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Friday, March 1, 2013

Vypin Island – Pallipuram Fort

After having taken our lunch, we had two options in hand, either to go for a Siesta or for a long ride. My younger brother with whom I am staying had no problems either as it way a Sunday. However the cloudy weather was dissuading me from venturing out, for the camera could not be put to use. Nevertheless the call of my brother to move out before it really starts pouring made me get ready. When we drove out it was drizzling. We headed towards the Marine Drive of Kochi yet the destination remained undecided.  Moving further we crossed over to Bolgatty island. Here we thought of visiting the Palace now converted into a Hotel, Unfortunately we could not gain entry due to some big gun having reserved the entire hotel for some private purpose, presumably a marriage reception. Then I said let us now go to Vypin Island. In between there an another island known as Vallarpadam which is a very large container terminal. Here one could see hundreds of trucks lined up for transporting containers to and fro from the hinterland. Soon thereafter my brother stopped the vehicle at one point and told me come this is Vypin. I could not believe it but then the signboards did say so. We got down and surveyed the area, particularly the topography. I could visualise that we were standing at the Southern end of the island and farther south it was Fort Kochi. From the Boat Jetty we could see steamers arriving and departing with loads of passengers and vehicles.

Six major rivers emanating from the Western Ghat Mountain Ranges submerge into the Arabian Sea near Kochi passing through the Vembanad lake. The deltas and soil erosions appear to be the cause of six scattered islands except Wellingdon which is man made. All the islands are inhabited and movement of people used to be through waterways in the past. Now all the islands are made accessible overland with interconnecting bridges. From Fort Kochi if one has to travel by road to Vypin Island,  it would be a long distance and therefore the ferry service thrives carrying passengers as well as all vehicles.

Thanks to   trade relations with China in the distant past, some amount of technology transfers have also taken place in the area of fishing. The local fishermen deploy   “Chinese fishing nets” which were installed in the vicinity in large numbers. We could witness them while they worked. However they have limitations as regards  water coverage.  Nevertheless they have managed to sustain themselves by mechanising the operations.

After having observed the operations at the boat jetty and the Chinese fishing nets, it was time for us to move. My brother asked me, now where should we go. Vypin Island is a peace of land which is around 26 kilometres long. The main light house of the Port of Kochi is located in this island. There is also a beautiful beach known as Cherai at the north western side. What I had in my mind was a Portuguese fort at the northern end which I had seen some 5 decades back but at that time approached it from the North and not from the South. Fortunately I could remember the place name and told my brother to proceed to Pallipuram in the North direction. He also instantly said Oh! Pallipuram. There is a fort there. I have heard about it but the location was not known. I said, I am also not very much sure but the fort is in the northern end.

After travelling for over 20 minutes, we came across a hoarding to our right  with the name of the fort. We parked our vehicle on one side and got down. Although there was no need to consult any one, my brother seeing an otherwise educated looking lady going that way, casually enquired about the fort. She said Tipu Sultan’s fort is here and showed us the pathway. She also said if the fort is locked, we may check with the guard there. When I had visited long long ago, the fort could be viewed from the road but now a school building has come up in front and the approach is round about.

Western side while we approach
Pallipuram Fort in Vypin Island is the oldest European construction  anywhere in South East Asia. ‘Fort’ appears to be a misnomer. It is a hexagonal watch tower constructed by the Portuguese in 1503 AD. This was the first building they constructed on the Indian Soil for regulating/controlling sea farers from all the three sides. The Dutch defeated the Portuguese and took over the fort in 1661 AD and sold to the principality of Travancore in 1789. The entire construction is made of laterite  stones and the walls are 6 feet thick. Each side measures 32 feet and the height of the three tiered tower is 34 feet.

The main entrance is towards the East through a small iron gate and few stairs lead you onto a platform constructed above 5 feet from the ground level. There is a small opening at the right side and it appears that the space below was used for storing arms and ammunition. Apart from the ground floor two more floors above would have existed as there are spaces for mounting cannons at two different levels. In the middle there is a circular plastered space and it is presumed that a heavy wooden pole could have supported the two floors (also made of wood). This could have facilitated reaching and manning the cannons positioned facing the sea on three sides.  Right now it is open to the sky.

Although the monument is under the State Archaeology department, it appears to be grossly neglected. A broken lock was found on the main gate and no care taker was found during the duration of our stay at the place. There was lot of unwanted vegetation growing close by obstructing a clear view. Some plants have also taken roots on its walls. If the situation remains the same, the monument may not survive for long.