Old boat jetty where Lord Curzon landed has changed beyond recognition

Standing at the Kerala Inland Navigation Corporation (Kinco) jetty after sundown and looking across the backwaters at brightly lit Vallarpadam Terminal, Willingdon Island’s shimmering lights, the flow of traffic on Goshree Bridge, like fireflies flying in single file, and at the boats with bobbing lights it is impossible to imagine the sight that would have welcomed Sir Robert Bristow. It is said that he boarded the boat to British Cochin, today’s Fort Kochi, from this very boat jetty. Bristow, in his book Cochin Saga, writes about this jetty.

The Kinco Jetty is located at the north end of Shanmugham Road close to the High Court of Kerala. The reclamation of the backwaters, which formed the Marine Drive, pushed the boat jetty further away from its original space on Shanmugham Road towards the backwaters. On one side of the boat jetty is the Greater Cochin Development Authority’s (GCDA) spanking new walkway. One cannot miss the old and the brand new contrast of the place. This boat jetty is one among Kochi’s many boat jetties.

In the past those headed for Fort Kochi used to alight at the old railway station and go to this boat jetty, which was the landing point for the British, before their onward trip. Boats to nearby islands such as Cherai, Ponjikkara, Nayarambalam and Bolghatty originated here.

“The centre of activity was Broadway and the Market hence the location of the jetty was ideal,” says V. N. Venugopal, city historian.

The now nondescript, derelict jetty’s big moment came in 1901 when the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, visited Cochin State. “He was the first Viceroy to visit the State. He came by ship, sailed to Bolghatty Palace. He came to Cochin, to the jetty, in a paddle boat and went to Durbar Hall, by coach, to attend a reception organised by the Maharaja in his honour. He later sailed to Thiruvananthapuram in the same ship he came in,” Venugopal informs.

A defining feature of the jetty was its huge gate complete with columns built in the Greek style. The origins of the gate can possibly be linked to this event, Venugopal says. “It is possible that the columned gateway was built to welcome Lord Curzon. The gate was there till as recently as the 1950s.”

The space constraints following the reclamation might be why the open space around the jetty has shrunk.

It is now congested with shops and there is nothing that hints at its history. Even the gate no longer exists. It is also possible that the gate might have been a casualty of the reclamation.

“It is in 1926-27 that Ernakulam Jetty came into being. The centre of social life moved to the stretch between Broadway and the Ernakulam Shiva temple, where most of the residences were. The fact that the hospital and Maharaja’s College were also located on that side might have led to the boat jetty moving, for convenience sake.” There were no bridges to Mattancherry. And the new jetty being closer than the old one made it more popular and was used more.

The old jetty thus gave way to the newer one. Over time its prominence waned as activity shifted to more happening areas.

In the 1970s or 80s Kerala Inland Navigation Corporation took over and is today known as the Kinco jetty.

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