Just type in Kochi on Google and you will find millions of mesmerizing pictures of these huge nets with the backdrop of a perfect sunset. The silhouettes of these nets with balance hues of orange and red, had made me look forward to the experience even before I had landed in Kochi. However my expectations went for a toss, when I actually visited Fort Kochi beach to witness these popular nets. And trust me, it had nothing to do with the fact that the overcast sky had ripped away any chance of the perfect sunset silhouette.
|How to Reach:|
| Fort Kochi is situated in the Mattanchery area of Kochi. It is easily accessible by Bus, Cabs, Auto Rikshaws from anywhere in Kochi.|
Kochi itself is well connected to the rest of the country by Frequent Trains and Flights.
Where to Stay:
| Kochi being the cultural and commercial hub of Kerala, accommodation is not an issue at all. There are so many hotels/B&B that there is always a vacant room somewhere. All hotel aggregators like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Booking.com and ktdckerala.com have options of booking hotels online.|
Best Time to Visit:
Avoid the summers at all cost, that set in by April to the end of May, the temperature and humidity will kill you.
Fort Kochi is open throughout the day however late afternoon till early evenings (4 PM to 6 PM) is when most people prefer coming here.
The Chinese Fishing Nets:
Colloquially called as Cheena vala, these nets are only found in China, apart from Kochi. The structure includes a 20 m wide fishing net on one side and stones acting as counterweighs on the other side. Each structure is at least 10 meter high. Imagine a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and bunch of large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights on the other end.
Though these nets are called “Chinese Nets” but they were introduced in Kochi by Portuguese traders. The main net used for catching the fish is called Rede and its edge is called Borda. The wooden part which holds the net is called Brasao and all other important parts have also names from Portuguese origin.
Unlike traditional fishing, fishing with Chinese nets isn’t a one-man job. It takes at least a group of six fishermen to operate the whole setup. Watching one in action, where all the fishermen pull the ropes down to bring up the net, fighting with all their might, against the drag of the water, is mesmerizing and borderline hypnotic. Its almost like looking at a game of Tug of War.
As the first step one fisherman, simply walk across the main beam, which tilts the balance of the whole apparatus in such a way that the end holding the net gets lowered into the water. The heavy stones now remain suspended in the air.
After a short time, the fishermen apply all their might and pull the net out of water by pulling down the heavy stones suspended in the air with the help of ropes. They also tend to sing a song, a kind of motivation, while they are pulling down the rope. The sight of the stones gradually coming down and the net sprucing out of water is a one to behold. As the edges of the net climbs up in the air, all the water, fish, debris churn down towards the center, turning the squarer net into a ball. Its only a matter of time before all the water gushes out and the unfortunate fishes become dinner.
Apparently there are lots of fishes to catch in the monsoons, but other than that time, the nets mostly serve as a tourist attraction. Every day, the nets are lowered, tourists are encouraged to take part in the pulling down of the ropes, some even participate, however there’s not much to catch. The tourists though enjoy this activity, as it makes them fell connected to the local culture. This very reason has catapulted the Chinese fishing nets into the stardom they enjoy today.
But as all light must be accompanied by shadow, there’s a huge dark side to this experience.
I know in India, beaches are not known for their cleanliness, but Fort Kochi beach was inundated with litter beyond imagination. Considering the beach showcases the most coveted Chinese Fishing nets and is braced by thousands of Indian and foreigner every day the aesthetics of the beach needs dire attention.
Most of the garbage on the beach results from the aquatic plants those get chopped off in the sea due to the ships that cruise in it. The ships also leak oil, which creates a kind of darkish sand that looks really un appealing. The visitors, mostly local seem to have taken the beach for granted and throw away the plastics they bring or buy.
There should be strict rules against littering, if its already in place then there should be enough authority around the beach to ensure that the rules are being followed. The most sought-after destination in Kochi, the one whose gorgeous pictures are on every brochure and pamphlet is bustling with plastic bottles and litter. The expectation is sky high for Chinese nets and it sinks like a stone.
If anything could be worse than polluted beach is corrupted mentality. Once you are near a net, the fishermen generously encourage you to board the plank and participate, without declaring that they expect a tip in return. Once you have completed one round, and try to get down from the plank, that’s when they ask for the tip. A tip is a tip, you pay what you want, but they ask for a specific amount, which more often than not, is very high.
I have developed a habit of asking ‘how much’ for anything and everything when I am at a touristy place. When a fisherman invited me on the plank, thanks to the same habit, I asked and he replied Rs. 500. I told him 100, and he showed me the way down.
I was happy standing away from the nets and posing for the camera.
I also witnessed a family who were not allowed to leave the plank as they were not ready to pay the amount these fishermen asked for. A ruckus had ensued, with flared voices. It took some time, the family paid up, not sure how much, before they could get down.
Kerala being a tourist hot spot, is very particular about the rate charts of any activity or place. They have a standardized rate which is displayed in colorful signboards, so that no one can cheat you. Shockingly however there are none in Fort Kochi. This simple addition will ensure such smooth experience.
Having said all this, it is not all bad at Fort Kochi beach. There is no doubts that the nets are gorgeous and the whole fishing process is interesting to watch. But the holistic experience has now a black spot because of so many other variables playing around.