Willingdon Islands is the largest artificial island in India, which forms part of the city of Kochi, in the state of Kerala, India. Much of the present Willingdon Island was claimed from the Lake of Kochi, filling in dredged soil around a previously existing, but tiny, natural island. Willingdon Island is significant as the home for the Port of Kochi, as well as the Kochi Naval Base (the Southern Naval Command) of the Indian Navy and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, a constituent unit of Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
The island is also home for other establishments associated with the port, namely, the Office of the Cochin Port Trust (that controls the Port of Kochi), the Customs Office, and more than two dozen export-import offices, warehouses, a few hotels and business centers.
The idea of developing a new port in Kochi was first felt by Sir Robert Bristow, who was appointed by Lord Willingdon, then-the Governor of Madras Presidency, to create a new modern port on the West coast of India at Kochi.
The island was created during the construction of modern port in 1936, with the soil dredged out while deepening the Vembanad Lake to accommodate the new port. It was named after The 1st Earl of Willingdon, the Viceroy of India at the time, who commissioned the project. Robert Bristow, the chief protagonist and engineer for the project, owned the first building on the island.
The first liner, which belonged to the Bibby Line, arrived at the island on 9 March 1935. A port hostel, called Malabar Hotel, was built for passengers who wished to rest on the island.
All the pre-planned basic port structure was completed in 1939, just in time for the Second World War. A deep wharf, a rail bridge and a road bridge to the mainland provided valuable infrastructure for the local war effort. A naval works was also constructed on the adjacent Venduruthy Island to the south, where, by the end of the war, they were busily constructing landing craft for the presumed invasion of Japan. In 1940 a passenger jetty and customs house were built adjoining the hotel, together with a passenger platform and rail siding.
British military use
The Royal Air Force quickly found use for this flat expanse of conveniently located virgin territory, and constructed a large aerodrome. The artificial isle thus became a thriving military base. The Malabar Hotel provided quarters for all the wartime staff and the building gained a new administrative block next door to it. A new post office, an open-air swimming-bath between the hotel and offices, and a branch bank adjoining both, completed the amenities.
Control of the transport hub was transferred from the British Empire to India in 1947, when the latter gained independence. During its short colonial tenure the island had handled at most one million tons of freight, by 1960 this had almost doubled. The island aerodrome was extensively developed and became the city’s modern airport. Nowadays Cochin has an international Airport at Nedumbassery, 30 km north-east of the city, while the airstrip on the island turned into the naval air station INS Garuda. The remaining space on the island was quickly utilized in the 1950s, and far from being an unnatural appendage of the picturesque and ancient city, the isle, left behind by the British so soon after its completion, became the commercial heart of the ancient metropolis of Cochin.
It is a major port in India, and a landmark in the city of Kochi. Willingdon Island is connected to the mainland by Venduruthy Bridge, which has road and railway links. The headquarters of the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy is located on the island. Cochin shipyard is also located near this island. It is also a major tourist centre. Willingdon Island is also home to several hotels and commercial offices.
Apart from these, it is here that the airport used to be positioned (until it was moved to present location in Nedumbassery near Kochi) along with the shipbuilding yard, wharf, the Southern Naval Command Headquarters and the customs house. Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industries has been strategically placed here, as is the Government of India Tourist Information Office in the vicinity of the airport. This island is a hub of activity with a number of offices, branches of national and international banks, travel agencies and souvenir shop warehouses.
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