Friday, November 21, 2014

Fort Kochi, Kerala - A blend of Portuguese, British and Dutch Styles

On our recent trip to Kerala, we set aside two days to visit Cochin and Fort Kochi. We were put up in a hotel in Cochin. After a sumptuous breakfast, we headed to the pier to catch the first boat to Fort Kochi. The ferry ride from Cochin to Fort Kochi was fun. People were ferrying across bikes, cars and what not.

In 15-20 minutes, we reached Fort Kochi. Armed with the map of Fort Kochi, which I picked up from the Kerala Tourism Kiosk at the Cochin Railway station, we set out to explore the city.

The map proved to be an able guide. All major places worth visiting were listed on the map with directions. We did not need a guide. Moreover, we covered all the places on foot. It is a small place and one can cover most of the tourist spots on foot - much easier and you get to actually enjoy the place.

The first thing we saw was the Chinese Fishing Nets called as "Cheena Vala" in Malayalam. Numerous such fishing nets dot the entrance to the Fort Kochi pier. These large nets hang from bamboo posts with lights hovering above the net. These nets also have counterweights on one end in order to aid in easy-handling of the nets. Some local fishermen still use these nets to catch fish. However, it is more of a tourist attraction nowadays.

The Vasco Da Gama Square, a narrow promenade parallel to the Fort Kochi beach, has many tiny little stalls serving a wide-range of seafood – freshly caught and cooked as per your choice. There are also numerous coconut vendors around.

All sorts of local souvenirs are sold here – combs carved from fish bones, foldable straw hats, conch artifacts to name a few. Bargain hard.

The Portuguese, the Dutch and the British styles of architecture, have influenced Fort Kochi. The buildings here are a mix of all these styles. Just walking down the streets in Fort Kochi transports you back in time.

The first building that we came across was the Koder House. This wonderful building is the best example of the architectural evolution from the colonial to Indo-European style. Some unique features of this building were the verandah seats at the entrance and the red brick like facade. The floor tiles in Koder House are set in the chessboard pattern. It is now a hotel.

The Santa Cruz Basilica was built by the Portuguese. The church was elevated to a Cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. When the British took over Kochi, the church was demolished. In 1887, Bishop Dom Gomez Ferreira custom-built a new building at the same. The church was then proclaimed a Basilica in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

The Bishop's house standing on a little hillock was originally the residence of a Portuguese Governor. The 27th Bishop of Kochi – Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, later acquired it. The house has large Gothic arches and a lovely garden.

The premises of the Bishops House also houses the Indo Portuguese Museum.

The Dutch Cemetery was consecrated in 1724 and is today managed by the Church of South India. The tomb stones here are mini architectural marvels in themselves.

The Jewish Synagogue in Fort Kochi was constructed in 1568, and is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. There is a clock tower next to the synagogue.

The area around the Synagogue is the hub of spice trade and curio shops run by Jews – you will find any and everything you are looking for here. The place is called the Jew Street.

St. Francis Church - This is India's oldest European church. It was built in 1503 by the Portuguese. Initially built of timber the church was later reconstructed in stone. The British converted it to an Anglican Church in 1795. Vasco da Gama was buried here in 1524 before his remains were moved to Lisbon. The tombstone remains though.

Other attractions in Fort Kochi are:
Vasco House
Thakur House
The Hill Palace Museum
Mattancherry Palace
Bastion Bungalow
Parade Ground
VOC Gate
Fort Immanuel

We spent a day moving around Fort Kochi and were so enamoured by the place that on our return to Cochin, we checked out of our hotel and headed back to Fort Kochi with our baggage.

We checked into a lovely home stay and made Fort Kochi our base for the next few days as we travelled around Kerala.

Address of the home-stay where we stayed in Fort Kochi

i-One Home Stay
1/946 - A,
Fort Kochi - 682 001.
Office : 0484 – 2217301

These people also provide bikes on hire. We had hired bikes from them and gone around Kerala.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Royal Cenotaphs (Chatris) at Devi Kund, Rajasthan

Devi Kund is located around 9 kms from Bikaner and houses the "Cenotaphs" the royal family of Bikaner.

A cenotaph is a monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose mortal remains are elsewhere. The cenotpahs or "Chatris" as they are called in Hindi are built in traditional Rajput architectural style. Some have been made of marble while are some of a red stone.

The cenotaph of Raja Surat Singh has been built entirely of marble and has exquisite Rajput paintings adorning the ceiling.

According to the information available at Devi Kund, the Cenotaph of a male has a vertical memorial slab, while that of a lady has foot marks engraved on a slab.

The Cenotaphs built for minors are called "Nada" and are simple structures without canopy. There is a small cavity on the platform in which milk and water is poured. We also saw some cenotaphs for stillborn children.

Most of the Cenotaphs are in old architectural style but a few later ones are in modern styles. One among these new ones was that of His Highness Karni Singh, the 23rd ruler of Bikaner.

How to reach Devi Kund:
You can take the local buses from Bikaner or hire an auto as we did.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Karni Mata Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan

The supreme attraction of the quaint little town, Deshnoke, is undoubtedly the temple of Karni Mata.

Infact there is nothing much to see here other than this unique temple which draws visitors from everywhere. People come here from all over Rajasthan and as far as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana to pay their tributes to Shri Karni Mata.

The lovely temple of Karni Mata is looked after by the “Charans” who are said to be the heirs of Karni Mata.

The story of the temple is as follows:

Karni Mata, born to an ordinary couple – Meha Ji and Dewal Bai, was married to Depaji in the year 1401. Karni considered an incarnation of Goddess Durga asked her husband to marry her younger sister, Gulab Bai, to produce an heir. Depaji and Gulab Bai had four sons – Naga, Puna, Shitha and Lakhan.

Story goes that Lakhan drowned in a pond while swimming and Karni asked Yama to bring him back to life. However, as his soul had already left his body, Yama brought him back to life as a rat. Since then all descendants of Karni are born as rats after leaving their human bodies. These rats then are reborn as Charans. And, the cycle continues.

That is the reason why the rats in the temple are so revered. If you step of and injure or kill a rat, you need to provide a silver replica of the rat to nullify the sin you have committed.

The temple is teeming with rats – big and small, young and old, grey ones and the occasional white ones. Spotting a white rat in this temple is said to bring good luck. At first glance, you may not see many rats. However, look closely and you will find then hiding in the specially created built-in holes on all the walls.

There - you can spot a tail hanging out from one of these openings….and look here – two eyes peeping out at you from a dark corner.

Inside the temple compound there is a locked up area with bare earth floor. Broken flagstones and giant overturned bowls dot the place. These look like the stuff used in the temple ages ago.

A very nice hiding place for the rats.

The sanctum of Karni Mata has many paintings of Karni Mata and rats adorning the walls. Devotees are not allowed into the inner shrine, which houses the statue of Karni Mata.

The rats are offered milk, coconut, fruits, grain, laddoos, peda and other sweets.

There are many huge bowls filled with milk and water placed strategically for the rats.

At any given point of time, you can see a group of rats drinking their fill.
The rats are not scared of humans and come quite close.

They even nibble on food placed on your palm. You can see them scampering around your feet as you enter the temple premises. You need to be alert and very careful lest you trample on one of these.

There is also a Karni Museum located right opposite the temple. It houses lovely paintings depicting Karni Mata and her life. The museum is open to all daily.