by Rashmi Gopal Rao
Cochin also known as ‘Kochi’ is a beautiful city in the south west coast of India. Located in the state of Kerala in India, the city is also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. An important spice trading centre since the 14th century, the city was under the control of the Dutch, Portuguese, British and Jews at different points in time until the 18th century. These settlements have left an indelible mark in various of the city that provide visitors innumerable opportunities to explore the rich history and heritage of this fascinating city.
One of the most important port cities of the country, Cochin today has outgrown most of its original boundaries and has emerged as the commercial and industrial capital of Kerala. Often called Ernakulam, which refers to the mainland part of the city, Cochin collectively includes Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and Ernakulam.
Rated as one of the top tourist destinations by the World Travel & Tourism Council, Kochi is a travelers’ delight. Often called as the ‘gateway’ to Kerala, Cochin is usually the first stop when exploring the picturesque state of Kerala. Right from the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets, to the magical Vembanad lake to the insightful sites of Fort Kochi, the city offers a number of options to the discerning traveler that are as varied as exciting.
Backwaters, Marine Drive and Local Ferry
One of the most popular attractions of Kochi is a cruise along the backwaters of one of India’s largest lakes, the Vembanad lake. A boat ride along the placid backwaters gives you an excellent opportunity to witness the varied sights of this wonderful port city. You can opt for a short cruise cruise that will literally give you a bird’s eye view of the city’s skyline including the islands of Willingdon and Vypeen. Some cruises even take you upto the estuary point, the point where you can witness the mouth of the massive Arabian sea.
You can opt of hop off and take a rejuvenating walk along the Marine Drive which is a picturesque promenade in Kochi. Facing the backwaters, it is an ideal place to unwind and watch the sunset, that is particularly spectacular. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also take experience the local ferry from Ernakulam which is the main Jetty to various parts of the town like Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and Vypeen. The ride on the water bus is a truly cost effective yet an extremely interesting way to experience a taste of the local life in the city.
Fort Kochi and its Diverse Attractions
Arguably, one of the most engrossing sights of Kochi is the area of Fort Kochi which is the historical part of the town which has distinct European influences. Best explored on foot, this is the first European township in India and characterized by heritage bungalows, churches and of course the famous Chinese fishing nets. Definitely Kochi’s most recognizable sight, the fishing nets are a truly a mechanical wonder in that they have been around since the 14th century and are effectively used even today! It is worth watching a live demo of how these wonderful structures that are fixed installations work. About 10 meters in height, these nets are held by bamboo and teak poles and are operated in an unusual manner from the shore. The nets spread as much as 20 meters into the water and are laid for a short duration of about five minutes. It is indeed a unique experience and eager fishermen can give you a detailed account of these nets for a small fee; it is something not be missed while in the city!
St. Francis church is an important landmark in Fort Kochi and is believed to be the oldest European-built church in India. The church once had the mortal remains of the great explorer Vasco de Gama, who died here in 1524. The remains were later transported back to Portugal. The Dutch cemetery is yet another important site which houses the tomb stones of several Europeans who had left their homes and settled in the trading centre of Kochi. The place is currently managed by the Church of South India. Fort Kochi is an extremely vibrant locality with scores of little shops selling a wide variety of magnets, souvenirs, beaded jewellery and other knick knacks. Do have your bargaining skills handy while shopping here. A stroll along the charming Princess Street, one of the oldest streets in the area is a great idea. Lined on both sides with a number of European style restaurants, you can sample some great local food here.
Jew Town and the Synagogue
A truly captivating area, the ancient and historical township of Jew Town is the centre of spices and antiques. Again teeming with little outlets, you can pick up anything from nutmeg, mace, cloves and cinnamon that are stored in sacks outside the store. The plethora of antiques available in the Jew town is truly mind boggling. From a wide variety of copper and brass artifacts, you can shop for items like antique bells, lamps and even stone sculptures.
The Paradesi Synagogue located here is the oldest active synagogue among all the Commonwealth of Nations. Built in 1567, the place is resplendent with ornate chandeliers, floor tiles and a brass-railed pulpit.
Yet another historical part of the city, Mattancherry is synonomous with the Dutch palace or the Mattancherry palace. Originally built by the Protuguese in 1555 as a gift for the Raja of Cochin, it was later renovated by the Dutch. A treasure house of information on the history of the city of Cochin and its rulers, this place has a remarkable collection of beautiful murals. Articles of use by the royals and portraits of the Rajas of Cochin right from 1864 are on display.
The Baghavathy temple dedicated to the deity Parvathi in the vicinity is a serene place and a great opportunity to visit a temple built in the typical Kerala style of architecture.
While in the mainland city of Ernakulam, the Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom is a renowned centre of pilgrimage. This famous ancient Christian Church built in 1524 is visited by scores of people from not only Kerala but all over the world. Irrespective of caste, creed or religion, people throng here in great numbers to seek the blessings of Mary, the mother of Jesus, popularly known as “Vallarpadathamma” here. The annual festival of the church held each year in September is also very famous.
The Bolgatty palace built by the Dutch in 1744 and also the Hill palace museum are other places of interest to visit in Kochi.
Art and culture
Apart from sightseeing, Kochi is an excellent place to soak in the rich culture and traditions of God’ own country. You can catch an engrossing performance of Kathakali which is the ancient form of dance-drama that’s traditional to Kerala. You can also witness the fascinating traditional martial art form of Kerala, Kalaripayattu. These are niche art forms that are integral to the culture of this Indian state. For those who are interested in the nuances of traditional art and dance, the Kerala Folklore Theatre and Museum is an enthralling place which showcases the numerous art and dance forms of the state.
While in Kochi, do not forget to experience the multitude of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that Kerala cuisine has to offer. Full of color and rich in flavors, coconut, spices and fish form an integral part of the meal. While the sea food is much sought after, the vegetarian fare includes the Kerala Sadhya, that is an array of dishes that is healthy, wholesome and rich in vegetables. Before you bid adieu to this truly enthralling city, do not forget to stock on the famous banana chips that are fried in coconut oil. Back home, each time you munch on these goodies, the taste and aroma is sure to bring back fond memories of your visit to Kochi!
If You Go:
Location: The city of Cochin is located on the south west coast of the Indian state of Kerala. The Cochin International Airport is well connected to major cities across India as well as the world. From the airport, the main city centre is about 29 kilometres away. Cochin is also well connected to all the major railway stations in India. It is served by two railway stations, Ernakulam Town Station and Ernakulam Junction Station. The city is also well connected to other major cities of South India by a network of both government as well as private buses. Buses, taxis and cabs can be used for the purpose of reaching the requisite destination from either the airport, railway or bus station.
About the author:
Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer. She is from Bengaluru, India and writes for a few travel websites. Her hobbies include travelling, reading, writing and photography. She is also passionate about home decor and gardening. You can follow her on her blog. rashminotes.wordpress.com
Cochin boatmen at top by Adam Hill from Pixabay
All other photos by Rashmi Gopal Rao.