Fort Kochi would have been most certainly less romantic but for the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets or Cheena Vala that dot its coastline. What was once the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen have become the well recognized leitmotif not merely of Fort Kochi travel but of Kerala travel too. Chinese fishing nets are very much part of the Fort Cochin landscape, and has been in use for the last 500 years.
A widely believed story is that Chinese nets were introduced by the Chinese explorer, Zheng He, who came to Cochin to trade spices sometime in the 14th century. Some believe that the traders from the court of Mongol emperor, Kubla Khan brought these nets, introduced to locals and taught them how to use it. Etymologically too, the Chinese link seems convincing.
The spider like installation of Chinese fishing nets helps an unusual form of fishing. Each structure is at least 10 mtr high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net that is lowered manually with the help of pulleys and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the shore end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen.
The system is sufficiently balance and the weight of a man walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a short time,possibly just a few minutes,before it is raised and the catch is taken out of the net with the help of a fly catcher.
The system of counterweights is most ingenious. Rocks,each 30cm or so in diameter,are suspended from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised some of the rocks one by one, come to rest on a platform ,thereby keeping everything in balance.
Chinese fishing nets attracts tourists by its size,majestic construction and slow operation.
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