Vypeen, right across the much celebrated Fort Kochi, separated by the backwaters, does not lure tourists, despite its equally rich cultural heritage. Nagged by water scarcity and other problems, Vypeen is now getting attention from the Tourism Department
In the quiet precincts of the 400-year-old Our Lady Of Hope Church in Vypeen, four members of the Parish Pastoral committee are excited about a beautification project that is to be inaugurated by the Tourism Department this week. It is an initiative they had mooted and pitched strongly for. It will be a realisation of their dreams.
Fort Vypeen, the area around the church, is a part of Ward No 1 of Cochin Corporation. It is in the same ward as Fort Kochi. Yet, unlike the latter, it has not received the benefits of the boom in tourism. Despite cradling one of the most precious historical monuments, the church, it is Fort Kochi that has prospered and developed while Fort Vypeen has remained in the shadows.
“Like twins separated at birth”, comments a Vpeenite wryly at the fates of the two forts, one hugely pampered and the other sadly neglected.
But this is set to change, according to U. V. Jose, Additional Director, Tourism. He says, “Yes, this is the first time that we are going to the other side. A project, to be handled by KITCO, has a very specific objective of improving the church premises. It is not only a beautification project but also conservation and environment related. It will be followed by other initiatives.”
Vypeen, steeped in history, derives its richness from the church. The significance comes from the fact that when the Dutch overran what is today Fort Kochi, they banned the Catholics from practising their faith at St. Francis Church. The Catholics moved to Vypeen, carrying with them three altars and the pulpit from the church. “Hence what you see here is the original, old Portuguese church,” says Fr. Mathew Puthiyath, Administrator of the church. “Four-hundred-and-seven years old, to be precise,” adds David Mittra, Secretary Parish Pastoral committee, with a possessiveness of one who feels strongly for his area, “This is a historical monument. To my knowledge this church is the third structure. The remains of the earlier church are seen in the cemetery wall and the first was a wooden thatched roof structure.”
The project has on its agenda the beautification of the church compound, laying of cobbled pathways, widening the existing walkway, making a children’s park, connecting the beach to the main road, a tourist info centre, a police post and public toilets at the KINCO boat jetty. It will also revive the old Chinese nets, eight of which line the Vypeen waterfront.
An important feature of the programme is the shifting of the grotto in the church compound to the side, which will enable vessels in the water to get a clear view of this historic church. “The church authorities have agreed to shift the grotto to enhance the visibility of the church from the waterway,” says Fr. Mathew. Raju Xavier, an active resident from the area and a part of the committee has been actively pressing for development and is hopeful.
But all are not optimistic. David Mittra is despondent that the initial allocation of funds for the project has been reduced by half. He says that the place continues to be beset with civic issues like water scarcity, water logging, waste dumping, poor public transport, lack of connectivity via water and road and a severe mosquito problem.
But then Vypeen or “the other side” as it is commonly referred to by most, has been neglected for a long time.
“Not true,” says, K.J. Sohan, Chairman, Town Planning, Standing committee, Corporation of Cochin, about the comparison.
“Fort Kochi and Fort Vypeen have equal historic importance. Vypeen was not accessible except by boat till the opening of the Goshree Bridge,” he adds.
Water scarcity is an acute problem faced by the area. Water still reaches Vypeen in a barge. Sohan rues at the irony of the situation. “Imagine water reaching there through water. Addressing this problem should be the priority,” he remarks. Antony Kureethara, councillor of the ward, says that he is going to raise the water issue vociferously at any forum available.
Legislator Dominic Presentation categorically says that the area will get water through pipes in a year’s time and that the work for it is under way. He is upbeat about the beautification project.
“You know, we have the centuries old statue of the Ecce Homo (Christ crowned with thorns) that was brought from Portugal. It is a very special statue built on a single piece of wood. We host the maximum number of feasts in our church,” discloses Fr. Mathew with great pride.
He is hoping that the changes on the anvil will bring the much desired development and prosperity to the area.
Waving away doubts, U.V. Jose says optimistically, “Take this as a start. We will bring in more initiatives in the next phase.”
So finally Fort Vypeen is set to get a facelift and derive the benefits of tourism. Like its twin Fort Kochi the two forts may finally have similar fates.