Kochi – a day out in historical Mattancherry

The next day after a good night’s kip and another hearty breakfast, I took a fifteen-minute tuktuk ride to Mattancherry, another historical district in old Kochi.

If you’re interested in antiques, art, souvenirs or spices this is the area to come. My map here.

First stop was Mattancherry Palace aka the Dutch Palace, Mattancherry, www.keralatourism.org

Although not a looker on the outside, this old palace is worth the 5Rs entry just to see the stunning murals in a couple of the rooms. Unfortunately photography is not allowed but you can get the idea from these photos on the web.

Otherwise there’s lots of text on the exploitation of Kochi by successive European colonial powers; the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British. The displays tell the story of the gradual demise of the Keralan Royal family under colonial rule until they finally had to make a living as accountants. Which sounds like a good career for the British royal family…

Just down the road is another historical building. The Pardesi Synagogue is the oldest in India, originally built in 1568, and is still a working synagogue. The clock tower was added later in 1760.

Vestiges of the Jewish presence still remain, not least in the name of the area which is known as Jew Town although, according to the displays in the synagogue, there are only fifty to seventy Jews left in Kerala and only five thousand in India as a whole.

It was partly destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662 but rebuilt a couple of years later when the Dutch took Kochi. Although the rudimentary displays on the history of the Jews in Kochi is fascinating there’s not much to see other than an ornate pulpit and the rather incongruous hand-painted, willow-pattern Chinese floor tiles dating from 1762. When lit the Belgian chandeliers and coloured-glass lamps must be quite a sight.

Nearby is a huge antiques warehouse called Heritage Arts www.heritageartscochin.com that could easily be mistaken for a museum. There’s room upon room of beautiful statues and arifacts of many kinds.

I would have loved to have taken lots of pictures but I was constantly trailed by a rather annoying salesperson who only let me take one. I managed to get a few elsewhere though. Click on the pics to go full screen.

I was interested in one of the more bizarre statues at the entrance to the warehouse, so I asked my friend Jiji about it as he hails from Kerala, and coincidentally works in theatre.

He had this to say:

“This is the image of a Kathakali dancer. It is a traditional Keralite classical dance form that originated over 500 years ago. It’s a combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. ‘Katha’ in Malayalam (the local language) means Story and ‘kali’ means Play. Kathakali is a “story play” genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colourful make-up, costumes and facemasks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. Earlier on only men used to perform the dance and used to play the parts of the females too. Nowadays if I am not mistaken, women also participate in Kathakali.”

Fascinating stuff, so I looked for Kathakali on Youtube and found this video.

At the waterfront end of the warehouse is this rather nice restaurant…

Ginger House Restaurant (Intermediate B), Jew Town, Kappalandimukku, Mattancherry, www.gingerhousecochin.com

I had a decent lunch of Fish and Mango Curries with three different chutneys (B+). Many of the dishes utilise ginger, as befits the name of the restaurant, but I didn’t fancy many of the combinations.

The Ginger Lime Soda is okay though, although not as good as the one I had back at my hotel.

Tip: there are lots of tables overlooking the backwater, but get there early to snag a good one.

My final errand was to buy half a kilo of peppercorns before heading off to Cherai Beach.

More of which next…

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