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Willingdon Island The Largest Man Made Island in India

Updated on April 23, 2020
Chinese fishing nets in Kochi
Chinese fishing nets in Kochi

The heart of God's own country, Kochi is a city of dreams endowed with natural beauty. Bordered with a network of islands opening up to the cool breeze from the Arabian Sea and the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets all ready to catch its prey gives a flawless picture of Kochi. The large ships and cruise are no stranger to this place. And so is the Willingdon Island, the largest man-made island in India to the people of Kochi.

Robert Bristow - The Harbor Engineer of Willingdon Island

Sir Robert Bristow, a British harbour engineer best known for his contributions to the development of the port of Kochi (Cochin) in India.
Sir Robert Bristow, a British harbour engineer best known for his contributions to the development of the port of Kochi (Cochin) in India.

Looking back, the origin of this beautiful island took place during the British rule, thus making it a bequest of British in India. During the early 20th century, trade at the port of Kochi had increased substantially. And the ships that headed to Cochin port were anchored in open sea because of the poor design structure of port. Thus a strong need for development was felt.
The port, which was under British rule since 1795, had seen little buildup, despite its illustrious maritime history. So to nail the spot, the then Governor of Madras, Lord Willingdon appointed one of the famous British engineers, Sir Robert Bristow. Bristow aimed to construct an approach channel from the deep sea to the inner harbor that would help ships to enter the safer harbor rather than being vulnerable to the harsh sea waves from the open sea, where they are currently berthed while loading and unloading cargoes.

Buildings seen on the island while traveling towards the island.
Buildings seen on the island while traveling towards the island.

With his arrival in 1920, Kochi was all set to optimize its commercial potential. The next two decades saw him design and supervise the construction of this 3.12 sq. km island and port at a considerable distance from the sea. The challenges faced for the creation of the port was not small. The ships required more than 8 feet of water to access the harbor. But the compactly packed sand and silt barrier endured the opening of the backwater, blocking the pathway of the ships to the inner harbor. Excavating the sand bar seemed to be impracticable for the engineers. Besides, the environmental impacts of such removal of the sand bar on the nearby islands (Vypeen island/ Vembanadu lake) were untold. After wholly analyzing the circumstances and surroundings, Bristow realized that it is possible to create a safe harbor in Kochi by making an inner channel for ships to enter. Also, the enigma associated with the erosion of Vypeen foreshore was resolved through innovative ideation and an intelligent explication of placing rubble granite groynes parallel to the shores.

Aerial view of Willingdon Island showing the commercial side.
Aerial view of Willingdon Island showing the commercial side.

Willingdon Island, named after the then Governor of Madras, Lord Willingdon welcomed the first major ship, the steamship Padma, sailing from Bombay on 26 May 1928, to enter the newly constructed inner harbor of Kochi. Further, he built a road and a railway line to facilitate traffic of goods to and from the new port. And also an iron Irish to allow free passage of ships. There is even an old airport close to the Naval Base of Cochin.

During the second world war, the Willingdon island became a massive army camp. The British Military used the airport and seaport as a camp to push back the Japanese. Even after Indian Independence, the port played an important role in the development of Kerala. The island has now grown into an international-commercial center with the active presence of Port-trust, Customs house, many business outlets, and famous hotels.

A Tourist Guide

One can reach Willingdon Island with a leisurely car drive or by enjoying the backwater ride in government-owned boats. Boats are available in every 10- 15-minute interval and cost just a few pennies. Not only tourists but regular workmen can also be seen traveling in this boat. Board the trip from Boat Jetty and arrive at the Willingdon Island. The picturesque ride with winds brushing through your hair and face is a memorable one. And note that the best time for this travel is in the month of August and September, soon after the rains are done.
On reaching the Island, one can walk through the roads or rent a bicycle to witness the roadside shops of antiques, species, and clothes, and to explore the most scenic spot of Cochin, the Willingdon Island, a must-see for eyes. And don't forget to taste the authentic roadside that you see in your travel way.

A total of 5 bridge ways along with the boat service and the Cochin Harbour Terminus Railway Station open up to Willingdon island.

The railway station and airport is currently not in use.

A roadway leading to Willigdon Island.
A roadway leading to Willigdon Island.

© 2020 Eesha


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    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Very interesting article but you didn't mention about the Naval base. I have been so many times there. Its the seat of the Naval Southern command.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 weeks ago from UK

      You have added a lot of interesting historical background to this article.


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