Kochi: The often-photographed row of cheenavalas Chinese nets, those shore-based fishing contraptions in Kochi, will soon receive a facelift with Kerala Tourism providing Rs15 million for their renovation, due to their value as a tourism attraction. Also, a Chinese delegation has offered to help restore the nets.
Suman Billa, tourism secretary of the government of Kerala, said, "In order to restore their bygone glory, the renovation project will hopefully be undertaken this fiscal year by KITCO, the technical consultancy organisation."
The project is to include the erection of platforms to be built to allow tourists to take a closer look at the nets. Also, tourists who converge in large numbers on the popular Fort Kochi area, where these nets jut out into the sea, would be able to choose from fish brought in with the catch, which would be grilled and served.
It is understood that the Chinese ambassador to India and other officials visited the Chinese fishing nets recently, noting that Chinese President Xi Jinping is enthusiastic about seeing these nets restored, as he is likely to visit Kochi in September. Further, it has been reported that the Chinese delegation offered Rs1 million each for renovation of the 12 Chinese nets.
But many believe that such one-time funding would not suffice to preserve the nets, as a more sustainable financial package is needed.
It has also been reported that the Chinese delegation that visited the Kochi Fort area said they hope to complete the renovation work before the proposed visit of the Chinese president. Considering these nets are viewed as a living monument of Chinese tradition and history, the Chinese government has prepared funding to retain the lost glory of the nets.
This assistance has raised hopes, as stakeholders at the tourism and heritage site believe that the town of Kochi would lose its definitive appeal without the rustic charm of the nets and the fishermen managing them.
The high cost of purchasing teak poles had forced the fishermen to replace them with iron poles, thereby compromising the nets' aesthetic value. Also, the nets had been earlier dismantled because of their high operational cost and a decline in the fish catch.
The nets, however, could be maintained if teak poles were made available by the Forest Department at nominal rates.
These big cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, which droop towards the waters like over-sized hammocks, have become a hallmark that represents Fort Kochi on the tourist map, attracting large numbers of tourists. These nets adorn almost all brochures promoting Kerala Tourism.
The nets were introduced 500 years ago by the Portuguese, bringing the nets from Indo-China in Kochi. Yet besides their heritage value, the nets provided a livelihood for fishermen for the past 500 years.
Chinese fishing nets are believed to have been introduced in Kochi by Chinese explorer Zheng He, from the court of the Kubla Khan. The fishing nets were first used on the Kochi shores between 1350 and 1450 AD.
The Chinese nets, made of teak wood and bamboo poles, work on the principle of balance. Each structure, about 10 metres high, is fixed on the beach and has a cantilever with an attached net that spans over an area of about 20 metres. Counterweights, usually stones about 30cm in diameter and tied to ropes of different lengths, assist the working of the nets. Often, lights attached to the teak posts are suspended above the net to attract fish.
Each fishing net is operated by more than four fishermen and is designed to allow the weight of a man walking on the main plank to be enough to cause the equipment to be pulled down into the sea. Fishing is usually done in the morning and early evening. The net descends into the water for a short time and then raised delicately by pulling on ropes.
The slow rhythm and balancing of the net is spellbinding to a first-time viewer.