19 surprising facts of Gama's discovery of first sea route to India

The route followed in Vasco da Gama's first voyage (1497–1499). en.wikipedia.org
Vasco da Gama leaving the port of Lisbon, Portugal.
Since the dawn of civilization, there have been so many breath-taking discoveries in the areas of science and technology.  None of them had made so much impact on the international communities as the very first discovery of the sea route to India by the daring Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in May, 1498. It was an "open sesame" for the other European countries and their access to India's vast wealth and natural resources. Most importantly,  the curtain drew on the world stage for the wily British to establish their hegemony across the globe - first foundation ever for the establishment of the British Empire, a show of strength of British imperialism backed by their ingenuity, administrative and military prowess. 

UNESCO recently came into  possession of an important and very useful, but incomplete  pretty old document on the pioneering voyage of Gama to India by an unknown author. This rare document with 79 folios in faded ink was on the dusty shelf of a Monastery of  Santa Cruz de Coimbra in 1834. It was brought to light by one Alexandre Herculano, Portuguese Historian. Surprisingly, this handwritten highly faded, but readable document had lain there in the dark storage room unnoticed for more than three centuries!! The 15th century old  hand written manuscript Journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama to India 1497 to 1499 mentions the casual talk between the Portuguese convict and the strange  Venetian merchants on the Kappad beach, India.

The following are the interesting facts of Gama's first voyage to India:

01. The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (ca. 1460-1524) was the first to travel by sea from Portugal to India with a view to spreading Christianity and beginning trade with the natives. The Portuguese then were crusading against the Muslims and wanted to monopolize the spice trade.
Vacodegama navrangindia.blogspot.com

02. Gama was a member in the court of King Manuel I and he undertook the sea journey to the west coast of India against the wish of numerous counselors. The spice trade was then dominated by Venetians and others and Gama wanted to break their monopoly.
Vasco da Gama lands at Calicut, 20 May 1498.  en.wikipedia.org

03. Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from the Tagus River in Lisbon on 8 July 1497.

04. Da Gama commanded the ship Sao Gabriel, a carrack of 178 tons and his eccentric brother  Paulo da Gama commanded a similar ship named   Sao Rafael.  Other ships were the caravel Berrio and a storage ship of unknown name. The latter got lost while sailing along the east coast of Africa.

05. On 4 November, 1497 the navigators  landed on the African coast, covering more than 10,000 kilo meters (6,000 mi) of open ocean in a period of three moths, a world record at that time. It so happened that during the Christmas time the Portuguese passed the South African coast. On his last leg, Gama left eastward for India from Malindi  on 24 April 1498.

06. Just like Bartolomeu Dias's successful voyage round the Cape of Good Hope (1487-1488), Gama's  intention was to reach the Malabar coast of India via the Good Hope. Spice trade had been going on in the coastal Malabar for centuries, and  there were some European communities, including Jews residing there. However, a majority of the mercantile traders were Arabs. These communities had good understanding with the local Hindu king Zamorin (Samudiri).  

07. If you go by record, the first man to land on the Indian shore was not da Gama, it was one Joao Nunes, a Portuguese convict (degradado). On the morning of  21May 1498, the greatest navigator, who was the special Ambassador of his King  Dom Manuel, was holed up in the under deck of his ship Sao Gabriel. Perhaps, he did not want to risk his life in a strange land.

08. Joao Nunes, upon his landing on the shores of Kappad beach near Kozhikode (now in the state of Kerala) in the showers, accidentally ran into multilingual Tunisian traders. He told them they came here looking for Christians and spices. That time Indonesia was also supplying spices to other countries. 

09. Portuguese visitors had no idea about the presence of Christians there and the visit of Apostle St. Thomas on the coastal Kerala and the establishment of seven and half churches there in the 2nd century AD itself.

Kappad beach near Kozhokode, Kerala, de Gama landed here, en.wikimedia.org

10. Da Gama, upon the arrival of Joao, a week later with an invitation from the local ruler, landed on the Indian shores, thus becoming the first ever European navigator to have discovered the first sea route to India, covering a record distance across  three seas.

the Kappad beach, Kozhikode(Calicut), Kerala, www.charteredholidays.com

11. The ruler gave him audience in the late evening and da Gama was taken aback by the rich ambiance inside the king's court,  surrounded by vast wealth and affluence. He was wondering the stuff - some hats, two barrels of butter, a bale of sugar he had with him to be presented to the ruler were worthy of his opulence.  

12. The king was not pleased with Gama and his gifts. There was no trade deal. Even a poor merchant from the middle east would offer the ruler far more valuable gifts than the Portuguese navigator. 

13. After Gama's visit, there were some skirmishes between the natives and the Portuguese, who thought the Muslims living there,  were instigating the king. Finally, after some negotiations and peace talk, Gama was allowed to load his ship with stuff mostly spices, etc., from Malabar.

14. His  cargo was worth sixty times the total cost of the expedition and Gama made a bundle upon reaching Portugal. Da Gama left Calicut for home on 29 August 1498 in the midst of the

Outward and return voyages of the Portuguese en.wikipedia.org

Above image: The images shows outward and return voyages of the Portuguese India Run (Carreira da ├Źndia). The outward route of the South Atlantic westerlies that Bartolomeu Dias discovered in 1487,  was followed and explored by da Gama. the perilous return journey was taken during the SW Monsoon ........

SW Monsoon. Now, it took 132 days to cross the Indian ocean, the same journey earlier towards India took him just 23 days because of prevailing wind pattern before and after the SW Monsoon season.

15. Half of his crew died before reaching  Malindi, on 7 January 1499 and  at last they reached W. African coast. Later Gama and his sick brother hitchhiked to his place, leaving his ship to his clerk, Joao de Sa.   

16. En route, his sick eccentric brother Paulo da Gama died. Gama, after his brother's burial in Angra do Heroismo (in the Azores - autonomous region of Portugal) resumed his journey; he reached Lisbon  on 29 August 1499 where he was given a rousing, heroic  welcome by the people there.

17. The royal treasury, later, was enriched by the spice trade with the Malabar region and hereon  Gama's sea route was  regularly followed by  yearly Portuguese India Armadas.

De Gama,Oakridge International School, Newton Campus - blogger
18. Gama never, during later voyages developed a good relationship with the local Hindu  ruler and was harsh towards Muslim pilgrims who were on their way to Malabar from Mecca. The local Hindu ruler was quite furious and was quite unhappy with the white men from Portugal.
19. Gama made three voyages to India; the second one in 1502 was to take revenge on the Zamorin ruler and  the third one being in 1524. This time Gama contracted Malaria and died on the Christmas Eve in Cochin (now in the state of Kerala) and was buried at
Gama was buried St. Francis Church, Fort Cochiwww.makemytrip.com
St. Francis Church, in Fort Kochi. His mortal remains were returned to Portugal in 1539.