During the years 1980 to 1999, I had taken about eight trips to Kerala - God's Own Country as they call it. Havinng been drawn to the green lush of the South of India by my wife who happens to come from that State. Most of the time my trips were just to keep company with the family, and although it did occur to me that Kerala was indeed a beautiful place, historically I was not inclined. If you are wondering where Kerala is, take the map of India, and you will find it on the Western side of the "V" , towards the Southern tip of the Country. It is flanked by two States of India , that of Karnataka and Tamilnadu to the East and a Coast called the Malabar Coast and Lakshadweep Sea and Indian Ocean on the West. Being a coastal State, coconut trees are found in abundance and the food is all cooked with some combination of coconut, be it vegetables, fish, crab or meat.
After visiting Mahabalipuram ( Mamallapuram ) in Tamilnadu and Mangalore and Talkad in Karnataka, and capturing the memories on film and making special Home Pages on the Internet, of course most important Bangalore too, and the experience of the joy that it brought visitors to the respective sites, that I decided to go through my collection to see what I could put together. It was indeed sad that nothing of historical nature in the 19 years of photographs, so I took a trip to Kerala in January 1999 for about two and half weeks and got a few photographs to share with you, my destination was Quilon. Now, these photographs are not the commercial kind that would be found on the Kerala State Tourism and Development Corporation ( KSTDC ) Home Page, but the ones that you would see on the roads that are generally missed by most tourists, you will have to click on the thumbnails and larger pictures will come up, use the 'back' button on your browser and it will take you back to the page, this had to be done so that the page could come up faster with smaller size files..
I have tried to concentrate on areas that are over 50 years old and belong to the period Colonial and beyond in the past. Not being a professional photographer, you will have to get by with the larger photographs that I share with you by clicking on the thumbnails on this page. Some are shot even from a moving boat or motorcycle or bus, so please be kind to me in that aspect. These days spent in Kerala in January - February 1999 were not fully on a tourist spree, although I did cover part of the city of Quilon ( Kollam ) , Cochin ( Kochi ), Tangasseri ( not to be confused with Changana Cheri ) and a breeze through Alleppey ( Alappuzha ), I also spent a week at the Divine Retreat Centre in Muringoor which I feel was the best part of the trip, and I suggest, if you do have the time to spare, it’s worth the week that you will have to stay there and you never forget the experience, I assure you that you will never be the same again. I will tell you about it at the end of my dialogue on Kerala.
Bangalore to Quilon ( Kollam ):
Taking a bus from Bangalore ( one can even take the train, but the odd hour of arrival at Quilon Junction Railway Station kills almost the whole day), I found that surprisingly a comfortable carrier (I have had many a bad experience with bus journeys, where in the middle of the night you are forced to change buses, breakdowns, loud and horrible movies shown, uncomfortable seats, delays up to 6 to 8 hours) called Shama Travels 'Airbus' and the bus was a 3-seater abreast, (single on the left and double on the right). The bus left around 4.30 p.m. from the Kalispalayam Bus Stop, and by the time it actually left the Checkpost on Hosur Road, it was around 5.30 p.m. We went quite smoothly and took the National Highway NH47, route through Tamilnadu, Salem ( has some Colonial buildings), Coimbatore ( which is famous for its cotton fabric exports ) , Palghat, Trichur, Alwaye, Ernakulam, Alleppey, Chavara and reached Neendakara Church on the outskirts Quilon at 6.30 a.m.!! These pictures below are taken around 7.00 a.m. from the Vetuthara Bridge, about half kilometer from the Church. If you walk a little further up over the bridge, you will find a Shrine to Our Lady on the right-hand side of the road, this is one of the landmarks called Shaktikulangara.
The place I need to go, Chavara South, are in the far background of the two pictures of the sunrise, and actually on a bright sunny day, you will be able to see the Church at Thekkumbakkam (Chavara South), and reverse is when you are on the boat to Quilon from Chavara South, you will be able to see the bridge between the islands.
Having had past experiences of arrivals usually around 9 a.m. to noon, my wife's brother-in-law was dutifully informed to pick me up from the 'roadside' on the highway after 9.30 a.m. After walking up and down the highway, shooting the sunrise from the Vethutara (or Parameswara?) Bridge and queried and advised by everyone in Malayalam how to take and when to take photographs ( I don’t know a word of it, you will have to get used to the questions people ask you, where you are going or where your are from, etc., not knowing the language at times had some advantages!) till about 8.30 a.m. with no signs of anyone to pick me up, I ventured to reach my destination by my own steam! That would mean, taking an autorikshaw and trying to explain where I needed to go to those who only spoke Malayalam, further in a rowboat to an island called Chavara South or Thekkumbakkam across a great waterway called the Ashtamudi Lake. A sunset seen from 'Palm Grove', Thekkumbakkam.
Quilon ( Kollam ):
Taking a trip by motocycle to Quilon (Kollam) and surroundings is one of the best ways of getting to see the place ( but the traffic is quite disorganised, people tend to walk in the middle of the roads and the loud horns are very irritating but essential, cyclists are another lot you will have to watch out for). Our destination for the day was Erivipuram, a little to the South of Quilon. After a long stretch of winding roads that went up and down, and a whole stretch of rubble from potholes along the seaside, we reached a little raw on the lower end because of continuous friction, the bike was OK, I was not!! Oh, I forgot to say, it was an experience, now they have motor-boats that ferry one from Tekkambukkam to the opposite shore or even to Quilon Boat Jetty, and they carry everything portable, and precariously perched motocycles are a common sight (cars have to come on a detour of some 20 Kms across a bridge to the mainland), don’t worry, you can be assured it’s relatively safe, now and then a bike has tipped over so I hear!! With a laugh they have been fished out and life continues in it’s stride.
One of the remains of the old Portuguese settlements was a church called St. John the Baptist I think (correct me), which has a very ‘fort-like’ appearance in the walls as you can see from the photographs.
You could imagine for a moment that you are in Mexico as the churches shown in the ‘Django movies’ look like the ones you see around. We did find some more churches and some modernisation can be witnessed. A fact, sad but strange, these Churches are Catholic and have cemeteries attached, but all history has been wiped out with old graves not to be seen, whereas the Protestant Churches preserve their old cemeteries or at least retain their historical element.
In this area, I think it is Anjengo, along the coast one gets to see an old lighthouse and close by a ‘Fort’ ( people were telling me it was a Port! Till a look at it changed my mind, see photos) that is supposedly a ‘protected National Heritage’ monument, so the board says, but nothing shows that an effort is made to preserve the Fort, in fact there is nobody around to meet you except the closed gate. How can tourists like me learn more and enjoy Kerala’s past. This was perhaps built around the late 1600's, and although was first Portugese, later taken over by the British, has a Britsh Cemetery within that dates back to 1704. Many foreigners can be seen riding on bicycles which can be hired from some local shops to go to the beach.
Many old temples can be seen here and there. The climate makes the walls of buildings black and covered with moss giving it a very old appearance, so one is not too sure as the age of the building.
On the return, a few of the old houses were seen, even when you come onto the maim road from the Quilon Boat Jetty, and one of the best works of old architecture I witnessed was a house next to the Labour Court at the Zilla Collectorate Square in Quilon. Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph the same, but it is worth seeing, I think it houses a few lawyers offices. Around the corner is the 'Indira Travels' that is the Quilon pick-up point of Shama Travels, and the Proprietor, Prasad (Contact Phone No: 091-0474-793170), is a very kind person who looks after your comfort while you wait for the Bangalore bus which leaves at 4 p.m. everyday. The central part of Quilon Town has a Clock Tower, a Memorial built in 1944. This can also be seen once you come out of the Railway Station.
One of the old Churches in Quilon is referred to as 'Thope' Church, and has a very strange architecture, more like a turret of a Fort. Also found thrown in the compound near the smaller cemetery is a granite pillar (see photo) with an engraving of a crown or some type of 'Coat of Arms', and could also be from an old grave, but there are no 'old' graves left. Can anyone enlighten us about this? The stone measures approximately about four feet in length and around eight inches in diameter.
Going past the Labour Court, one steps into another world of Portuguese influence, an area called Tangasseri, where one can still find some well maintained houses of the past and some newer influences of the 1920’s. A neighbouring place is called Anjengo. One house that really struck me as being a real old house was right at the corner opposite the Mount Carmel Girl’s School on Convent Road. Understand a gentleman by the name of Anthony Lambert lives there and it belongs to Reggie Noronha or to the Rozario's?, but he was not in when I went around hence could not get a photo of the house. Another old and famous school is the Infant Jesus Anglo-Indian Boys’ School. This area of Tangasseri you would need to go around on foot, then only you will be able to see contrasts of the past. I did photograph a few houses like the ‘St. John’s Bungalow’
which belonged to my wife’s late aunt Gertie Fernandez and her husband Archibald and it sure looked down from when I first visited it about 19 years back, The view of the garden where we could sit out and enjoy a quiet moment is now quite different to what is shown.
Other houses were ‘Francdale’ belonging to Frankpet Fernandez, Jasper LaBrooy’s house ‘Marie Ville’ on Cathedral Road is a 1930’s product, not forgetting Egbert Fernando’s ‘Nerphine Villa’. But this is apparently when the houses could have been renovated and not built, for the area is too old to actually be a ‘1930’s era’. The Quilon Bishop’s Palace (said to be a Palace of the former Portuguese Governor) is just around the corner, and what quite surprised me, it looked like an old building shunted into the side of an older church. There is the Holy Cross Church that is quite old. Tangasseri has it’s own History, unique to the British Settlements in India. A fact that it was originally set up by the Portuguese , then the Dutch took over in 1661 and then the British in 1795, so one finds a cross-section of names that overlay with Portuguese , Dutch and British, also the buildings reflect the personalities of the owners and their inheritance.
'Glimpses of Tangasseri - A 500 year Legacy’, iis a beautiful book by Frankpet and Joseph Fernandez gives one a solid historical background of the stubborn and independent past of a people who had their own way of life and codes, and has a nice Map of Tangasseri (used here with permission). You may have to contact Frankpet or Joseph in order to get a copy of the book. It is ideal as a reference book for ‘old Tangasserians’ and those researching Kerala’s history, as quite a lot of historical research and reference is available in the book. Tangasseri has a Lighthouse and ‘Thomas Fort’ (picture from the above book used with permission) that is of historical importance built in 1519, but the Fort has crumbled and in ruins because of sea-erosion, the St. Thomas Church was met with a similar fate. Tangasseri had also one of the oldest printing presses at the San Salvador seminary.
On the way back to the Quilon boat jetty, I decided to take the bus from Tangasseri. One must ask for ‘Bus stop’ or ‘Chinnakedda’. The trip by boat which starts at 1.30 p.m. from the Boat jetty to Thekkumbakkam was enjoyable as ever, and takes about 50 minutes, with the ticket under Rupees three!! The boat touches different islands and points all along the Ashtamudi Lake and there are a few summer palaces that can be spotted along the shores. There are many long boats that have been converted into resturants and floating hotels.
Chavara South (Thekkumbakkam) and Ashtamudi Lake:
(There is a true story about a monument that used to adorn one of the banks of these palaces, but cannot be seen today. The story goes like this, in the past days the lake was filled with good and even crocodiles. A British Officer who lived in one of the palaces after it was taken over used to swim everyday in the lake. One day his dog attacked him and would not let him enter the water. Thinking the dog was mad, he was about to shoot it, but the dog jumped into the water and was immediately attacked and killed by a lurking crocodile. This love of the master was made known to everyone by the monument his master made at the spot this took place. This is the palace near a large overbridge). We go across a large expanse of water and reach Tekkumbakkam, Chavara South, welcomed by the statue of Christ and a church behind .
Through Alleppey to Cochin:
Another day, another time, another place. A trip to Cochin ( Kochi ) through Alleppey ( Alappuzha ) by motorcycle was an experience, fortunately we had less traffic so the ride was good. The four-lane roads was an enjoyment to ride on, unfortunately because of the early hour we rode and the low light we missed quite a few interesting buildings, temples and Churches on the way especially between Cheppad and Haripad.
When one reaches Alleppey, there are signs that indicate for the tourists there are ( vallam kalli, snake boat races being held. The Police Station where one turns into the bypass has a very low roof which is quite unique. There are buildings around just near the canal bridge that could be where the traders lived with their families. Entrances are through small doors in larger doors and one can see a courtyard in the background indicating that there is a joint colony community living there. From the dress of the people, they were apparently of the Muslim Community.
Strange that tourists are only herded towards the ‘boat race’ and ‘backwater cruises’ , whereby the history of Alleppey goes way back into time as the area from where spices, coir was exported and traded. There is also an old Protestant Church ( I think the name could be Christ Church) located near the canal that has a few old graves in the compound which are of historical nature and well kept, these would have really made my friend the well known and admired Admiral OS Dawson happy to see, having the Agram Cemetery at Bangalore to compare with. It is sad that only on my return back home by bus that I noticed all these wonderful and interesting sights, and then also I had an empty camera to add insult to injury! When we went thorough on motorcycle, we missed the side roads that held all the charms. Next time I must try and collect some photos in this area, or does anyone from Alleppey have any photographs that they can share with everyone, scan and mail them to me or post them to me if you have extra copies.
Cochin and Ernakulam :
Breezing through onwards to Cochin ( Kochi ), the roads are nice and wide and till you hit the Venduruthy Bridge at Ernakulam , through Willingdon Island on to Fort Cochin. On the way I was totally confused seeing a building that looked like a church with a cemetery, and only after reading the ‘Rest In Peace’ did I realise that it was a Chapel for conducting funeral services. However, opposite was a wonderful Portuguese Church, was it St. Lawrence? (Someone please correct me I forgot the name in my hurry to get out of the main road which was pretty narrow).
In Fort Cochin, there were many buildings to see and also two large Churches, the Santa Cruz Cathedral ( Roman Catholic Photographs on separate page) and St. Francis Church (Protestant CSI - Church of South India , Photographs on separate page). St. Francis Church was originally named as Santo Antonio. It is the first church to have been built in the new European influenced style and tradition. The original wooden building of 1510 was soon replaced by the present building around 1546. Vasco da Gama died here in 1524 and was originally buried in the Cemetery of the Church which became part of the Church. 14 years later his body was removed back to Portugal. The church has an impressive facade. Inside the chancel is separated from the nave by a plain arch. The use of the arch is in sharp contrast to traditional Indian use of flat overlapping slabs or corbelling, a bit like Trinity Church, Bangalore. The church, originally a Catholic Church was taken over by the Dutch after they captured Cochin ( Kochi ) in 1663 and converted into a Protestant Church after they captured Cochin ( Kochi ) in 1663. The British converted it into an Anglican Church after they took power in 1795, and in 1949 the congregation joined the Church of South India.
Then there is the Dutch Cemetery that is supposedly to be maintained by the CSI, but is very badly kept. It reminded me very much of the Agram Cemetery of Bangalore with the same grave styling, and which Admiral OS Dawson and myself were interviewed on Star TV News (NDTV) on 14th December 1998. The photographs will show you the state of the Dutch Cemetery.
Santa Cruz Cathedral has some splendid paintings on the ceiling which reminds one of St. Aloysious College, Mangalore.
The other place I visited was the Mattancheri Palace and Museum. No photographs are allowed inside the Palace which has items of the Raja’s wear, swords, spears and palanquins. There are also a few wall paintings that depict the history of the Ramayana and other Indian mythology. The Palace adjoins a temple and shares the same wall as the Jewish Synagogue. The palace was built by the Portuguese in 1557 as a gift to the Raja of Kochi in exchange for trading rights. In 1663, the Dutch rebuilt part of the palace. There are some beautiful murals and paintings of the Rajas very photographic like. Just behind the Mattancheri Palace is the Jewish Synagogue.
The Jewish Synagogue is on a separate page because of the number of photographs. There were two main Synagogues in Cochin, but only one remains standing. A short history of the Jews is also on that page.
I have only given a brief on my trip to Quilon ( Kollam ), Tangasseri ( Tangy ), Alleppey ( Alappuzha ), Cochin ( Kochi ) and places like Chavara and Ashtamudi Lake. When I put together more pictures and I recall something, then I will keep updating the page, but for starters this is enough, but I have plenty of photographs to share with you still on Cochin, Alleppey, Quilon and of course, Chavara. So please come back in a week and there could be some surprises for you.
If anyone of you readers from Kerala, who would like to contribute Information about Kerala or has 'spare or copies of' photographs of Places, Buildings, Temples, Churches of Kerala, and who would like to share these with others for memories on this page, please post or send the same to Ronnie Johnson, 5/3 King Street, Richmond Town, Bangalore 560025. If you have the photographs on ".jpg" format, then e-mail to Ronnie.
I did mention in the beginning that I went to a place called the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor, I will try to give you some of my experiences there after I put them down shortly. But if you want to get a brief of the place then you can try going to the URL on the Bangalore Walla Page.
That's All Folks!! Ronnie
|Thought for the Day: Be still, and know I am God; I will be exalted amoung the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalms:46:10, Holy Bible|