Kochi, Vasco da Gama and a whole lot of history

Kochi, Vasco da Gama and a whole lot of history

Kochi, Vasco da Gama and a whole lot of history

This blog post on Kochi was contributed by Nezasa CEO Manuel Hilty, who travelled to India and Nepal in November.

On my recent inspection trip to Nezasa’s India offerings in Rajasthan and Kerala, we visited Kochi, one of the highlights of the state of Kerala which is also called “God’s Own Country”.

Kochi is perhaps best known as the place where famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died from malaria in 1524. In Kochi’s St. Francis Church, one can still visit the tomb where he was originally buried before his remains were returned to Lisbon in 1539.

The original tomb where famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama lay before his remains were repatriated to Portugal in 1538 AD. The plaque reads: "Here lay buried Vasco da Gama who died on the Christmas Eve of the year 1524 A.D. at Cochin until his remains were removed to Portugal fourteen years later". (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

The original tomb in Fort Kochi where famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama lay before his remains were repatriated to Portugal in 1538 AD. The plaque reads: “Here lay buried Vasco da Gama who died on the Christmas Eve of the year 1524 A.D. at Cochin until his remains were removed to Portugal fourteen years later”. (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

Vasco da Gama sailed his way into the history books with a trailblazing sea journey from Portugal to India via the Cape of Good Hope, setting the stage for the spice trade by sea.

Vasco da Gama sailed his way into the history books with a trailblazing sea journey from Portugal to India via the Cape of Good Hope, setting the stage for the spice trade by sea.

Vasco da Gama, the historic trailblazer

Vasco da Gama is a legend among ocean sailors. After decades of unsuccessful attempts to reach the East Indies (during which dozens of ships and thousands of lives were lost due to wrecks and attacks), he and his crew were the first to successfully navigate the oceans around the Cape of Good Hope to India, clearing the path for the spice trade over water.

Da Gama reached Calicut on the Indian west coast on May 20, 1498, after setting out from Lisbon eight months and 12 days earlier. Today, it’s considered one of the great naval achievements of history.

And now, the Volvo Open Race

One could even call da Gama’s achievement a precursor to the modern-day Volvo Ocean Race, now en route from Abu Dhabi for China around India starting on January 3. As you read this, seven of the world’s best sailing crews readying themselves and their boats for the trip across the Indian Ocean in the world’s most prestigious offshore sailing race.

These modern-day sailboats can cover large distances in very little time – much faster than da Gama could have ever imagined. In the 2011 edition of the race, it took sailboat teams just 17 days to reach Cape Town from Alicante, Spain, and this year, it took them 24 days because of lighter wind conditions.

While these crews can be considered the sailing heroes of our time, my visit to the historic place of Fort Kochi reminded me of what a daring and adventurous journey this was more than 500 years ago in the first records of European ships sailing to this part of the world.

Many layers of history in Kochi

Kochi is one of those places where you can still see and smell history as you walk around in its streets. The place has picked up so many influences from different cultures including Indian, Arabian, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Southeast Asia and many more.

An old trade building in Kochi, an example of the many evidences of the history in the area. (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

An old trade building in Kochi, an example of the many evidences of the history in the area. (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

This is partially due to da Gama shortening the distance between Europe and India with his successful exploratory journey, which led to a significant boost in the spice trade, with pepper and cinnamon being the ones most sought after at the time.

But da Gama is only one part of the rich variety of cultural and historic highlights in this area. If you have the chance to go to India, make sure to discover history in Kochi on one of Nezasa’s Kerala itineraries.

A scene from a local market in Kochi. (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

A scene from a local market in Kochi. (MANUEL HILTY PHOTO)

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