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Along the Periyar in a water taxi

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On World Heritage Week a journey through time tracing the history of the famed Muziris trail

The brightly painted water taxi is a pop of colour on the grey expanse of the Periyar. Docked at the Kottappuram jetty, the air-conditioned, covered boat that can seat six people is set to go on the Muziris Heritage trail. The tour that starts and ends at the ancient Kottappuram market is a journey through time. As guide Vysakh PS narrates snatches of history of the region, myth, legend and reality mingle.

In a condensed form, the tour would take a minimum of four hours. An exploration of the entire Muziris region would involve a minimum of three days, covering a number of museums, explains Vysakh. Travellers would also get to do activities in connection with the art and craft of the region.

The Muziris zone covers12 panchayats and two municipalities (North Paravur and Kodungallur) and a hop-on hop-off boat service would take travellers through these circuit tours. These boats are larger and can carry 25 people at a time. Water taxis are for those who are looking for a customised tour of the region.

The Muziris Heritage Project is an attempt at reviving the historical significance of the ancient port town of Muziris. Since 2016, 19 departments of the State Government have been working together on the project, says P M Nowshad, Managing Director of Muziris Projects.

The tour is an experience for the history lover. As the boat cruises along the Periyar, one gets to see the life of the people closely. Fishing is one of the major occupations and clusters of fishing boats colour the shoreline blue. “Fishing boats in Kerala are blue and the ones from Tamil Nadu are green,” Vysakh says. The waterway is also dotted by Chinese fishing nets.

The heritage trail is along the National Waterway 3. Five minutes into the journey, we approach the sea mouth, where the Periyar joins the Arabian Sea. Also known as the ‘Dolphin Point’, lucky ones might be able to spot a few of them porpoising, especially during high tide.

Our first stop is the Manjumatha Church (Our Lady of Snow Basilica), believed to be built by the Portuguese in 1507. Legend has it that the church offered cover for hordes of people who had taken shelter from Tipu’s marauding army. Thick mist covered the church and Tipu’s men could not locate it. The basilica today has worshippers from around the State.

The cruise reveals the layers of history behind seemingly ordinary places. Cherai, which is otherwise known for its beaches, is also where social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan was born. His 175-year-old house, restored, stands as a testimony to his efforts in crushing caste barriers. It was at his house that he conducted the panthibhojanam (a common feast for upper and lower castes).

The journey is as much about conservation and ecology as it is about history and heritage. As the boat enters the Paravur canal, it slows down. The teal-grey water has changed to a deep bottle green and mangroves loom on either side. The canal is calm and the only sounds are of the motor of the boat and the birds. The ravages of the 2018 flood are still visible in the form of errant tree trunks stuck in marshy banks of the canal.

Envisaged by the Government of Kerala as a non-formal education for children, this heritage tour has found popularity among history and travel buffs. “This is the region where history has been continuous, starting with the 1st century BC. We have a number of landmark monuments. The idea is to tell children the stories, which would instil in them a sense of history, heritage, culture and nature,” says Nowshad.

The Paravur Jewish synagogue, our next stop, is an architectural marvel. One of the oldest in Kerala, it is built in traditional Kerala style architecture. It had its last prayer service in 1988. Since a Jewish synagogue needs a quorum of 10 elderly men for service to be conducted, it stopped functioning since the migration of Jews to Israel. The synagogue was restored and declared a museum in 2014.

The next stop is at Chendamangalam, to the palace and home of the Paliathachans, the influential prime ministers of the Cochin Rajas. The palatial structures that showcase a hybrid architecture fusing Kerala and European styles, showcase some of the material possessions of the family including ancient wooden furniture and kitchen utensils.

As we approach the Kottappuram Fort, we have come a full circle on this leg of the tour, says Vysakh. A Portuguese fort that is believed to have been destroyed by the Dutch in 1662, its ruins were excavated by the Department of Archaeology between 2007 and 2009. Another excavation was held between 2010 and 2012.

A meal at one of the restaurants at Kottappuram boat jetty, overlooking the Periyar is an ideal way to end the trip. Ruminate on the experience over pineapple tea perhaps--black tea with a generous amount of pineapple pieces in it, is served in one of the restaurants.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 8:20:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/a-cruise-along-the-muziris-hertiage-trail/article30026800.ece

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