In the southern Indian state of Kerala, a heritage town with a continuous colonial history of seven centuries of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, historians and tour guides come together to make understanding the town better through walking.
According to historians, a devastating flood in 1341 wiped out the legendary port of Muziris, the hub of spice trade on the Malabar Coast, and opened up a beautiful natural harbour just south of Muziris. Till then a tiny fishing hamlet, Cochin quickly rose to become one of the best cities of the world. In the early 16th century, the King of Cochin, who was under constant threat from his neighbour, the Zamorin of Calicut, allowed the Portuguese to build a fort in Cochin. In 1663, the Dutch who were becoming more powerful in the Arabian Sea stormed the fort and conquered it by driving out the Portuguese. The world conquering British then arrived in Cochin in 1795 and stayed until India’s independence in mid-20th century. That is the history of Fort Cochin narrated by guides to tourists taking part in the town’s heritage walks.
“Fort Cochin is perhaps the only fort city in the world which can claim the history of three European colonial settlement in succession. The impact and influences of these periods have made a lasting mark on our society and lives,” says historian Biju Thomas, who conducts the most popular walk tour in the town. Fort Cochin Heritage Walk will take you to 31 sites around the old Fort on a 3-km walk and explain to you the story of the now destroyed fort over the centuries and under three European powers. Everyday, tourists join the heritage walk, which takes place for two hours in the morning and evening.
“As the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is currently being held, we also take the walkers to its venues like the David Hall and CSI Bungalow along the walk route,” says Thomas. The walk covers 31 historical and heritage locations in the town, guiding visitors through the history of Fort Cochin from 1341 to present while sharing the social, cultural and political impact of the colonial rule.
The tour starts from the Burgher Street, go around the Bastion Street to the historical Santa Cruz Basilica, before turning to Santa Cruz High School Road, crossing the Fire station, the High school and the Bastion while soaking in the past of the awe inspiring old streets with its melancholy memories and stories.
The walk also takes the visitors to the Cochin Bishop House, the old beach, Dutch Cemetery, the magnificent Parade Ground, the medicinal plants treatise Hortus Malabaricus’ compiler and Dutch Governor Henrik Van Rheed’s residence and the prestigious Cochin Club. The walk winds up in the famous St. Francis Church before passing through the Bastion Bungalow, the eye-catching Chinese fishing nets and the natural harbour.
“Our aim is to assist the local community and the authorities to achieve our common objective of a cleaner, greener and beautiful Fort Cochin with all her historical, cultural, traditional monuments and landmarks in tact,” says Thomas.