Tuesday, February 10, 2004

FIRST ~ India 020204a: Chinese Fishing Net at Fort Cochin, Kerala

A major tourist attraction at Cochin are the Chinese fishing nets, thought to be introduced there by traders from the court of Kublai Khan. Pic attached shows some of the big ones found at Fort Cochin, still in working condition, though the fish caught are prolly only good enough for the waiting crows. I even saw these contraptions along rivers during our train ride to Goa. Cannot be found elsewhere in India.

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India 020204b: Train Schedule

Trains are the lifeblood of the Indian society. Air travel being still beyond the reach of most common folks, while roads and traffic not being user-friendly for long-distance driving, trains remain as popular as ever. Families routinely take 40-50-hr train rides to visit relatives on the other side of the country.
The pic attached is the express train schedule at Ernakulam Town station, a major stop outside Cochin. When I first looked at table, it was confusing and unnecessarily complicated (but then that's what Indians are famous for - making simple things complicated!) - 3 scripts were used, English, Hindi, Malayalam.
We decided to take train #2617, impressively named the 'Mangala-Lakshadweep Express', departing at 12.45pm (seen a third of the way down the table), for our 15-hr trip to Goa up north. We later found out the train went all the way to a place called Nizamuddin, a major station in New Delhi. Total traveling time to Delhi: 60 hours! :-)
Buying the train tickets is another lengthy process in itself, but I'll leave that for the next time.

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India 020204c: Buying train tickets

Purchasing a train ticket in India is quite an experience (pic). First you have to find a little form (with English version overleaf) to fill up your ticket requirements and your personal details such as name, age (?) and address. Then go to the counter and queue for your turn. I spent quite some time at the counter because my first choice train was out of special 1st class seats. We had to settle for another express with a normal first class seat, leaving at 12.45pm 3/2, for Goa enroute to Delhi. We paid about 1,700 rupees (RM150) for 2 tickets. The lady at the counter was helpful and chased away the occasional queue jumpers who barged in. :-)

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India 020204d: St Francis Church in Fort Cochin

This is the St Francis Church, the first European Church to be built in India, and is located at Fort Cochin, the first European settlement in India. Built in 1503 by the Portuguese (first led by Alphonso d'Alburquerque), just 5 years after Vasco da Gama became the first European to discover the sea route to India when he landed in Calicut 1498. BTW, da Gama first visited Fort Cochin in 1502, and during another visit there in 1524, he died and was buried in this church. 14 yrs later, his body was removed to Portugal.
There you go, all the big time Portuguese jokers were there, but enough of history lesson! The church faces the beach, some 300m away, where the Chinese fishing nets are. Nice ambience especially in late afternoon, with houses and playing fields (incl a cricket pitch). With the low sun beating on its bright facade, for a moment I thought I was staring at a church in a Zorro movie. :-)

St Francis Church
Built in the year 1503
1503 to 1663 - Portugese Period (Roman Catholic Church)
1664 to 1804 - Dutch Period (Dutch Reformed Church)
1804 to 1947 - British Period (Anglican Church)
1947 onwards - Church of South India

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India 040204a: Panjim Goa - Old Portuguese Houses

So we caught this long express train at Cochin Junction station, leaving at 12.45pm sharp, 3/2, to arrive Goa 4am the next day.
[The Indian train system uses the broad gauge 5' 6" (cf. Europe/US & Malaysia LRTs use standard gauge 4' 8.5", Malaysia KTMB uses 3' 3" gauge). It has the 4th largest railway system in the world and employs 1.6mil ppl, the biggest employer in the world. The wide gauge allows for huge coaches and smooth comfy rides, which was what we got in the Cochin-Goa stretch. We also got an Indian creep who tried to harass a German girl next to us, but he was thrown out by the ticket inspector at the next station which happened to be the famous city of Calicut :-). ]
Early morning accommodation hunting got us a very cosy 2-floor 150-yr-old inn called the Panjim Inn, located in the old Latin Fontainhas quarter of Panjim, the capital of Goa. Cost us 1,500 rupees (RM130) for one night, a bit pricey, but we had real antique furniture around us - very old wooden bed, looked flimsy but tough! Checked in at 5am and was soon fast asleep!
The pic attached is taken during breakfast on 4/2, from the verandah cafe upstairs. It shows the original Portuguese houses built hundreds of years ago since Fontainhas is the oldest quarter in Panjim.

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India 040204b: Panjim Goa - Malacca Street

Having had a late breakfast at Panjim Inn, we were ready to explore the place. The town map in our travel book showed a familiar name: Malacca Street! The thing about Goa is that they still preserve the old names (streets, landmarks, quarters, etc) given by their Portuguese colonists, and Malacca Street was obviously our first destination. :-)
We trudged along narrow streets flanked by brightly-coloured Latin European style houses as we passed the ancient Fontainhas quarter. The town centre proper was a typical modern Indian town - straight roads with shophouses. There was a very conspicuous white church on a hill in the town centre, built by the Portuguese for their sailors/soldiers, who had endured months of ocean travel, to come ashore to say thanks to the Lord as soon as they arrived from Lisbon (what a trip that must have been!). They then travelled another 10 km to the east, upstream the majestic Mondavi River, to their barracks at Old Goa (the old capital till the 1840s).
Pic shows the spot where Malacca Street starts, flanked by the orangish state library building and police HQ to the right, and shophouses to the left. The structure in the middle of the junction is the traffic policeman's shelter. The Mondavi River is right behind me, where there is an esplanade giving scenic vistas of the river.

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India 040204c: Panjim Goa - Mandovi River

This is the grand Mondavi River viewed from the esplanade at Panjim. 2km to the left you reach the river mouth and the Arabian Sea, 9km to the right gets you to Old Goa, seat of the Portuguese govt until 1843. It was said to rival Lisbon in splendour during its hey-days, when epidemics, among others, drove the population to Panjim, the new capital.
The Mandovi River between Panjim and Old Goa is home to countless egrets, herons and other water-birds, big and small. Most likely because the river is teeming with fish, which is fair since the water looked clean and unpolluted. Tourist cruise boats roamed the waterways, but we gave it a pass and instead hired a taxi for a trip to Old Goa.

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India 040204d: Panjim Goa - Street Poster

Ah well, what can I say...this is India!

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India 040204e: Old Goa - 16th Century Church of St Francis of Asisi

Welcome to Old Goa. Once a metropolis of hundreds of thousands of people, it is now a wooded area with half a dozen Portuguese churches and convents, and few people. Located some 9km upstream the Manjovi River from Panjim, it has an undulating terrain with a very calm, rustic air to it. Yellow buildings, well-tended lawns and gardens, bathed in the late afternoon sunlight, make one forget that this is not Europe but some backwater of India.
The pic shows the Church of St Francis of Assisi, built in the 16th century, but has now been turned into an archaeological museum. It is one of the old churches in a huge complex comprising 1 basilica (where the body of St Francis Xavier is still kept and displayed), 1 cathedral and 2 churches. I read that the Portuguese colonists were devout Catholics but seemed to have no qualms in butchering people of other faiths, for the simple reason that they believed they were on the Right Path and the infidels were fair game.

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India 040304f: Old Goa - 16th century Se Cathedral

Sorry for the short hiatus...we are still in Old Goa, right? This is the pic of the southern side of the Se Cathedral, another 16th century Portuguese construct. It's a Baroque building, facing east and a grand lawn, and a huge statue of Jesus, of which I do not have a decent pic to show off. The gal in the pic is obviously my model. (She thoroughly confused the natives because of her features and the tudung...are you Chinese? Japanese? Taiwanese? Actually Indian citizens coming from the far northeast of India do indeed have Chinese features. :-)). She is leaning against a rather loud proclamation - that the complex of Old Goa churches has been designated World Heritage Monuments by the UN (in 1986)...which I don't think our Melaka can ever achieve.
The interior of the Se Cathedral was dark and spooky when I entered, with almost nobody around. The altar looked impressive, typical of Baroque/Gothic churches in Europe. And the missus? She stayed outside...I'm scared lah, she muttered. Anyway, a lady wearing tudung in a cathedral? :-)

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India 040204g: Old Goa - Original Church built 1510 by Mr d'Albuquerque

This church is the oldest one around, built by Alfonso d'Albuquerque as soon as he captured Goa from a Muslim Sultan of Bijapur, in 1510. Yes, he might be a very pious man, but at the same time he was ruthless when dealing with his enemies. Three days before Christmas 1510, he wrote to his King Manuel in Lisbon:
"Then I burnt the city and put everyone to the sword and for four days men shed blood continuously. No matter where we found them, we did not spare the life of a single Muslim: we filled the mosques with them and set them on fire...We found that 6,000 Muslim souls, male and female, were dead, and many of their foot-soldiers and archers had died. It was a very great deed, Sire, well fought and well accomplished. Apart from Goa being so great and important a place, until then no revenge had been taken for the treachery and wickedness of the Muslims towards Your Highness and your people."
[Source: Richard Hall, "Empires of the Monsoon", 1998]
Needless to say, he really hated Muslims due to a lifetime of fighting them in North Africa before venturing to India and the Far East. I'm sure he was not any kinder when he conquered Melaka a year later.
The pic shows the back of the church which faces the Mandovi River, flowing beyond the wooded area on the other side of the building. It's no longer in use, all boarded up, and when I took a walk around it as the sun was setting, it was eeriely quiet...and I realised I was all alone. :-)

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FINAL ~ India 040204h: Old Goa - 16th century Basilica of Bom Jesus

This is the mother of all churches in Goa, possibly in the whole of India. It's a minor 'basilica' - the four major ones are all in Rome, while the rare minor ones are scattered all over the world. Bestowed special privileges by the Pope, they are more special than cathedrals and churches. Because of this Basilica of Bom Jesus ("Good Jesus" or "Infant Jesus"), Old Goa is sometimes described as "Rome of the East". Pretty impressive structure and even more so when we were there that late afternoon.
The Basilica's claim to fame is its occupant - the body of the legendary St Francis Xavier (born 1506, died 1552 at the age of 46). Not a tolerant man, he was the first to suggest the setting up of the Goan Inquisition, to deal with the heretics - the Muslims, the Jews and the Hindus, especially. He is credited with the conversion of millions of people into Catholicism in India and the Far East, and is said to have performed more miracles than any other saint in history. In short, this is one heavyweight saint!
The saint's mortal remains are now in an airtight glass coffin inside the basilica, and every 10 years the body is brought out to be 'exposed' to the visitors. Next show is 3rd Dec, 2004. Better book your trips, pilgrims! :-)

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