On to India

The welcome was friendlier when they arrived at Mombasa's regional rival, Malindi on 14 April 1498. In the harbour, da Gama sighted the first signs of Indian rather than Arab traders and managed to obtain the services of an experienced pilot who could use his knowledge of the monsoons to guide the three ships the rest of the way to Calicut on India's southwest coast. 

When da Gama left Malindi on 24 April 1498, it had taken the Portuguese seventy years to feel their way down to the Cape and round it. The last leg, across the Indian Ocean, took a mere twenty-three days.

Having made landfall, the ships followed the coast to Calicut which they reached on 20 May and erected a padrão to prove their accomplishment in reaching India. From there, however, things did not flow smoothly. 

Calicut's ruler, the Samudiri (Zamorin), was away at his second capital when da Gama arrived but returned to Calicut to receive the visitors with traditional hospitality. 

After a grand procession of three thousand armed Nair warriors, negotiations began but failed to produce satisfactory results. The gifts from Manuel I that da Gama delivered were trivial, insignificant, and failed to impress. His request for permission to leave a factor behind to move unsold merchandise was turned down, and, worse, da Gama learned that he was expected to pay customs duty, preferably in gold. 

Still, da Gama and his crew ended up spending three months in Calicut, forced to barter on the waterfront if they wanted to gather goods for the passage home. As tension increased, da Gama fought his way out of the harbour at the end of August, taking five or six hostages who he expected to fill in the substantial gaps in the Portuguese knowledge of Indian customs and affairs.

Calicut and the return journey

© Ian Hughes 2017