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Chinese Fishing Nets of Fort Kochi, Kerala
Icons of Fort Kochi, the Chinese fishing nets located at the far end of Vasco da Gama Square attract curious visitors much like fish to the bait. Maybe it’s the setting, positioned on the edge of Kerala’s famous backwaters, or maybe it’s the fascination with an antiquated fishing technique that hasn’t yet faded away. The fishing nets are thought to have been built 500-600 years ago as Chinese traders were initially exploring the southern coastline of India. Today, legions of local Keralite fishermen make their livelihood from the numerous contraptions seen along the coast. These are the only nets tourists can view outside of China, making them an extraordinary destination.
Each net is held by a cantilevered structure made of bamboo and teak requiring a minimum of 4 men to operate. Modest yields coming from each haul translate into humble earnings. Flimsy shacks made of bamboo poles covered in well-used plastic tarps or stray pieces of fabric serve up the fresh catches of the nets mere footsteps behind. The concept of selling freshly caught seafood to the public and local chefs right along the narrow beach is not unique, but it is a delightfully different and unexpected side of India.
Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington, or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, are two remote comparisons to the simple splendor of the Chinese fishing nets. Similarly with the other two locations, tourists roam the brick tiled boardwalk of Vasco da Gama Square perusing the fresh treats, taking photos, and asking questions. All this occurs around the frenzied verbal calls and hand gestures inviting inquisitive (or more likely hungry) travelers to just “come to have a look”. Should a tourist be tempted enough to turn from casual observer into a customer, Fort Kochi is littered with restaurants willing to prepare a full meal to an individual’s specifications. Freshly caught fish can go from water to grill to plate in under an hour. Perfection.
Visitors of the fishing nets who get too curious may find themselves involved in some lighthearted audience participation. Fishermen signal tourists to come forth, walking along the thin bamboo planks up the network structures. From here the basic operating instructions are relayed to the amusement of the working men. Participants will be expected to leave a little baksheesh for the fishermen’s efforts.
Of course with the draw of tourist money, so comes the omnipresent street vendor peddling anything from henna stamps to postcards to ice cream. The mixture is rather comical making this a must stop opportunity for souvenir loving travelers.
Visitors can plan roughly an hour to adequately see the nets and surrounding stalls. This area is part of the larger walking tour of Fort Kochi but can also be accessed via the plentiful tuk-tuks and taxis which idle nearby in the square. The famous Kathakali dance performances also take place within walking distance to the nets. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and flip flops in case the beach beckons. Ample eating establishments serving a wide array of cuisine including Indian fare are a stone’s throw from here.