Ever since the film Kumbalangi Nights got released, the little coastal village in Kumbalangi has become a tourist favourite. Especially foreign tourists! Kumbalangi which is the first eco-friendly tourist village in Kerala is a little beauty with its backwaters, Chinese fishing nets, lakes, ponds, and paddy fields. The residents of Kumbalangi are equally hospitable.
How the village got its name?
There was an island called Kumbalam here. The island which sprung from the sea had salt banks. Gradually when the sea shifted its position from east to west, Kumbalam had a new island on the west coast. The villagers started calling this intrusion as ‘Kumbalam Vilangi’ and soon enough it blended into Kumbalangi. The island is 16 km square in area with over 1 lakh residents.
The Chinese fishing nets
Fishing is the chief occupation of the people of Kumbalangi. And Chinese fishing nets are its hallmark. It is said that there are over 100 fishing nets in this village. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions of Kumbalangi. The local fishermen and boatmen often conduct special fishing classes for the visiting tourists. Shrimps, crabs, pearl shells, and tiny fishes are abundantly available here.
Then of course Kumbalangi is synonymous with authentic Kerala coastal cuisine. Be it some spicy prawn roast, fried kingfish or the fiery red fish curry, their beef curry that goes with Tapioca or fluffy appams or the Kerala red rice. Or you can go for some duck roast in banana leaf wrap, roasted chicken, gizzard curry, or rice dumplings in creamy coconut milk. A typical Kumbalangi meal consists of Karimeen Pollithachu, fried shrimps, Pullisery, Theeyal, Beetroot Thoran, salad, and pickle with red rice. We heard that locals make their fish curry with an assortment of fishes. There are several homestays that offer amazing view and great food for reasonable rates.
Don’t miss their official dish 'pachoru,' which is raw rice cooked in coconut milk and served with jaggery syrup.
History of pachoru
It is said that a man was fishing in the river from a tree using a bow and arrow while the beautiful daughter of Unyathiri was taking bath in the river. She got petrified and felt humiliated by his behaviour (according to the then existing moral standards and values). Hearing the story Unyathiri got angry and ordered to kill him. He ran to the church and sought refuge in the Arakuzha church. But Unnyathiri found him and was dragged outside and killed at the doorstep of the church. It is believed that because of this vandalism, Arakuzha was affected by a severe drought and famine for 18 months. Unyathiri called the astrologers to find out the reason behind the drought and famine. The astrologers blamed it on the murder. As an atonement Unyathiri made an offering to the church to give food called “pachoru”.
Pachoru was prepared with 15 bushels (para) of rice with enough coconuts and brown sugar. Pachoru is an ancient Christian delicacy. It is usually made during most Church Festivals. In the olden days, when one’s wishes come true, people used to make Pachoru and distribute it as an offering to the church which is then served to the devotees, on the festival day.
Model tourism village
In 2003, the Kerala government had selected several villages as model villages. Kumbalangi is one of them. Kumbalangi integrated tourism project is meant to transform the village into a model fishing village and tourism destination. The Panchayath will be taking it forward with the state government’s help. The mission is to make the village a tourist-friendly experience for the foreigners as well as provide financial aid to the villagers. As part of the project, several homes were transformed into homestays. Mostly they have picked homes with one or two attached bathrooms with them. Tour of the village includes sharing a day with the people engaged in traditional occupations like coir weaving, fishing, boating, etc. apart from sharing their home-cooked food.
Recommended places to visit when you are in Fort Kochi
Between October and March, you will get the most pleasant temperatures, between 17 and 30 degrees Celsius and little rain, which for most people is the ideal weather.
Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace)
The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, presented to the Raja Veera Kerala Varma of Kochi and renovated by the Dutch 100 years later. The palace, also known as Dutch Palace, is one of the finest examples of the Kerala style of architecture interspersed with colonial influences. It now houses a great collection of portraits of Maharajas, some of the best mythological murals in India, as well as old Dutch maps, royal palanquins, and period furniture. It is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except for Fridays.
Jew Town and the Paradesi Synagogue
Kochi once had a large Paradesi (translated as ‘foreigner’) Jewish population and this heritage can still be seen in Jew Town, a narrow street between Mattancherry Palace and the Paradesi Synagogue. The Paradesi Jewish population has been dwindling for decades, and in 2015 there were only 6 members of this community. Jew Town Road is lined up by shops featuring Hebrew words such as Shalom, Stars of David and other Jewish symbols, but they are now run by other residents of Kochi. It’s one of the oldest antique markets in India and it’s great for shopping. In addition to antiques, you will find spices, all sorts of garments such as kurtas, scarves, etc., and also plenty of souvenirs. And yes, please bargain! After some window shopping, head to the Paradesi Synagogue, which was built over 400 years ago and is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. One curiosity about this synagogue is that services are hard to organize, as you need ten men for the quorum, to pray. As there are not enough within the Kochi community, the synagogue sometimes invites Jewish visitors to join in so they can have a service. The Synagogue is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except for Fridays, Saturdays, and Jewish Holidays.
Another milestone of Fort Kochi, this is located on an island of the same name, Bolgatty Island. Did you know that it is one of the oldest Dutch palaces outside of Holland built by the Dutch? It was built under the directions of the Dutch traders in 1744 and served as the Governor's palace for the commander of Dutch Malabar. In 1909 this palace was leased out to the British who used it as the residence of British Governors. Bolgatti Palace is intricately designed, and its architecture is influenced by the European style of architecture. After the independence of India, it became the property of the Kerala government and soon made it into a luxurious heritage resort. This beautiful resort has attractive gardens, a 9-hole golf course, an Ayurvedic centre, and daily Kathakali performances to entertain the visitors. Besides lavish rooms, you can also access a swimming pool, beer parlour, conference hall, health club, boat cruises, recreation room, 24-hour music channel, horse riding, and library. There is also a fabulous Ayurvedic centre. Cultural performances are also organised in the evenings.
Street Art Every two years, Kochi celebrates the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the largest art exhibition in India and the first of its kind held in the country. And it runs for four months. The Biennale contemporary art from around the world and has resulted in some great pieces of street art in Fort Kochi, showcased in everyday locales, from cafes and old warehouses to heritage properties like Aspinwall. The Foundation is involved in the conservation of heritage properties and monuments and the upliftment of traditional forms of art and culture. The Foundation was founded in 2010 by artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu.
And after all that sightseeing, make sure to visit the Kashi Art Café which doubles up as an art gallery and a café that serves sandwiches, soups, and salads. You should definitely try their decadent chocolate cake with their in-house chocolate sauce along with their coffee.