Kochi also known as Cochin has forever seduced travellers and traders and moored them to its shores for ages. This island town that still exhibits glimpses of its glorious past can best be described as a colonial melting pot. Kochi became prominent when a natural port was formed after River Periyar flooded the Muziris port at Kodungallur, north of Kochi in AD 1341. Centuries ago, explorers from world over and foreign invaders landed on this tiny island, a ferry ride away from Ernakulam, its twin city on mainland. The visits by Jews, Chinese and various western travellers when it was a spice trading centre has left a long lasting impression on this now popular port town. The influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and English who occupied the town from as early as the 16th century is evident even today. Be it the narrow lanes, the fishing nets, the cemeteries, the palaces, the churches, the antique shops, the boutique hotels or the umpteen number of cafes, Kochi emanates more foreign flavours than the local ones. This colonial influence has been the impetus in churning out Kochi, aptly named Queen of the Arabian sea, into one of the top travel destinations in the country.
Venduruthy bridge greets as you leave the mainland to cross the Vembanad lake into Willingdon island that connects Kochi with the mainland. The road then crosses another bridge over the Lakshadweep sea to enter Kochi. Various fragrances hit you as the road winds its way through the bakeries of Thopumpady, the spice markets of Mattancherry and the sea food stalls of Fort Kochi. The enchanting landscape has islands strewn across Vembanad lake, mesmerising backwaters and expansive Lakshadweep sea. Areas in and around Fort Kochi and Mattancherry are collectively referred to as Kochi. There are more tiny islands surrounding Kochi and Willingdon such as Bolghatty and Vypeen which are just a ferry ride away. For the visitors, Kochi offers a plethora of historical places to visit and cultural experiences to soak in-
Delve into Jewish history at the Synagogue-
Pardeshi Synagogue as it is referred to as, stands at the end of the narrow lane that leads to it. The towering clock tower in the background stands testimony to the times and lives of the Jews who have lived here for centuries. Only a few Jewish families remain who haven't made their way to Israel. Built in 1568 by the descendents of Spanish and Dutch Jews , this is the oldest Synagogue in the commonwealth of nations. Its interiors are adorned with Belgian chandeliers, hand painted blue and white Chinese porcelain tiles, Hebrew inscriptions on slabs and Verses from old testament. Remains closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Photography is prohibited inside.
Gifted by the Portuguese in mid 16th century to the then Raja of Kochi, it is often referred to as Mattancherry palace. It was later renovated by the Dutch after they defeated the Portuguese and hence its name. Presently it is a museum with beautiful murals across its walls. Closed on Fridays. Photography is prohibited insie.
Soak in the architecture of Santa Cruz Basilica-
With a Gothic facade and tall spires, this Basilica built by the Portuguese is an imposing one. The Basilica is well known for its spellbinding interiors and paintings. While the original church at this site which dates to mid 16th century was demolished by the British, the present one was built in the late 19th century.
Walk into St. Francis Church-
Built in early 16th century by the Portuguese, the St. Francis church is believed to be India's oldest European church. Gorgeous gravestones adorn the walls of its insides. The church has undergone several restorations from being a wooden chapel to what it is now under the rule of Portuguese, Dutch and English. Vasco da Gama was first buried here and later his remains were shifted to Lisbon.
A moment of silence at the Dutch cemetery-
Across the small closed gates of the cemetery lies the graves of numerous Dutchmen who were laid to rest almost 300 years ago. Entry is denied and the tombstones amidst the tall grasses can be viewed only from outside the gates.
Amble along Fort Immanuel-
Though it doesn't offer much to a visitor, Fort Immanuel located very close to the beach is probably the reason why Kochi has a 'Fort' attached to its name. The fortification was done by the Portuguese in early 16th century and demolished by the British later. Only very little of the fort remains presently.
Explore the Portuguese museum-
With a wide display of Portuguese artefacts, this multistory building has a huge collection from various churches of Catholic communities and is a delight for historians. The museum remains closed on Mondays.
Gather information at SNC Maritime museum-
This museum depicts in detail the Indian naval history with numerous maps, plaques, murals and medieval trade routes. Well recommended if one is keen on India's naval evolution and history. The museum remains closed on Mondays.
Help pull up the Chinese Fishing nets-
Located off the Vasco Square, these cantilevered huge fishing nets have become synonymous with Kochi and are locally known as 'Cheenavala'. Introduced in 14th century by travellers from Kublai Khan's court, only a few remain and it requires a few fishermen to pull them up. One can tip them and join in pulling up the nets. Undoubtedly the best place in Kochi to catch the setting sun go down the horizon.
Walk along Fort Kochi Beach and Promenade-
Despite not being a beach where can one work on their tan, it has a nice promenade where one can stroll along in the evenings and enjoy the sunset as the ships pass by and fishermen pull up the Chinese fishing nets. There are a few eateries where one can relish the fresh catches of the day.
Stroll through the by-lanes-
Fort Kochi is well known for its numerous quaint streets with European names, of which the Princess street in the most well known one. There are numerous shops selling a plethora of interesting things from coffee and spices to antiques at Jew town. Stroll through the alleyways and get lost amidst them. The charming little cafes are where you can read a book on a lazy afternoon as you sip some caffeine. Lined along the streets are the old bright coloured and immaculate Portuguese bungalows in European styled architecture, most of which have been converted into boutique hotels and art galleries. David hall, Vasco house and Koder house are some of the popular ones.
Experience Kochi Muziris Biennale-
The dilapidated walls and the old warehouses of Kochi turn into a colourful and vibrant place with art displays adorning this island during this art festival. Kochi Muziris biennale is an art exhibition where artists from world over have their works displayed. Various genres of art works, paintings, sculptures, photographs, collateral projects, cultural programs and cinemas are displayed and shown across Kochi's dilapidated warehouses and its surroundings. Held for the first time in 2012, it is presently in its second edition and brings crowd from all over. It is held once in two years between December and March. You can read more about the same here- Kochi Muziris Biennale.
Relish at Kashi Art Cafe-
This is probably the most popular cafe in Kochi and is well known for its delicious cakes, sandwiches and coffee. The art works hanging on its walls adds to its charm. The chocolate cake is a must try.
Gaze at the vistas from Willingdon Island-
Willingdon island is the largest man made island in India and connects the mainland to Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. It once housed the Cochin international airport and presently is home to the southern naval command of Indian Navy. The island has nice little roads, most of which leads to the embarkation point. The views of the mainland across the Vembanad lake from here are quite captivating.
|Skyline of the mainland as seen from Willingdon island|
Located on Mulavukadu island, this KTDC hotel was built by the Dutch in mid 18th century and is the oldest Dutch palace outside Netherlands. Undoubtedly one of the best heritage hotels where one can stay while in Kochi.
Drive to Vypeen and Cherai-
A ferry ride away from Kochi lies the beautiful Vypeen island. The island which is approachable via road too is well known for its lighthouse at Ochanthuruthu. Climb up the light house and it offers panoramic vistas of the sea and surrounding greenery. Hordes of believers throng the Church of our Lady of Hope which they believe has strong powers to fulfill your prayers. The only shortcoming for Kochi as a destination is the lack of a nice beach. Though a short drive away, Cherai beach on Vypeen island is the most sought after one for both the people of Kochi and its visitors. It has been beautified with walkways and is definitely a nice place to spend an evening.You can read more about it here- Cherai beach.
|View from lighthouse|
Located to the south of Kochi, this fishing hamlet has been transformed into an Eco- tourism village. Initiated by the Kerala tourism, this model rural village gives the visitors an insight into the life of toddy tappers, fishermen, coir making industries and much more. It also helps the locals make a living out of tourism.
Enjoy a ferry ride-
A ferry ride or a jankar ride (where you vehicles can also be boarded) from the mainland to Kochi is a must try experience. Though it was the only mode of transport until a few decades back, it still holds a quaint charm to it. Whiff of the sea breeze, fisher folk on catamarans, lovely skyline of the mainland, floating sea weeds, frolicking sea gulls and the gorgeous Vembanad lake are sure to enchant you en route your visit to Kochi. There are ferry rides to other islands such as Vypeen and Mulavukadu from Kochi and Ernakulam.
Take a break at Ernakulam-
The twin town of Kochi, Ernakulam, a typical modern bustling city lies on the mainland. Take a break from the colonialism of Kochi and wander through the crowded Broadway or M.G.Road, spent an evening strolling though the walkway at marine drive and enjoy a sunset boat ride meandering through the Vembanad lake. There are a couple of interesting museums such as Hill palace museum, Kerala folklore museum and museum of Kerala history for the enthusiastic history buffs. The art gallery at Durbar hall is a great place for art lovers as it very often has art exhibitions.
Where to eat- Kashi art cafe, Tea pot cafe, Pai Dosas, Kayikka's Biriyani, Dhe Puttu
Where to stay- At any of the numerous home stays or heritage hotels in Kochi such as Old Courtyard, Koder House etc.
Where to shop- The streets of Fort Kochi, Jew town, Broadway and M.G.Road
Nearest rail head- Ernakulam (13 Kms)
Nearest airport- Cochin international airport, Nedumbassery (44 Kms)
Best season to visit- October to February