Muziris – a Cultural El-dorado

A fascinating place that still cradles the splendid stories of the past and offers the sublime feel of a Time-Travel- that is the saga of Muziris, a vanished harbour of Kerala in South India. Muziris is presently nothing more than a ghost of its glorious past but still possesses the potential to thrill. Especially in a place like Muziris nothing else is instrumental due to the absence of major tangible edifices or historical remnants in the vicinity. The great flood of AD 1341 had wiped out the then Muziris legacy, leaving behind only a handful of visible traces for the posterity like the tip of an iceberg. Its treasures are patiently waiting to be unearthed.  

Muziris is situated on the banks of River Periyar near Kodugallore Town, roughly forty kilometers northwest of Cochin. In the present scenario, Muziris Tour Circuit is scattered at a radius of approximately 25 square kilometers, which is sincerely promoted by some tour operators. The circuit consists of well-maintained Paravoor and Chennamangalam Synagogues, Paliyam Palace, Museum, Excavation sites, tourist boat rides, traditional hand-made workshops of mastered artisans, etc. In addition to that, the Kodungallor region is noted for its age-old Syrian Catholic church, towering on the banks of the beautiful Backwaters. The Church houses the relics of the Apostle St. Thomas, brought here later. In the vicinity of the town the very first Mosque in India – Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid – is situated. Kodungalloor Kurumbakkavu Bhagavathi Temple – has a diverse custom of scurrilous songs to please the Hindu Goddess. Thiruvanchikkulam Shiva temple around the town has references to the Sangham Literature.

Despite having a variety of monuments in the Circuit, which offers a vast cultural kaleidoscope, Muziris, as a tourist destination attracts considerably a very less number of conventional tourists now. The State Government of Kerala has commenced a Muziris Heritage Project in 2006 with honest enthusiasm by involving the departments of Culture, Tourism, and other related government departments, for re-discovering the glory and grandeur of Muziris and showcasing it before the world. In popularizing the destination, the existing monuments, those constructed much later in various times are renovated with the basic Infrastructure. But as a matter of fact, currently, Muziris is not equipped to offer to a large number of conventional tourists anything more than a day excursion from Cochin. It is a big constraint of Major Tour operators to promote Muziris as a standalone destination or as a “product” on its own merit. The problem could be solved only if the Pattanam Excavations re-discover the disappeared harbour of the bygone era which surely could be exhibited as a USP of Kerala Heritage tourism in the Global Tourism Market.

 “The ground reality is that Muziris can be promoted mainly to the culture and pilgrim tourists visiting holy places pertaining to their faith.  But the arrivals of such specialized high spending tourist groups are very less in number” says Arun Kumar KS with his two-decades-long Industry Experience, who is a Cochin-based Southern Regional Level Spanish speaking Professional Guide. Arun once was a practicing Lawyer in the Cochin High Court, became a professional guide due to his passion for this distinctive profession.

Due to the cost-cutting wars among the tour operators, which is unhealthy competition, they are forced to bring only the low-spending leisure-seeking tourists whose interests are far beyond what a “future classic” but the present Muziris tour circuit can offer. To such conventional tourists spending a whole day, that too a minimum of a two hours’ journey to and from the popular destination of Cochin is a time and money consuming affair in their limited days of Holidays, as no overnight staying facilities in the International standards are available at Muziris.

“Lately, Muziris did little to buoy up tourists, though a “wow feeling” is still afar” opines Lijo Jose, the Director of Muziris Heritage Day-Tours, who is also a resident of Muziris. He adds that he doesn’t find it as a cakewalk to convince the tourists to promote the Muziris tour circuit. Presently he indulges mainly in ground handling of the Cruise Ship day excursion Tourists who arrive in Cochin Harbour among his other tour operation services.

Aneesh Mon, Operations Head (South) of Dravidian Trails Holidays Pvt Ltd, based in Cochin shares the same feeling “Our main clientele is from the European countries. We find practical difficulty in selling the Muziris packages among the usual European leisure-seeking tourists. But as a mission, we assist foreign academicians, bring foreign journalists and international tour operators in view of popularizing Muziris into a Future Destination. We believe that it is our duty to accelerate the emergence of destinations like Muziris”.

Yet the possibilities of Muziris tour circuits are coveting. Once the Muziris Heritage Project is completed as envisaged, with all its historical and cultural eligibilities, the possibilities are high Muziris to be declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in Kerala. All kinds of tourists flock here if high-end leisure-based infrastructure, utilizing the backwaters and the adjoining localities are developed. However, uncertainty looms over the tiring process of the completion of the project in near future.

A major clientele visit here is the Jewish Religious Groups as Muziris retains a “Jewish Aura”. Nandini Joshi, a Mumbai based Spanish Speaking Western Regional Level Professional Guide specializes presently in handling the high-profile Jewish religious groups from Israel and the United States. She points out that even in the present context Muziris is an integral part of Jewish Religious Tours to Kerala. “An effective presentation skill of a Guide is required in Muziris who re-enact a zestfully furious football match on an empty eventless football stadium” adds Nandini, who is also a Faculty of Tourism Studies in Mumbai University, besides being an Ornithologist and a keen Naturalist.

Natural calamities such as seismic reverberations, great floods, and volcanic eruptions often put archaeologists and history enthusiasts into dismay. At the same time, the innate human nature energizes them into a tireless spree to find out the true scientific evidence to chalk out and re-construct the past that often turns out to be the value-added tourism products. From the Tourism point of view, delivering high-quality Professional tourism only can attract high spending and research-oriented discerned International Tourists to the country. Tourism is definitely an economic activity and a viable source of Foreign Exchange for a nation like India. In addition to that promoting a destination will also be an inspiration for preserving its rich heritage. 

By Ajai Kumar K S / Sreedevi Narayanan

Photographs by Manoj Vasudevan

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