanied with a bowl of brown rice, some puttu or appam to complement the masala and the most robust feature of a Kerala meal being the vezham(water) which is served hot and sometimes pink in colour due to the ayurvedic element, Padima Guam.