Munnar: KFDC Floriculture Centre & tea museum

KFDC Floriculture Centre

 

In Munnar, there are many botanical gardens, and KFDC Floriculture Centre/Munnar rose garden is one of them. Run by Kerala Forest Developerment Centre, KFDC Floriculture Centre is built on a hill slope, and has a nice view of the nearby tea planation. I think the term ‘floriculture centre’ is appropriate because it is not really garden. There is, however, a lovely rose garden within the centre. It is rare to see rose gardens in Asia but here you can see a variety of species in shades of red and pink covering the hill. Besides roses, there are many beautiful dahlias and other native flowers, as well as herbs, medicinal plants, cacti and bonsai.

My advice is to come early as it can get quite crowded. Luckily, I arrived soon after it opened, so I was able to avoid the crowds.

 

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

KFDC Floriculture Centre

 

Tea factory visits are on the itineraries of most day tours, and Kannan Devan Tea Factory is one of the most popular in Munnar. There are English guided tours throughout the day, but it does get very busy. Since I missed the tour and couldn’t be bothered to wait, I decided to visit the KDHP Tea Museum instead. Both tthe museum and factory are owned by the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company (KDHP), a plantation estate that dates back to the 1880s. It is under the Tata group, which seems to own everything related to tea in Munnar.

KDHP/Tata Tea Museum is a small museum that traces the history of tea-making in Munnar. It exhibits many old photographs, curiosities and machinery; visitors can also watch a short documentary on the Munnar’s tea history. In a larger room, visitors can learn about the various stages of the tea processing – Crush, tear, curl – and the production of Kerala black tea variants.

A mandatory tea shop awaits you at the end of your visit, so you can shop til you drop. There are many varieties of tea, including black, white and green; meanshile prices are very resaonable too. It is a good place to buy your souvenir here.

 

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

munnar tea museum

 

To be continued…

Kerala’s picturesque Hill station: Munnar

Munnar

A view from the Top station in Munnar

 

Situated 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) above sea leverl, Munnar is a famous hill station in Kerala, and known as the ‘Kashmir of South India’. It is not only popular with foreign tourists but also with the locals. From 1880 onwards, Munnar flourished as a tea-producing region started by the British and Europeans, it is now the largest tea-growing region in South India, largely operated by corporate giant Tata.

I didn’t come to Munnar for sightseeing, but to attend a textiles conference on natural dyeing (see my future posts). The easiest way to reach Munnar is by road as there is no railway station nearby. It took me about 5 hours to reach Munnar by car from Thrissur (where I spent a few days at an Ayurveda and yoga retreat) including a lunch break.

After reading about Munnar’s natural beauty, I was horrified to see the chaotic, polluted and ugly Munnar town centre when we arrived. Essentially it is a dump. And the minute I saw the conference hotel, which stands right in the middle of town, my heart sank. For the next six nights, I had to endure the noise from both inside and outside of the hotel, crappy service, internet connection and breakfasts. It was baffling for us to understand why this hotel was chosen as the base of the conference except for its location.

 

munnar

Munnar

Munnar

Munnar

Munnar

Munnar  Munnar

Munnar

Munnar’s town centre

 

Besides breakfasts, we also had lunches and dinners prepared by the hotel during the 3-day conference. As I get older, I have less tolerance for mediocre food and accommodation. It is not so much about the cost, but more to do with the quality and value for money. The room rate of the hotel is considered quite high in India, but I felt that the service and quality did not match the cost.

With very few decent restaurants in town, we found comfort and relief at the cheap and cheerful vegetarian restaurant Saravana Bhavan. I had breakfast and dinner there and I loved it. Their dosas are some of the best I have tried during my journey, and their staff are all very friendly. The food and service here is so much better than the hotel, yet the price is only a fraction – I highly recommended it.

 

masala dosa Saravana Bhavan munnar

Munnar Saravana Bhavan

Saravana Bhavan

 

Munnar

Munnar

On a positive note, I did enjoy the sunset view from my hotel room, though it was accompanied by noisy traffic and people’s various activities from dusk til dawn

 

Since I arrived 2 days before the conference, I had one full day to do some sightseeing in Munnar. Upon arrival, I tried to get some advice from the receptionist but the guy was very unhelpful, so I had to turn to the internet. I didn’t like the itineraries of the guided day tours available, and I spent hours online searching without much luck. Finally, at the last minute, I found a tuk tuk driver on Airbnb, and decided to book a day tour with him at a very reasonable price. Although the driver spoke little English, we managed to communicate without any issue. The best thing was that I could stop whenever I wanted to, which was more flexible than joining a group tour.

We started early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and that was a wise decision. The minute we left the town centre, my vision turned green… apart from the blue sky, everything was green! This was the Munnar I was hoping to see, and it is within 15 minutes’ drive from the town centre.

 

Munnar tea plantation

Munnar tea plantation

munnar tea plantation

munnar tree  munnar

munnar tree

munnar honey bee tree  munnar honey bee tree

 

Besides the scenic tea planations covering the mountains, I also love the beautiful trees especially the tall native Eucalyptus trees. My driver/guide suggested to stop by a famous honey bee tree en route to Mattupetty dam. This tree has attracted many bees to built their hives here, and my driver said it is due to the smell of its fruits. Since this is the only tree that has many bee hives, someone has placed a small shrine under the tree treaing it as a ‘sacred’ tree.

 

Munnar

Munnar

Munnar

munnar

 

Most guided tours would include a visit to the Mattupetty dam built in the 1950s. Honestly, I didn’t want to stop here, but since we took some time to reach here, I did get out for a short walk. It is very picturesque here, but I think you can easily take photos from the car/tuk tuk without getting out.

 

Mattupetty dam

Mattupetty dam

Mattupetty dam

 

Another popular sightseeing spot is Top station, located 32 km away from Munnar. It is the highest point (1700m above sea level) in Munnar where you can enjoy the panoramic view of Western Ghats and the valley of Theni district of Tamil Nadu. Top Station is, in fact, located in Tamil Nadu, but accessible only from Kerala. This area is also famous for the rare native Neelakurinji flowers (Strobilanthus) that bloom once every twelve years. Unfortunately, I missed the bloom of the monocarpic plants in 2018, so the next bloom will be 2030! You can learn more about this plant on the BBC website here.

 

Munnar top station

top station, munnar

Munnar

 

Nonetheless, you can find some rather special flowers in Munnar without a 10-year wait. To my surprise, Poinsettia (also known as Christmas star) can be seen dotted around Munnar. It is believed that the plant (native to Mexico) was introduced to Munnar by British planters and was used to decorate their bungalows.

 

Munnar

munnar

munnar

 

The journey continues…

 

Kerala Folklore Museum in Kochi

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

When I was doing my research on Kochi before my trip, I wasn’t too bothered about visiting the main attractions, but one museum was written on my to-go list. If you are interested in architecture, ethnology, history, folk arts and crafts, then don’t forgo the Kerala Folklore Museum.

Upon arrival, you are likely to be intrigued by the museum’s striking traditional architecture, which comprises the reconstruction of around 25 traditional, heritage buildings dismantled from different parts of Kerala. This huge architectural installation is based on 3 architectural schools of Kerala namely Malabar architecture, Cochin & Travancore architectural schools. The whole wooded structure was completed with the help of 62 traditional carpenters over a period of 7.5 years.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

It is hard to believe that the 3-storey building houses an impressive private collection of only one art dealer, George J Thaliath (1961-2018). For 35 years, Thaliath traveled around the Indian sub continent to study traditional Indian art. During this period, he also started his collection, which eventually accumulated to over 5000 artifacts spanning 10 centuries and primarily from Kerala. The vast collection includes furniture, stone, wood and bronze sculptures, ancient terracotta, Stone Age objects, pottery, jewellery, paintings, textiles, oil lamps, swords, musical instruments, tribal and folk art, wood works, utensils, masks and puppets etc.

Opened in 2009, Thaliath and his wife created this treasure trove aiming to preserve the rich heritage and traditions of South Indian culture. It also includes a theatre, antique and textiles shops and cafe. The museum attracted much public attention when architecture-lover, Prince Charles and Camilla paid a visit in 2013.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

As I wandered around the museum, I was quite overwhelmed (positively) by the array of the artifacts and craftsmanship. There was so much to see here, and it was hard to absorb everything in one visit. I didn’t feel like I was inside a museum, it felt more like a massive antique/vintage shop, which made me feel at ease.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

 

Since this museum is located in Ernakulam and not near other tourist attractions, it is best to order a taxi/uber to get here. However, it is really worth the time and effort as you are unlikely to find a museum like this elsewhere in Kerala.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

 

 

Broadway and Ernakulam market in Kochi

dsc_0641-min

 

I love visiting local food markets when I travel, so I asked my homestay host to recommend one. She recommended Broadway and Ernakulam market, where there are fresh fruits and vegetable stalls, as well as shops selling spices, fashion, fabrics, and homeware etc. I took a ferry from Vypin island to Ernakulam, and then got a tuk tuk to bring me to the market one morning.

Surprisingly, the food market was fairly quiet when I arrived, and I didn’t see any tourists as I wandered along the streets. The food market is full of stalls selling all kinds of vegetables and fruits; the vendors were all very friendly and were happy to pose in front of the camera.

 

broadway market

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochibroadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

 

Besides from food, there are also many spice and nut shops as spices and chillies are crucial in South Indian cooking. Since I was at the beginning of my travel, I decided not to buy spices here, but I was really captivated by the pungent fresh spices being sold here.

 

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

 

Once I left the food market area, I came across many clothing shops, and even stumbled upon a fabric store selling silk fabrics. Most of the fabrics are pre-dyed for sarees, but I did manage to buy some plain ones (it was a struggle) for my natural dyeing.

As the temperature started to rise, I decided that it was time to head to my next destination… I think the market is worth a visit if you are a market-lover like me. Although I didn’t buy much, I still enjoyed the colours, smell and vibe of market.

 

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

 

 

Cooking & homestay on Vypin Island, Kochi

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets at Vypin Island

 

I think the rise of Airbnb has contributed to how we travel these days. Now even traditional b & b and homestay have opted to list their accommodations on Airbnb to increase competitiveness. I have had both positive and negative experiences using Airbnb, and the negative experiences did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, which made me more cautious than before.

Nowaways, many of of us prefer to travel independently and connect with the locals; we want authentic experiences and hang out in non-touristy areas. Occasionally I would join specialised guided tours (like the textiles tour in Gujarat last year), but most of the time, I would plan my own itineraries, which does have some ups and downs as well. Sometimes I don’t necessary pick the most convenient accommodations, but I do get to see how the locals live, which I think makes the trip more interesting.

After one night in Fort Kochi, I moved to an island opposite called Vypin/Vypeen, which is a residential area reachable by ferries and a few bridges. Actually there is not much to see on Vypin Island, but if you want to get away from the tourists in Fort Cochin, then Vypin may be right for you. Fort Kochi and Ernakulam are accessible by commuter ferries, which operate daily and are fairly frequent.

 

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

Commuter ferries to Fort Kochi and Ernakulam

 

On the island, there are some homestays and one of them is a 2-room homestay called Bungalow Heritage Homestay, which is a 1930s heritage home built by the owner, Neema‘s father. The main attraction for me was the cooking class offered by Neema, as I was keen to learn about South Indian cooking. Neema is a passionate cook and she even has a Youtube channel where she shares her recipes and cooking tips.

Since Neema‘s husband was a Captain on Merchant ships, which meant that their family has sailed around the world, and their home is filled with nautical decorations and items. Even the rooms are named after the world’s greatest explorers, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. As I was the only guest there during the two nights, Neema upgraded me to a bigger room and even invited me to her relative’s birthday party next door. It was interesting to meet her extended family and chat to the locals who were all very hospitable.

 

img_6709-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

img_6649-min  img_6652-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

img_6641-min  img_6650-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

 

img_6693-min

Inside a relative’s home

 

Another positive aspect of homestay is that breakfasts are never dull! I am not a fan of many hotels’ breakfast buffets, so I appreciated Neema’s homecooked breakfasts featuring a variety of local dishes. I don’t usually eat spicy food for breakfasts, but when I travel to hot places, eating spicy food for breakfasts suddenly becomes quite appealing.

 

kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

Homecooked breakfasts

 

My cooking class took place in the afternoon, and I learnt to cook five local south Indian dishes using fresh spices from Neema‘s kitchen. The dishes I learnt are not complicated, but various spices are required in all dishes. After eating at different restaurants in Fort Kochi, I do think that my (Neema‘s)  homecooked meal was the best I have had so far!

 

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

 

Although there isn’t much to see on this island, you can enjoy a laidback stroll along the waterfront to see the Chinese fishing nets. Since there are no tourists here, you can watch the fishermen at work and take many good shots.

 

Vypin island

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

vypin

vypin

vypin

flowers vypin

flowers vypin

 

Like in most part of Kochi, churches and shrines are conspicuous… By the ferry terminal is the Roman Catholic Our Lady of Hope Church (Igreja Da Nossa Senhora Da Esperança), one of the oldest churches in Kochi built by the Portuguese in 1605. The church was renovated in 2005, which explains why it looks fairly polished. I visited the church early in the morning in between the masses, so it was empty and very peaceful.

 

Our Lady of Hope Church

Our Lady of Hope Church

Church of Our Lady of Hope

Church of Our Lady of Hope  church door

Our Lady of Hope Church

 

Besides the small churches and shrines, there is a large pilgrimage centre on the nearby Bolgatty Island called The Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom/Vallarpadam Church. This is an important prilgrimage site in India and around one million people visit the Basilica every year. Originally built in 1524, the former churcn was destroyed by heavy flood, and a new church was reconstructed in 1676. It became famous after a miracle happened in 1752 when the lives of two devotees were saved from a violent storm. In 1888, the church was declared as a special church by Pope Leo XIII and later the Union Government stated it as a major pilgrim centre. I didn’t have the time to visit the church, but took a photo of it when the taxi drove past it (see below).

 

dsc_0732-min

vypin

img_6856-min  img_6855-min

img_6710-min

Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom

Bottom: Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom

 

I think two nights on this island was enough; it offered me a different perspective and I enjoyed the tourist-free time. If sightseeing is not your main priority, then I do recommend a short relaxing stay on this island.

 

architecture vypin

vypin

vypin

vypin

 

 

 

Street art & graffiti in Fort Kochi

Meydad Eliyahu's "Red Crown Green Parrot"

Meydad Eliyahu’s “Red Crown Green Parrot” project for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 in Jew Town.

 

If you walk around the streets of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, you are highly likely to come across many street art pieces created by local artists. In the past, people often referred to artists working in the streets as street artists, but now the boundary is blurrer as many artists around the world are commissioned to create street art, whilst street artists are showcasing their street art pieces in prestigious art galleries. Thanks to Banksy, the status of street art has been ‘elevated’ over the last decade or so.

At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, Kashi Gallery commissioned Jerusalem-based artist Meydad Eliyahu, a descendant of Malabar Jews, and Dubai-based Thoufeek Zakriya, a Muslim born and raised in Kochi, to work on a public art project called “Red Crown Green Parrot”.

One of the pieces by Meydad Eliyahu (see above) is based on an historical photo of Eliyahu‘s great grandfather and other Malabari Jewish leaders taken in Fort Kochi. This work depicts the situation Malabari Jews had to deal with when they were forced by the Israeli goverment to move to Israel, leaving some family members behind. Like many others, Eliyahu‘s great grandfather passed away in Cochin after most of his family left for Israel.

Aside from works for the Biennale, you can still see many interesting street art pieces around town. Not surprisingly, nature is a common theme here.

 

street art FORT Kochi

street art Fort Kochi

street art kochi

street art Fort Kochi

img_6885

street art Fort Kochi

street art Fort Kochi

 

I also spotted two dilapidated buildings covered with fascinating murals by the 24-year old Shanto Antony from Thrissur, a participant at the Biennale. I love his style, and I think it is a good idea to turn the facades of these abandoned buildings into an outdoor gallery.


street art Fort Kochi Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony

Shanto Antony’s murals for the Biennale

 

One of the most famous graffiti artists in Kochi is Guesswho, an anonymous graffiti artist who has been active since 2012. His work revolves around socio-political issues, and he has been named as India’s ‘Banksy’ by the BBC for his provocative graffiti esp. after he openly criticised the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

 

guess who street art

guesswho street art

guesswho street art

guesswho street art

Guesswho street art

 

A city without street art is boring, and Kochi is definitely not one of them. Hence don’t forget to look out for the interesting street art and graffiti when you visit the place.

 

STREET ART fort kochi

img_6886

Above: a good question…

 

Eat and shop in Fort Kochi

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Gallery

 

Prior to my visit to Fort Kochi, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Yet after I arrived, I felt very at ease and safe. Despite the hot weather, it was pleasant to stroll around and enjoy the Bohemian atmosphere. There are many art galleries/cafes, heritage accommodations, churches and cool shops. My biggest surprise was to see many unique fashion boutiques and concept shops selling handdyed/handprinted clothing and handmade accessories. I think that there are more interesting independent shops here than Central London, and that is not an exaggeration.

Since I arrived very early and wasn’t able to check in yet, I decided to have breakfast at the nearby Kashi Art Gallery. Kashi Art Gallery is located inside a converted old Dutch house, which opened in 1977. Over the years, Kashi Art Gallery and Café has become the hub of Kochi’s contemporary art scene and popular hangout for young locals and tourists. I love the photography exhibition at the small gallery at the front, and I found the cafe very relaxing, which was a good start for ne after a long flight.

 

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café breakfast

Kashi Art Gallery and cafe

 

Another popular cafe in the area is the Loafers Corner cafe located in a restored 200-year-old Dutch-Portuguese-style building. I visited the cafe later in the afternoon and bagged a seat by the window where I could watch the world go by from above. When I find chilled-out cafes like these during my travels, it does bring me joy… I am not a big fan of fancy and trendy cafes/restaurants; personally I prefer places with character/history/relaxing ambience. Hence, it is no wonder why this cafe is extemely popular with young locals and tourists.

 

Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafer's Corner cafe  Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafers Corner cafe

 

The next day I had lunch at the vegan Loving Earth Yoga Cafe, which is a yoga studio, cafe and a social enterprise. This is another expat’s favourites, and I guess it is catered for the health-conscious bunch. It is also spacious and relaxing, and a good place to eat healthy vegan dishes. My only complaint is that many dishes were not available on the day, so the choices were a bit limited.

 

LOVING EARTH YOGA CAFE

Loving Earth Yoga Cafe

 

fort kochi Farmers cafe

fish in banana leaf

Farmers cafe & banana leaf-wrapped fish

 

After my trip to India last year, I completely fell in love with Indian clothing. In the UK, it is not easy to find contemporary Indian fashion, and even if you do, it is extremely overpriced. Hence I was looking forward to exploring the boutiques in Fort Kochi, and my first stop was Napier Street. Aside from Fab India (one of my favourite mid-range priced shop), there is a pop-up shop called Aambal eco clothing store. The shop has many handdyed and well-designed items that are all sustainable. All the items here are made by independent designers from around India and they are all very unique. Prices are reasonable especially if you compare it with London, so I do recommend a visit to this shop.

 

Aambal eco clothing store

Aambal eco clothing store

Aambal eco clothing store (Napier Street)

 

Anchovy is another cool boutique that sells contemporary fashion, accessories, vintage items and many illustration books by my favourite Indian publisher, Tara books.

 

Anchovy

Anchovy boutique (Vasco da Gama Square, Church Road)

 

I wanted to buy a book on Indian flowers and plants, so I went to a local book shop called Idiom Book Sellers. The shop sells both new and second-hand books, including Indian literature, history, cookery, and travel etc. I managed to find a few books on Indian plants and flowers, and I bought a small one published by DK to be used as a mini guide during my travels. The book seller was very friendly and agreed to let me take a photo of him.

 

Idiom Book Sellers

Idiom Book Sellers (1/348, Bastion Street)

 

There are a few intesting shops on Lilly Street, and one of them is Anokhi, a well-known Indian brand originated from Jaipur selling fashion, textiles, accessories and home furnishings that are handmade by craftsmen. Their designes often feature traditional motifs and techniques, like blockprinting, natural dyeing and embroidery, which are popular with locals and tourists.

 

Anokhi fort kochi

Anokhi

 

Further down the street is Kochi Kochi, a nice shop selling clothing and accessories that are hand-blockprinted onto recycled materials. I got to meet and speak to the designer and craftsman, who is keen to keep his designs as sustainable as possible. Yet this does not compromise the quality. I bought a long dress here and was complemented by many when I worn it to a dinner the week after. The staff here are friendly and prices are very reasonable, so it is not to be missed.

Next to Kochi Kochi is Via Kerala Design Shop, a design shop that sells a variety of accessories, products and souvenir made by local designers. At the front of the shop, there is also a small exhibition area showcasing interesting local art and design works.

 

Via Kerala Design Shop

Via Kerala Design Shop

Via Kerala Design Shop

Kochi Kochi and Via Kerala Design Shop

 

I didn’t expect to see concept stores in Fort Kochi, but I came across two intriguing upmarket ones while I was wandering around. One of them is Cinnamon Boutique, a modern lifestyle store located inside a converted Dutch bungalow. Designed by Italian architect Andrea Anastasio, there space includes a restaurant and shop selling chic fashion, jewellery and homeware made by Indian designers and artists.

 

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique (1/658 Ridsdale Road, Parade Ground)

 

Another one is lcoated in Calvetti near the Boat Jetty called Pepper House. Originally a warehouse for spices, now it has been converted into a cultural centre, which includes a library, a design shop and a coffee shop. It is definitely a very cool-looking venue.

 

Pepper House

pepper house

Pepper House

Pepper House

Pepper House

Pepper House

 

Although most cool clothing shops are located in the centre of Fort Kochi, there are many craft and antiques/vintage shops located in Jew Town/Mattancherry. One of the larger ones is called Ethnic Passage, which is a 2-storey shopping gallery that sells handicrafts, home accessories, handmade souvenir (downstairs) and larger vintage furniture upstairs. Personally, I found the shops in Mattancherry more commercial than Fort Cochin, so I didn’y linger too long in this part of town.

 

ethnic passage

ethnic passage

ethnic passage

Ethnic Passage

 

 

Colonial architecture and churches in Kochi

St Francis fort Kochi

St Francis Church

 

I love architecture and I am particularly fascinated by colonial style architecture. In Fort Kochi, you are likely to encounter numerous built in Dutch and Portuguese styles, including many beautiful Portuguese churches and cathedral.

Heritage hotels

I chose to spend the first night at a mid-range 3-star heritage hotel by the Chinese fishing nets called The Tower House. The hotel is on the site of a 17th century lighthouse, but there is no sight of the lighthouse now. I love the colonial style interiors and furnishings here, but I do think it needs to be updated and better maintained.

 

The Tower House

The tower house

The Tower House

The Tower House

The Tower House

The Tower House

The tower house

The Tower House

The Tower House

 

There are many mid-range heritage hotels and guesthouses in Kochi, as well as some more upmarket ones like Forte Kochi, Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel, Brunton Boatyard, The Malabar House, and Ginger House Museum Hotel etc.

 

forte hotel

Forte Kochi Hotel  Forte Kochi Hotel

Forte Kochi Hotel

 

Brunton Boatyard fort kochi

Brunton Boatyard

 

ginger house

ginger hosuse

ginger house

ginger house

Ginger House Museum Hotel

 

Churches

I have lost count of the numbers of churches I saw in Kochi – you are bound to pass by one in every corner. One of the most famous one is Saint Francis CSI Church, originally built in 1503 by the Portuguese, it is the first European church built in India. The original church structure was made of wood, but rebuilt with bricks in 1516 and dedicated to St. Antony. Over the next few centuries, the church was restored by the Dutch in 1779, then another extensive restoration was carried out by the British between 1886-87. After that, the British/Anglicans dedicated the church to St. Francis.

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were moved to Lisbon by his son, Padre da Silva de Gama. Though the gravestone of Vasco da Gama can still be seen at the church.

I really like the calm ambience and exterior – which reminds me so much of Portugal. It just felt a bit surreal to see this Portuguese style church in India.

 

St Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St Francis CSI Church

 

Not far from the St. Francis Church is The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, one of the eight Basilicas in India. This basilica serves as the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cochin, the second oldest Diocese of India. The history of Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica also dates back to the sixteenth century and its foundation stone was laid on May 3, 1505, the feast day of the ‘Invention of the Holy Cross’, hence the church was named Santa Cruz. However, the original Portuguese structure was later destroyed by the British, and the current structure was consecrated in 1905.

This Basilicas is more imposing and grander than most of the churches in Kochi, featuring a main altar decorated by the famous Italian painter Fr Antonio Moscheni, S.J., and his disciple De Gama of Mangalore. There are also columns decorated with frescoes and murals, seven large canvas paintings on the passion and death on the Cross, large stained glass windows and paintings on the ceiling.

 

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

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Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

 

St. Andrews Parish Hall

St. Andrews Parish Hall

St. Andrews Parish Hall

 

Other sights

A tranquil sight hidden from the main street is the Bishop’s House, which was originally built as the residence of the Portuguese Governor in 1506. After that, it became the possession of the Dutch, then the British, and in 1888, Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, the 27th bishop of the diocese of Kochi acquired it and made it the Bishop’s House.

My intention was to visit the Indo Portuguese Museum located within the grounds of the Bishop’s House, but I found myself being enchanted by the tropical garden and plants, the colonial architecture and peaceful setting.

 

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi  Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop’s House

 

After lingering around the garden for a while, I walked towards the museum at the back. At the ticket office, the ticketing staff started to talk about the history of the museum and he just went on and on… I was listening to him for about 10-15 mins and decided to get away as I realised that he could go on for hours. Oddly enough, there was no one at the museum during my visit, and it didn’t take me too long to finish the ‘grand’ tour of the museum.

I was a bit disappointed with this museum and it wasn’t because of its small size or contents. There are some interesting Catholic and Portuguese artefacts at the museum, but there is not enough written information and history about these items. Without a guide, it is hard to understand the significance of these items, and I think a small leaflet would also be helpful if they want to attract more visitors here.

One intriguing fact I did learn from the talkative staff is that there is supposed to be an underground tunnel that connects the building to the old fort by the sea. But since the cellars are constantly flooded, no one is allowed to go into the tunnel now. Howvever, I couldn’t find any information online about this… Fact or fiction? It is up to you to decide.

 

portuguese museum fort kochi

Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Portuguese museum Fort Kochi

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Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Portuguese museum Fort Koch  Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Indo Portuguese Museum

 

Personally, one of my favourite places in town is David Hall Art Cafe. After seeing so many Portuguese architecture, it is refreshing to see a beautiful Dutch bungalow. Built around 1695 by the Dutch East India Company, it was the residence of the renowned Dutch governor, Hendrick Adrian Van Rheede tot Drakestein. However, the building gets its name from a later occupant, a Jewish businessman called David Koder.

The building hasn’t been altered much over the centuries, and you can still see the the wooden roof which is made of flat face rafters. I love the wooden beams and high ceiling inside the building, as well as the relaxing garden. The premise now runs as a contemporary art gallery, cultural venue & café, and I would definitely want to spend more time here on my next viist.

 

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

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david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

David Hall Art Cafe CGH Earth

 

Since I didn’t have many days here, I only briefly visited the historic Mattancherry area, where it is known for 16th-century Mattancherry Palace built by the Portuguese in traditional Keralan style. I didn’t have enough time to visit the palace, but I did pay a visit to the nearby Paradesi Synagogue located in Jew Town.

Constructed in 1568, it is one of seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin. The interior of the divine hall is quite dazzling as it is filled with glass chandeliers and lamps that date back to the 19th century imported from Belgium. The room is also filled with hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles. It is worth a visit if you are in the area, but no photography is allowed inside.

 

Mattancherry Palace

Paradesi Synagogue  Paradesi Synagogue

Mattancherry Palace & Paradesi Synagogue

 

There are many beautiful and unusual colonial and modernist houses and buildings in Fort Kochi, and I think you can see more on foot. If you love architecture, you would love wandering around here. My advice is to go early or late afternoon, otherwise, it would be too hot and humid.

 

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

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fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi   Fort Kochi

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fort kochi

 

Modernist

 

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Fort Kochi Modernist

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Fort Kochi Modernist

Fort Kochi

 

Doors and windows

 

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

windows

 

 

Streetscape of Fort Kochi

fort cochin

fort cochin

The famous Chinese fishing nets

 

In February, I was lucky enough to travel to Kerala before lockdowns began around the world. It was an extraordinary trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel grateful that I was able to make this trip, and I hope I can visit India again when it is safe to do so. My month-long trip begain in Kochi, the capital of Kerala. With only three nights in town, I decided to spend the initial night in Fort Kochi and then two more nights at a B & B in Fort Vypin (accessible via ferry from Fort Kochi).

Kochi (also known as Cochin) has been a major port city since 1341, and it is the most densely populated city in Kerala. The historic Fort Kochi is an area within the city which used to be a fishing village in the Kingdom of Kochi in the pre-colonial Kerala. In 1503, the territory was granted to the Portuguese by the Rajah of Kochi, after Afonso de Albuquerque‘s military forces helped him fight off the forces of Samoothiri of Kozhikode. The Rajah also gave them permission to build Fort Emmanuel near the waterfront (hence ‘Fort’ is used in its name), which was later destroyed by the Dutch. Fort Kochi remained in Portuguese possession for 160 years until the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1683, and subsequently destroyed many Portuguese Catholic churches and convents. The Dutch held Fort Kochi in their possession for 112 years until 1795, when the British took control by defeating the Dutch. After over 500 years of foreign control, the area finally gained its freedom when India became indpendent in 1947.

 

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

My first impression of Fort Kochi was that it doesn’t feel very ‘Indian’. Perhaps it is due to the Portuguese and Dutch architecture, the tree-lined streets and abundance of nature; the pace here is also quite slow and relaxing, which differs from my image of many Indian cities. The minute I arrived at my accommodation, I knew I would love it here.

Since I arrived very early in the morning, and check-in wasn’t possible yet, I had some time to wander around. Actually I didn’t make any plans on where to visit in Fort Kochi, and I thought it might be fun to just go with flow and see.

There isn’t an enormous amount of must-see sights in Fort Kochi, which meant that I didn’t have a jam-packed itinerary and stroll in a more idle manner. Although Kerala is considered a popular tourist destination in India, I didn’t see heaps of tourists in Fort Kochi excpet for solo/small groups of independent travellers.

 

fort kochi

fort kochi  fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

Although it was quite hot, I still chose to walk as I think walking is the best way to see a new place (this may not apply to the US). Wandering around, I was captivated by the enormous old trees, as well as all the exotic plants and flowers everywhere, which certainly help to beautify the area.

One of the most famous attractions in Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets. When I spoke to the locals, they told me that the city name Kochi/Cochin originated from ‘co-chin’, meaning ‘like China’. Apparently, the 10m high stationary lift fishing nets were introduced by Chinese explorers who landed here by ship in the 14th century. This way of fishing is unusual in India and unique to Kerala. Each one is operated by a team of up to six fishermen, and it is quite fascintating to watch them operate the nets. However, since it is more touristy in Fort Kochi, I recommend taking a short boat ride to Vypin where you can watch them without street vendors and tourists around (see my other blog entry).

I also recommend a morning stroll along the beach/waterfront (less crowded and not as hot), where you can see old canons, steam boilers and a huge art installation made of recycled plastic bottles which addresses the issue of plastic waste.

 

fort kochi

fort kochin

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

Since the pace is quite relaxing here, I naturally slowed down my pace. When I am not rushing around, I am able to observe the quirks and surroundings more. Even though the colonial days are long gone, the imprints are still there. The area also has a bohemian vibe, and the streets are cleaner than many other Indian cities. It is easy to understand why this area draws many tourists as it feels more like Portugal than India. And if you love colonial style architecture, this is THE place to visit. In my next few posts, I will write about the beautiful churches, cool shops and street art etc.

 

fort kochi sign

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi post box  fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

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Flowers & Nature

 

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fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

 

Birds and animals

 

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fort kochi

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fort kochi

fort kochi

 

To be continued…

 

Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

Even though I am a regular art exhibition-goer in London, I often miss many excellent but less publicised exhibitions in town. Luckily, I did manage to see the rare and wonderful “Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company” at The Wallace Collection before my travels to Asia.

Guest curated by renowned writer and historian William Dalrymple, the exhibition is the first in the UK to showcase 100 artworks by Indian master painters commissioned by East India Company officials –ranging from botanists and surgeons, through to diplomats, artists, governors and judges, and their wives – in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1770 to 1840). These Indian artists include Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan, who were all uncredited for their intricate artworks. Until now.

The exhibition explores the four main centres of what has traditionally been described as ‘Company School’ painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where provincial Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; Madras and Tanjore, where artists from the South Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Imperial Mughal artists created some of the finest works of this period. India’s natural world appeared to be a popular subject for the British officials at the time.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

After I started to do botianical illustrations as a hobby in recent years, I became very interested in botanical art. Hence I was immediately drawn to all the bold and meticulous botanical paintings of Indian flora at the exhibition. There is a timelessness feel to these paintings, and you could easily see them being transferred to wallpaper or fabric and sold at House of Hackney to trendy East Londoners.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

The fauna paintings are equally interesting. I particularly liked the study of “Great Indian Fruit Bat” (around 1777-82) by a well-known Indian artist Bhawani Das, who was trained in Mughal miniature painting and commissioned by Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal (1774–1782), and his wife, Lady Mary, to make extensive natural history studies at their estate in Calcutta. I have never liked bats, but the paintings are so intriguing that I found it hard to move away from them.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Aside from the natural world, another highlight was the painstaking architectural drawings of India’s manmade wonders including the Taj Mahal. I felt like asking for a magnifying glass in order to study these drawings! These drawings were done by an unknown artist (possibly Sheikh Mohammed Latif), and each drawing showcases the detailed ornamental patterns and calligraphy on the facades of the buildings. I am not sure if such drawing techniques and craftsmanship still exists today – these works are immaculate and priceless.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

The exhibition also displays masterpieces from the famous Fraser Album for the first time since the album was broken up and sold in the 1980s. Fraser Album is a collection of paintings documenting various aspects of Mughal life, made between 1815 and 1819, commissioned by a British Indian civil servant, William Fraser. The last court painter of the Mughal empire, Ghulam Ali Khan, was commissioned to illustrate Mughal life using traditional techniques but with English watercolours on English paper. This fusion style is known today as the Company School. 

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Of course this exhibition is not just about art; the exhibition is fascinating because of its Anglo-Indian history and context. Through these works, we could get a glimpse of the last days of the Mughal Empire, and appreciate the last phase of Indian artistic genius before photography and the influence of western colonial art schools – ended an unbroken tradition of painting going back two thousand years. From the exhibition, we could see that the commissioned Indian artists not only responded to European influences, they also maintained their own artistic visions and styles, therefore these works are truly original and remarkable. Sadly, the vast array of ‘fusion’ works produced during this period were largely forgotten by the world, which is why this exhibition could be seen as a late tribute to the ingenious Indian masters from that period.