Kerala: Alleppey & Cochin Feb 2017

From Munnar, we continue our journey west to Cochin.  It took us about 4 hours by car to arrive at the Taj Malabar Hotel where we spent the night before boarding the Oberoi Vrinda Boat in Alleppey for our 3-day cruise in the backwaters of Kerala.

Kerala is a state in South India on the Malabar coast.  It has been an important spice exporter since 3000 BC and it was this spice trade that attracted the Portuguese to Kerala and the subsequent colonisation of India.  Kerala is famous for its glistening backwaters and houseboats and is often referred to as “God’s Own Country”.  What a change to arrive here and leave behind the hustle and bustle of India and the rest of the world.

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DSCF2292Chinese Fishing Nets

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Alleppey is the main hub of Kerala’s backwaters with more than a thousand houseboats navigating its vast network of waterways.  It is often referred to as the “Venice of the East”.  We spent the next 3 days floating along these waterways passing luscious green rice fields, water villages, palm trees, and other houseboats of all shapes and sizes.  It is definitely a place to come to relax and forget about the world.  The Oberoi Vrinda vessel has 8 cabins and is one of the most luxurious boats cruising the backwaters of Kerala.  We boarded the boat on Vembanad Lake before setting sail into the Alleppey canal.  Every evening, we return to Vembanad Lake to dock for the night and were entertained by local dance and music performances.  Each day we sail through a different part of the scenic backwaters and were sometimes also transferred to a traditional rice boat in order to enter the narrower sections of the waterways.  During our visit, we were taken to a local village, Karumadi, to see the half-statue Buddha as well as the local temple.

DSCF2291Oberoi Vrinda Vessel docked at Vembanad Lake.

DSCF2285My cabin on board the Oberoi Vrinda.

20170211_192226Mohiniyattam or the Dance of the Enchantress is a classical Indian dance form originating from Kerala.  The role of Mohini is exclusively to enchant.  Legend has it that Lord Vishnu would transform himself into Mohini to protect the universe from evil.

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DSCF2297Houseboats of all shape and form grace the Kerala backwaters.

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DSCF2336Villagers doing their washings in the waterways in front of their houses.

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DSCF2418Palm trees line the shores of the Kerala backwaters

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DSCF2529A smaller riceboat here to pick us up for our excursion into the narrower channels.

DSCF2532Inside the traditional iceboat

DSCF2544We passed many locals swimming in the narrow channels.

DSCF2550Traditional riceboat with thatched roof covers over wooden hulls.

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DSCF2554Stupa housing half Buddha at Karumadi

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After a relaxing few days in the Kerala backwaters, we returned to Cochin and did some sightseeing as well as shopping.  The territory later known as Fort Cochin was granted to the Portuguese in 1503 by the Rajah of Kochi.  The Portuguese first built their settlement behind this fort including the wooden St Francis Church.  They held this fort for 160 years until the Dutch captured the territory from the Portuguese and held it for 112 years until 1795 when the British arrived and took control.  With the Indian Independence of 1947, all foreign control of Fort Cochin ended.  Because of its colorful past as a colony to different European countries, the fort houses a mix of buildings built by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British.  It is easily explored by foot and there are many small cafes, shops, and galleries popping up within the old fort.  The main highlights here at Fort Cochin are St Francis Church, Mattancherry Palace, the Jewish neighborhood, and the Chinese Fishing Nets.  St Francis Church is the oldest European built church in India.  It was built in 1503 by the Portuguese and it housed the remains of Vasco Da Gama who was the first European explorer to land on the shores of India.

DSCF2601St Francis Church

Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese and presented to the King of Cochin in 1555.  Later it was taken over by the Dutch and became known as the Dutch Palace, but at no time did any Europeans, Portuguese or Dutch, stay here.  There are some interesting displays of royal paraphernalia as well as a collection of murals with scenes from the great Indian epics.

DSCF2588Mattancherry Palace

DSCF2591Jewish quarter

DSCF2592Lots of touristy shops in the Jewish quarter

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The Chinese fishing nets are one of the most photographed sights here in Fort Kochi and are often used as the symbol of the Kerala backwaters.  These large contraptions are operated by at least four people and are a legacy from the days of Zheng He and other Chinese traders from the 1400s.  The ones along the shores in Fort Cochin are mainly there for tourists to pay a small fee in order to experience pulling out the nets from the water.

DSCF2608Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

DSCF2610Pulling up the nets to see if they caught anything

20170213_172151View of Fort Cochin from across the lake.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day of wandering around Fort Cochin, especially the Jewish quarter.  Even though Fort Cochin is a popular tourist spot, it remains wonderfully atmospheric, like a looking glass into the colonial past.

This concludes my 17 days in South India.  Time for some R&R in the Maldives which by the way is only hour and half away from Cochin by plane! :)

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