Once upon a time….. in Gopalpur on sea

24.06.2017:

Berhampur – the silk city of Odisha, is just about 30 kms from Icchapuram – the border area of Andhra Pradesh and we looked out for a right turn after crossing Icchapuram as showed by the Google Maps. Gopalpur on Sea is located at a mere distance of 15 kms from Berhampur and is easily accessible.  The road which leads us to Gopalpur on Sea from the NH 16 is a bit narrow, but enough number of sign-boards were placed along this road to show us the way to Gopalpur.

Gopalpur was once buzzing with maritime activities which Odisha is known for ages. It was one of the outlets through which early settlers of South East Asia sailed off. During the days of Kalingas, Gopalpur on Sea was known as the port of Paloura from which traders sailed as far as Java, Bali and Sumatra mainly dealing in silk and pearls. Later it became a prominent trading port mainly a transit point to  export sugar and cheap laborers for the tea gardens of Assam in North Eastern India during the days of the British East India Company. Like Middleton-on-sea, the ‘on-sea’ tag has been conferred on Gopalpur by the Britishers.

Gopalpur-on-sea is a small quiet town which is popular for its beautiful pristine  sandy beach and a perfect beach destination for a tranquil holiday. We reached here around 16.30 hrs when it was drizzling a little. The beach is fairly isolated and there are not many tourists – the continuous rain may be one of the reasons! We parked our car aside and started walking towards the beach. The beach with its golden sand of the blue sea has its own sleepy charm and looked pretty during the drizzle! 🙂 There are no palm trees along the coastline and one get an uninterrupted view of the mammoth Bay of Bengal!

There is a light house which stand witness to the past port and also acts as the landmark of the place. This would be open only for a while in the afternoon and if you are lucky enough to visit this place during that time, you can get a sweeping view of the country side as well as the Bay of Bengal. But we were late that day 😦 We walked along the quite seashore which is undisturbed by the regular tourists or day-trippers. It was so serene that all we could hear is the symphony of the waves and our own heart-beats. And all that we could see is a vast stretch of blue waters with the fishing boats anchored on the sands of the beach by the fisher-folk with the crumbling walls and pillars of an ancient jetty together with some crumbling bungalows in the background!

The sea here is a bit rough and completely idea for sailing and surfing. And importantly, it’s comparatively a clean place to swim, but one has to take precautions as this beach is not that shallow! Once onto the road after a long walk along the beach, we went around the place to explore a bit. Once a favourite of British travellers during the Raj and home to retired British and Anglo-Indian railway employees, Gopalpur-on-sea still has several bungalows and mansions belonging to the Europeans and this gives the place still a colonial look.

Some of these buildings and bungalows were modified into small hotels and offers accommodation to the budget travelers. The promenade along the beach is filled up with small shacks selling a wide range of food products like prawns, fish, crabs, delicacies of mutton and chicken etc. Though we didn’t try any of these delicacies here, we ate few ice-creams and made our way further deep into the town. There is also a local market here which looked deserted at that hour of time and just about 3 kms from the beach, the local creeks in the vicinity of the sea have created a network of backwaters, which is an ideal place for a picnic.

Men were fishing; children were playing and boat-men were patiently waiting for the tourists who would like to go on leisure boat rides and others waiting for passengers who would travel across these backwaters to reach their villages on the other side. This is one of the most picturesque place in the vicinity, but one should be more cautious as these backwaters are quite deeper and the undercurrents more stronger! We returned to our car after clicking enough of photos without knowing what our next destination would be :-p 😉

If you are looking for a perfect weekend gateway away from the busy city life, Gopalpur-on-sea would be a perfect choice, as this beach with her backwaters continue to spread its aquatic magic since times immemorial! 🙂 There is also this 99 year old Mayfair Beach Resorts which offers luxurious accommodation for the tourists!

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In the Jew Town of Kochi

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After few minutes of walk among the streets of Fort Kochi, I ended up in the Burgher Street where one of the most famous cafes of Kochi is located. Yup, the Kashi Art Galley! Located in an old house built in the traditional Kerala style, it welcomes the tourists with it’s collection of paintings and arts created by local artists. As I passed the front hall which is full of wall-posters and paintings, the house transformed into a beautiful cafe filled with rich aroma of coffee and what impressed me were the huge art pieces fixed in middle of the pathways and the walls.

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Kashi is best known for its Continental and British menu, and also for its coffee. But, it’s too hot out and I don’t want to add a hot cup of coffee to it. So, I opted for an orange juice as it was the exact way how I like to drink, no sugar and no water 🙂 . I clicked some pictures of the cafe and left for the Indo-Portuguese museum. This museum is situated in the garden of the Bishop’s House and is a confluence of Indian and Portuguese art and architecture. And sunday, it’s closed :(. Though the watchman allowed me to go around the Bishop’s House, I couldn’t see what’s there in the museum 😦

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I took an auto from here and reached the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry, another must-visit place in Kochi. The palace doesn’t resemble any royal palaces like the Mysore Palace or the Palaces of Rajasthan, but is unique in it’s own aspect. The Palace is a two storied building and is currently under the Archaeological Survey of India and the entry ticket is just Rupees Five.

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This palace was actually built by the Portuguese colonizers of Kochi in 1555 and gifted to the local ruler Veera Kerala Varma. This was later renovated by the Dutch in 1663 and hence the name Dutch Palace. This is now a museum which houses the royal memorabilia, weapons, the family tree, furniture and many more. The walls are adored with striking murals depicting the scenes from the epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana and represent the finest of traditional Hindu temple art. The palace also has a temple of the Goddess Bhagawati.

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As I walked away from the Dutch Palace on to the roads, I entered into another different world, the world of Jews right in the heart of Forth Kochi. Kochi’s connection with the Jews dates back to a thousand years ago. I walked towards the famous Synagogue, one of the few remaining relics of the city’s Jewish past, and this Synagogue is known as the Paradesi Synagogue to the locals. The first thing that attracted me is a 18th century working clock tower just infront of the Synagogue. It is said that this is one of the oldest Synagogues among the commonwealth of Nations and the chintz, chandeliers and the Chinese hand-painted tiles are well-preserved.

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The area is full of art galleries, museums and heritage restaurants and one of the famous being the Jew Town restaurant. This is not only a restaurant, but an antique shop which also sells books and some jewelry. One can pick up jewelry, wooden pillars, wooden and metal figurines, carved wooden furniture, antiquities and clothes, but we just need to bargain hard. Have a sip of coffee or a bite of Italian Pizza or taste some other cuisines in any one of those cafes and restaurants.

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It was at this time, I remembered that there is a market dedicated to spices. How can one forget these exotic spices which were the most sought-after commodities once upon a time and made Cochin an important hub of trade and commerce in the earlier days. The Jew Town has a lot of spice shops and warehouses. There is also a market called the ‘Old Spice Market’ from where one can get good quality spices like Cinnamom, Cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander and many more. But again, the market will be closed on Sundays.

I had my lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called the Krishna Cafe and took an auto to Veli ground, from where the Kochi carnival’s procession starts. On the way, I came across another land mark the ‘Santa Cruz Basilica’. This church was also constructed by the Portuguese and in the 19th century, the British demolished the old structure and commissioned a new building. Subsequently in 1984, it was proclaimed a Basilica by Pope John Paul II. The architecture of the Basilica is an impressive blend of the Indo-European and Gothic styles.

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14.30 hrs – The people at Fort Kochi told me that the procession would start at 14.00 hrs. But now they told me that it would start only at 16.00 hrs and I got no other choice rather than skipping it as I have to leave to Trivandrum (can’t skip the office 😦 ) . Took a bus to South Railway Junction and around 19.00 hrs, I was back in Trivandrum to enjoy my favorite Mushroom Biryani with fresh Pineapple juice at the Hyderabadi restaurant ‘Haveli’ 🙂 🙂

And that’s how my New Year Started 🙂 🙂

 

New Year @ Kochi

Kochi, popularly known as the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’, is a heady mix of colonial influences and can take anyone by surprise. It draws its unique textures from its rich multi-colonial history, and from the fact that it was the seat of the Kingdom of Kochi.

01.01.2017:

06.30 hrs – Time to be out of bed, but before that I checked my mobile and there were some 20 missed calls and 200 messages conveying the New Year wishes! I called up my dad and mom and wished them a very happy new year! Then replied to everyone who left me a message and completed my daily chores to leave for the day. 07.45 hrs – I deposited my room keys and headed towards the main road to have my breakfast. There is this Aryaas Restaurant just outside the Ernakulam South Railway station and I settled down for a quick bite. Ordered for a masala dosa, and I would definitely recommend this restaurant to everyone as the dosa is so fine and crisp and the chutneys were also good 🙂

08.20 hrs – All this while in the restaurant, I tried booking a cab on Ola as well as Uber, but failed 😦 . So, I thought that it’s better to catch a bus to Fort Kochi, rather than wasting my time in booking these cabs. I got into an auto-rickshaw and asked me to drop at the bus-station, which he did. From there, I ended up taking another auto, who agreed to drop me at Fort Kochi for Rs. 140. Bargain is the mantra! 🙂 The driver is from Karnataka, married to a Malayali and was able to speak Telugu. Good to hear that 🙂 . He showed me almost all the major landmarks along the route and shown me the bus-stop from where I could catch a bus to Trivandrum!

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08.45 hrs – Here, I am. In Old Kochi! Old Kochi is home to the heritage precincts of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. While the mainland Ernakulam bustles with a modern skyline, it is the original island of Kochi, now informally called Old Kochi, unfolds as a mesmerizing mosaic of varied colonial influences. History says that in 1503, the Rajah of Kochi granted the Portuguese permission to build a fort near the western seafront of Kochi island, and the stronghold went on to give that part of the island its name – Fort Kochi. Though the fort walls no longer exist, the name Fort Kochi continues to identify the compact area that enjoys a European flavor.

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08.50 hrs – My first stop is the Chinese Fishing nets. Lining the shore, these Cheena Vala (known in Malayalam) are permanent cantilevered fishing nets operated by agile men using heavy stones. The sight of these bamboo-and-rope nets silhouetted against a lightening sky and slowly dipping into the water is mesmerizing. It is said Chinese traders had originally put up these nets in about the early 15th century, giving them their unusual name. These were being operated by the time I was there and the fresh catch is being sold then and there itself. A good sight to watch 🙂

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I started walking along the Vasco Da Gama square, which is a narrow stretch of promenade along the beach where one can actually observe local fishermen working upon those massive cantilevered fishing nets. Aptly located by the seafront, its name speaks of the intrepid adventurer who, credited for reaching India by circumnavigating Africa, had arrived in Calicut, Kerala, in 1498. From here, one can get the best view of Kochi harbor, one of the finest natural harbors in the world and once a bustling port which witnessed the arrival of the Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and the British.

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As I reached the Fort Kochi Beach, I witnessed the remains of a giant Pappanji which was burnt down to ashes the previous night. Well, one might be surprised to hear this. Let me explain it a bit! Pappanji (a Portuguese word meaning an old man) is a giant statue of an old man, which is burned exactly at stroke of midnight of 31st December every year. This signifies the end of a passing year and welcome New Year. History says that its origin lies in the influences of Portuguese and it symbolizes the burning of all the ills and beginning on a new note.

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While I was watching the distant sea and wishing someone over my phone, I saw some dolphins jumping and bouncing 🙂 . The sight excited me and when I was ready with my camera to catch a glimpse of them, they stopped jumping and started swimming. Lol! 😀 😀 . Walk for few more minutes, landed me up at one of the icons of Fort Kochi – the St. Francis Church, which is believed to be India’s oldest European -built church. This Church was originally built in wood by Portuguese Franciscan Friars in 1503 and was later rebuilt in stone during the mid-16th century and now a protected monument.

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It was dark inside and the only source of light are the windows of the Church. I admired the old-charms of the church – the wooden carvings on the pulpit and gabled roof, the pews, some inscriptions on the walls. But, I was more fascinated at seeing the place where the renowned Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama was laid to rest after his death in Kochi in 1524. Later, his remains were shifted to Lisbon. A must visit for the history lovers. And now, it’s time to have something to gain energy so that I can roam more 😀

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My next stop is Kashi Art Gallery. I asked people for directions and started walking through the narrow lanes of Fort Kochi. This place is quite different from the rest of the places. Neatly designed lanes, colorful houses, beautiful flower pots hanging to the roofs or infront of the houses, lots of museums, antique shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants. Wow, it’s a complete package for any tourist! But the thing which attracted me the most is the Street Art.

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Street art has for long been a part of India’s culture. Take the rangoli, elaborate pretty patterns that are drawn infront of homes, for instance, or political graffiti and filmy posters that brim with color and style. In places like Fort Kochi, Goa and Pondicherry, the colors of homes are in beautiful shades of yellow, green, blue and pink. The walls, roads and even the tree trunks were not spared here and were filled with colorful graffiti and carvings 🙂