Buildings on the water edge
Spreading across islands and promontories between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters, Kochi (long known as Cochin) is Kerala’s prime tourist destination. Kochi is also a wonderful port of call for MSC cruise liners on Grand Voyages cruise itineraries.
In Fort Cochin, spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church and seventeenth-century Dutch homes can all be found within an easy walk. As you approach by cruise ship, the waterfront, with its sloping red-tiled roofs and ranks of peeling, pastel-coloured godowns (warehouses), offers a view that can have changed little in centuries.
Fort Cochin, the grid of old streets at the north-west tip of the peninsula, is where the Portuguese erected their first walled citadel, Fort Immanuel, which the Dutch East Indian Company later consolidated with a circle of well-fortified ramparts. Only a few fragments of the former battlements remain but dozens of other evocative European-era monuments survive: the early eighteenth-century Dutch Cemetery, Vasco da Gama’s supposed house and several traders’ residences.
Among the most magical experiences a visitor can have during an MSC Grand Voyages excursion to Kerala is to witness one of the innumerable ancient drama rituals that play such an important role in the cultural life of the region. Kathakali is the best known; other less publicized forms, which clearly influenced its development, include the classical Sanskrit kudiyattam.
Many Keralan forms share broad characteristics. A prime aim of each performer is to transform the mundane into the world of gods and demons; his preparation is highly ritualized, involving otherworldly costume and mask-like make-up. In kathakali and kudiyattam, this preparation is a rigorously codified part of the classical tradition.