Its a beautiful winter morning, thick fog blanked the railway station. The train pulled into the Aluwa station with time to spare, I am here to attended the National Free Software Conference in the south Indian state of Kerala. I headed straight to the reservation counter of the railway station, I still needed a ticket for my return journey. Had no luck, it seems all the trains are booked weeks in advance, I took my chances and brought waiting list ticket anyway.
Things started looking up when I stepped out of the railway station, I was able to spot the CUSAT campus bus right away. Arriving at the campus, I found out that I was one day too early and my accommodation was not confirmed. Meanwhile I found a spot outside computer side building and logged on to campus WiFi network to get some work down as long as the laptop battery lasted to kill time. At last I found out that the accommodation is available at the YMCA house some 7 kms outside the campus. I retraced my steps back to Aluva town and changed buses to reached the YMCA complex. Checking in and taking a quick shower I was back on the road to travel some 20 km to Cochin (Ernakulam). I just can't wait to get my feet into the beach sand and breath the salty sea breeze.
I hired an auto to reach the Cochin city Main Boat Jetty (Ferry station) from the Cochin bus station. A new building now stands in the place of the old Boat Jetty. The place is almost deserted expect for few tourists, perhaps the economic crisis has put them off this year(the auto driver told me this on the way, he hoped that things will look up around christmas holidays) . The price of the boat ride however seems to be unaffected, it is still measly two rupees fifty paisa :P. A groaning and lumbering diesel power launch(ferry) took us across the Vembanad lake to Fort Cochin. The 20 minute boat ride(it seems to take forever ;o) took us along the busy Cochin port on one side and the picturesque beach fronts hotels on the other. A private tourist boat and a lone houseboat tagged along the way.
Fort Cochin Heritage Walk
Fort Cochin is the earliest recorded settlement on the Malabar coast, with its beautiful colonial bungalow peppered with Dutch, Portuguese and Malabar architecture.The many small winding streets with lovely old houses is truly a treasure trove. Armed with a Cochin heritage walk route map, I turned right on Calvetty Road, passing the bus terminal on River road to the Vasco Da Gama Square. If you sit for a while on the Nehru children park benches, you can see the narrow path lined with little fish stalls and the Chinese fishing nets on the sea beyond them. A lone fisherman casts his net and comes up with a catch. If you are adventures enough then you can buy the fresh fish and get it cooked with fresh tender coconut.
Walking past the shops filled shell artifacts, handicrafts, ethnic jewelry along the narrow path gave way to the new sea wall that runs parallel to the sea. The fight with the sea continues here, along the way I see workers cutting stones to replenish the sea wall. A lone cast iron cannon stands guard at a curve, this is the remains of the Fort Immanuel, a stark reminder of the Fort Cochin's brutal past. A little ahead I pass the Dutch Cemetery, here lies the remains of countless people who ventured far from their homelands. The new sea wall ends into the seaside beach, this is a narrow stretch of sand on the edge of old naval buildings. I spend some time sitting there with my feet in the sand and looking at the serene sea.
Unexpected Find 'The Maritime Museum'
Straying from the map, I ventured ahead along the barbwire topped naval buildings instead of turning back into the Elphinstone Road. I found the Maritime Museum which was not marked on the map, the museum is housed in two war time bunkers (magazines) the british used during the last world war. The first one traces the history of the Kerala 's trading history and the other deals with the Indian Navy dating back to 1612.
I met Danny Dunstan the old seaman with tattoos on his arms, he is the curator of the Maritime museum. After serving with the Indian navy, he later joined the merchant navy and spent 42 years at sea. He chuckled when I asked him if he found his land legs again and said he turned a land lubber already but is happy to stay close to the sea and the maritime museum. I showed him the old World War II medals of my late grandfather that I was carrying with me, he told me the interesting history behind those medals and told me that I should keep the medals at home in the showcase not carry them at the bottom of my rucksack.
Back on the Walk
Back on the heritage walk route I took the Elphinstone Road I walked pass the Bastion Bungalow, which is situated on the site of a old Dutch fort and walked along the parade ground, peeking into VOC gate, Delta Study and Bishop's House. Perhaps someday I would return with more leisure and some jolly company to explore the Fort Cochin completely. I lost myself in window shopping on Loafer's corner and forgot even to snap the pictures :P. Its almost evening, the shadows started to creep in on the facade of the beautiful Santa Cruz Basilica.
The turned onto the Princes Street making a mental note of the places to stay on my next trip. I stood looking at the lovely red facade of the Koder House. Further ahead the pristine Old Harbour House stole my heart. Finally I reached the children's park and end of my walk. This is where I started few hours ago, I just wished if I had enough time to visit other places like the Jew Town. I was tired in humid heat that seems to drain every ounch of my energy. I ended the tour with few cups of tea and samosa at the Hotel Tipu Sultan (it had long subtitle mentioning the valour and glory of the hero) just across the Fort Cochin boat jetty. As I took the return boat to the town the sun started to set slowly into the Arabian sea. Today, the sun has set but the memory of this beautiful journey shall burn bright forever.