click for Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cochin in 1503 sailing in a fleet commanded by Dom Francisco de Almeida. Dom Manuel, King of Portugal, had declared himself Lord of Commerce and conquest of the Arabian Sea, Persia and India. He appointed Almeida first Viceroy of the Portuguese state of India. Almeida set about building forts along the east coast of Africa and on the island of Socotra at the mouth of the Red Sea. The grand plan was to block the Arab spice trade from the Far East through the Red Sea to Europe. Already Portugal had her eye on the Spice Isles.
When Vasco da Gama reached Cochin in 1498, initiating the Portuguese occupation, he found a small Christian community among the Hindu populace. It was said to have been founded by St Thomas, doubting Thomas, who would not believe in Christ’s resurrection until putting his finger into the print of the nails in the Holy Ghost’s hands. By the time Magellan got there the Portuguese were well established.
Magellan took part in a number of sea battles along with his cousin, Francisco Serrano, who was to become a key figure in Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Isles. Magellan would have heard first-hand stories of the fabulous Orient here. Since Marco Polo’s original expedition, a trickle of European adventurers had travelled to the Golden Chersonese, marked on Ptolemy’s 1st century world map. It showed the Mediterranean Sea at the centre of the world surrounded by land. The fantasy was only disproved by Vasco da Gama’s voyage 1500 years later.
Magellan undoubtedly saw a copy of this map as a page boy in the court of Queen Leonor in Lisbon. Prince Henry the Navigator had set up the Institute of Navigation at Sagres on the stormy cliffs of Cape St Vincent. Navigation and Geography were part of every page’s education as Portugal stretched its tentacles down the coast of Africa seeking booty of gold and slaves.
We arrived in Cochin after a rough sail from Galle and anchored off the Malabar Hotel. It was only a temporary anchorage for the purpose of completing Customs and immigration formalities, which took two days. Then we shifted to an anchorage off the Bolgatty Island hotel, former palace of colonial governors. Five foreign yachts had beaten us to it: Swedish, German, British and two Australian. All issued warnings about the Indian bureaucracy: even worse than the Indonesian according to some.
Cochin is of course rich in history and diverse in culture, with an abundance of exotic churches and temples. The countryside is lush and picturesque. We made the acquaintance of a girl planning to further her education at an Australian university. We gave her lots of information, probably inaccurate, and in return she and her family took us to places we never would have found without their local knowledge. Pink flamingos waded in shallow lakes and barges loaded with spices poled their way to market as they had done for centuries. We also attended the festival of Ganesh, the god that is half man, half elephant. Elephants decorated with flowers and embroidered head cloths paraded through the city streets led by boys blowing horns and banging cymbals.
Ganesh festival Cochin