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Kochi Fishing Nets (India)

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Location: 9.977°N 76.27°E

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      26.12.2012 15:48
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      Traditional methods persist in this unusual fishing technique

      ~Look at the funny locals doing crazy things~

      It's amazing what you can persuade tourists to consider an 'attraction' these days and equally how locally developed techniques for things like fishing or farming can become photogenic 'must sees' on the tourist trail. I still remember fifteen years ago being hauled out of a bus and sent to stare at Sri Lanka men perched on poles and putting on a performance of fishing. They'd long lost any sense that it was about the fish and it had turned entirely into something that was about the tips.

      In India, the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi in the Kerala city of Kochi (aka Cochin) are another of those strange artefacts of an earlier time that that draw tourists by the bus-loads, their cameras at the ready, to observe what's now a rather lame performance. Whilst the technique was once a major source of fish for the local fish market, there seem to be rather slim pickings these days - though that might be because the fishermen are dipping the nets in and out of the water for only a short time in order to maximise the tips from tourists. It's less about fish and more about reeling in the tourists.

      ~Second Time Around~

      On our first visit to Kochi 8 or 9 years back, we were with an organised tour and obediently gathered round to watch the fishermen do their stuff. This time around in November 2011, we were alone, just my husband and I, and we didn't feel the need to put the performers through their paces though I was still intending to get plenty of photos, mostly from a distance at which they couldn't charge me for the privilege.

      The Chinese fishing nets are unusual in being a land-based form of sea fishing which instinctively sounds completely screwy. They sit on wooden jetties which stretch out over the sea like rather rickety old piers. Rather than casting lines from the coast or sailing off in a boat and dropping nets, the traditional Kerala way of fishing used large nets which are tethered to these jetties and are lowered into the water, left for a while and then raised, trapping the fish in the large net. Four long bamboo poles are joined together at their tops and the nets are attached to the bottom to give a large, square netted area. The four are joined to at a fifth longer pole which is weighted with rocks and has ropes attached to it and is used to raise or lower the nets.
      It's not clear why these are known as Chinese fishing nets but it's assumed that the technique was imported to India by a Chinese explorer called Zheng He but there seems to be little proof of the origin. It all adds to the mystique of the fishermen.

      ~Performance Art with Fish thrown in~

      Each fishing net has around half a dozen men to work it - or these days, a couple to work it and several to run around and collect the tips from the tourists. That might sound scathing but this is one of those sights that's worth parting with some cash to get a full understanding of what's going on. Yes, it can be a bit cheesy - or maybe I should say 'fishy' - but it's still worth seeing and getting some photos. We visited out of the main tourist season and escaped the nagging of the fishermen, easily brushing off those who tried to lure us to a fishing performance by telling them that we'd been before. I was actually just as interested to take a walk around the seafront fish stalls, many of them selling fish so fresh they were still gasping and seafood so fresh it was still moving.

      I was quite amused by watching the ancient fishing nets juxtaposed against giant tankers and freight ships passing beyond them in the distance. The combination of old and new, tiny and enormous, was almost baffling.

      ~Where there are tourists, there will be things to buy~

      We had to meet our driver a few minutes later so we couldn't take advantage of the offers of fabulous fish and shellfish but we gathered that nobody actually expected us to just buy raw fish. If we wanted to buy, they would take us to a nearby café to get the food cooked. I wish we had taken advantage of this as we subsequently went to an absolutely awful street-side restaurant and missed the chance to have something potentially really good.

      As well as the fish market, there are numerous people with or without small stalls or trolleys trying to sell all sorts of things. I bought a collapsible hat for a friend who burns easily because our driver insisted this was his friend and we didn't have the heart to not take something whilst we were passing the time and waiting for him to come and collect us. The area around the fishing nets should be good for a bit of people watching but does require an ability to avoid too much discussion with people who are trying to sell you things you don't really want.

      ~Recommendation~

      Combine a short visit to the Chinese fishing nets with visits to the other attraction of the Fort Kochi area such as the church where Vasco da Gama was buried (until they dug him up and took him home to Portugal, the Dutch cemetery and the Santa Cruz basilica, one of India's oldest churches.

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