Archive for March, 2010

Fort Kochi: Kerala’s Window to the World

// March 20th, 2010 // No Comments » // Cultural Politics

Ancient and Modern: Polyphony of Fort Kochi

Visitors from all over the world

Old colonial bungalows, warehouses, streets, palaces, churches, mosques, Jain temples and a Jewish Synagogue – Fort Kochi or Fort Cochin offers plenty of rare spectacles and cultural specifics to the keen traveler.  This beautiful island like southern bank of Kochi harbor lured ancient travelers and explorers from time immemorial.  The Romans, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Jews, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English came to these seductive shores and settled down.  The whole world has left its imprint in this tiny strip of land between the Arabian sea and Kochi backwaters.

Fresh catch from the sea

The Jew Street and the still preserved Synagogue are among the ancient surviving ones in the world.    Though the Jews had left long ago to their promised land these ancient relics resonate the rich polyphonic culture of South India.  The Dutch palace in Mattanchery, slightly south of Fort Cochin is again a historic marvel of hybrid architecture.  The Dutch cemetery and bungalows are still surviving and being renovated under the heritage projects.  The sparkling little beach nearby attracts a lot of people and the marine walkway is always busy.  Some canon barrels and gunnery are still seen near the beach path facing the sea.

Chinese fishing nets are a real treat for the eyes and are lasting legacies of Keala’s historic relations with ancient Chinese culture.  We still use

Vibrant Fish Market

Chinese frying pans, Chinese pots and urns, Chinese lanterns and so on…  Kerala architecture and visual culture are reminiscent of the Chinese traditions. Our brave fisher folk still earn a living using the ancient Chinese fishing nets along both the sides of the harbor.  Foreigners crowd in numbers to watch the catch still.  The ancient trees and the variety of birds here are also adding to the charm and magic of this place.  So is the street merchants and their display of handicrafts.

Chinese Nets and Sunsets

The Vasco da Gama Square offers historic memories of European colonialism.  The St. Francis church nearby is one of the ancient churches in the peninsula.  Gama’s physical remains were kept here for sometime before it was taken to Europe.  The fish market with live catch of prawn, lobsters, shrimp, squids, crabs and a lot more  rare sea food is irresistible.  The food courts designed in the Portuguese style are dramatic and cozy.

Fishing Terns in the channel

More than everything the people of this place and the people who throng in to this place from various parts of the world to enjoy the sun, wind and sea of Fort Cochin are really exciting and illuminating.  Men and women from various corners of the globe come here and share the shared heritage of Fort Cochin and the plural culture of Kerala that opened its windows to the world a lot earlier than other parts of India.  This is a great place to be and a great place to learn about the composite culture of Kerala.  Whenever I get time I make my regular pilgrimage to this great shore of cultural plurality and historical diversity.  The refreshing gushy winds and waves of the Arabian sea, the movement of the Chinese fishing nets, the rejuvenating faces of the travelers from distant shores and the seagulls and terns beckon me time and again to this unique location of culture.

Lonely Seagull above House boat

Dutch Cemetery

Common Sandpiper at the beach

Inside St Francis Church

Paradise Flycatcher of Thommankuthu

// March 15th, 2010 // No Comments » // Eco Watch

Riperian Forest along Kaliyar at Thommankuthu

Thommankuthu is a natural river side garden.  It is an exciting landscape of endemic flora

Flying Lizard (Draco Draco)

and fauna rendered ethereal by water, wet pebbles, rocks and riperian vegetation.  It is a mystic and dream like zen garden designed and sustained by mother nature.   There are plenty of plants and trees with winged fairies on them too, that add to the charm and drama, as I found out today!

Nature's Own Garden: Trees and Rocks in Thommankuthu

Today 15 March 2010, I visited the banks of Kaliyar at Thommankuthu (literally means the cataract of Thomman), some 22 km  north east of Thodupuzha.  I was returning from a public exam duty at Vannapuram.  I entered the unique riparian forest at 2.30 pm after taking the entrance ticket from the gate counter run by Kerala Forest Dept. This rare low-lying riverside forest patch (at an elevation of just 50 to 300 m) comes under the Kaliyar range in Thodupuzha division. We could trek up to 10 km along the zigzag riverside path and watch the more than 10 falls, rock caves and enjoy the view points high above beyond 400 m.  Up above the rocky cliffs there are tribal settlements by the Mannans, Uralis and Malayarayas.  Even in this harsh winter there is water to maintain flow in the river and it is drinkable.

A Grey Wagtail at Thommankuthu

The first chorus sound I heard was from the rare endemic crickets that voice their eagerness for rain whenever a heavy cloud hides the sun.  Temperature was soaring above 36 degree Celsius and it was quite exhaustive to walk among the bare trees that had shed leaves in the hot summer sun. I could see a pair of flying lizards landing on a nearby tree.  The Forest Dept. has given labels to the rare plants and trees here.  I heard the mimicking calls of a few Hill Mynas from above.  Then came the whistling of some green pigeons.  I sat down near the running water for a while and watched a lone Grey wagtail feeding around the pebbles and a few Chestnut-tailed Starlings coming to drink and bath in the water.  There are also little frogs and fish in the running water.

Paradise Flycatcher (Male, Rufous phase)

As I climbed up I saw a flock of Yellow-browed Bulbuls on a shady grove.  Normally they are found in high ranges, but here the altitude is just below 100m.  In the same cozy grove I also noticed the movement of a Paradise Flycatcher.   Further upstream I heard the ingenious call of a bird and identified it as an Orange-headed Thrush. I also managed to get some snaps.

Yellow-browed Bulbul below 100m altitude!

I reached the first fall after walking up for about one mile.  As I was cooling myself in the clean flowing water I heard the long metallic whistles of Malabar Whistling Thrush from some shady abode near the stream.  A Malabar Grey Hornbill crossed the river above my head.  It was a really refreshing and soothing bath in the natural spring and plenty of fish came to me and tickled my body.  Tiger Barbs, Giant Danios, Cat fishes and other unknown species are common in this waters.

Orange-headed Thrush: So vocal up there!

After an hour or so in water I retreated slowly and heard the noise of Hill Mynas and Rose-ringed Parakeets overhead.  It was nearing six as I reached the entrance.

Clean and flowing even in Summer!

Lazy frog reclining in water