A November 2005 trip
to Kochi by MichaelJM
Quote: Cochin is a popular tourist trap - worth a visit, but I'd recommned you stay in the less busy town of Fort Cochin.
Despite the fact that I was suffering (Delhi Belly reigns!), Cochin is a mass of experiences and a massive contrast to the other more serene villages we’d visited in Kerala.
We went round the Hindu centre at the time leading up to a major religious celebration and the street were lined with monks, in their bright orange clothing, cleansing themselves. The streets were running with water from this process, and we were told that this would continue over the space of 24 hours. Just opposite the gates of the temple, other faiths were not allowed admission into the temple; there was a private and serene park with a small lake at the centre. This was reserved only for the Gods to bathe in.
A short car drive away and we were in Jew Town. The Pardesi Synagogue is the oldest in India and, despite partial destruction in 1662, has continued to be the centre of Jewish worship for centuries. It was rebuilt by the Dutch in 1664, and in the 1750s, the clock tower was added and the floor tiled with unique hand-painted blue willow-patterned tiles (a treat for me as a lover of blue willow!). There are beautiful chandeliers and some great coloured lanterns. Typically, to set off this stunning interior, a balcony upstairs is reserved for women worshippers.
Around the synagogues are an abundance of small trading outlets, many displaying obviously Jewish names and dealing in the base trade of the area, spices. Indeed, the air hangs heavy with the blend of the various spices on sale. The houses in the district are interesting, as they are variously designed in English and Dutch styles, befitting an area that has, over the centuries, been dominated by these foreign powers.
Cochin has are several art galleries and furniture warehouses selling large and imposing pieces of furniture.
The Dutch Cemetery is an important symbol of the Dutch influence in Cochin, but, of course, it's currently well-known for the impressive guard of honour that lines the river banks around the river. Yes, of course I mean the Chinese Fishing Nets. They can and should be inspected at close quarters.
Cochin is a contrast: the busy, hectic city existence and the peaceful, often idyllic rural conurbation. A great place to visit for a day or two!
Being a large town, Cochin is a fair place to catch up on shopping, with many shops operating on a fixed-price regime. These are government-monitored, so you'll be assured quality, but it does take some of the risk and enjoyment out of the shopping experience. You see, I just love to barter and so prefer the non-fixed-price environment.
Cochin seemed to have a plethora of bookshops, and as we were looking for Keralan cookbooks, we were not disappointed. There were loads, and most were at very reasonable prices--we were actually spoilt for choice and finally opted for a straightforward book written by Mrs. K M Mathew. (She seemed to be a popular writer, although when we examined the recipes on our return to the UK, many were a little difficult to follow).
There seemed to be a multitude of tailors in the Market Road area all claiming to be the best and the quickest in town (as is standard in India, a suit can be delivered in 24 hours of your measurements being taken). Spice shops are presented by the bucket load, and what a beautiful assault on the sight and olfactory organs. There is also no lack of ready-to-wear clothes shops, but it might be preferable to be measured and have them hand-made, as the difference in cost is minimal and you will be assured a great fit.
If you haven’t seen Kathakali, Cochin offers a variety of centres where you can see the art being performed (see my journal “A Couple of Days in the Western Ghats” for more information). Although I'm sure that these are the sanitised versions for tourists, they are still well worth viewing.
Because Cochin can be very crowded, it will pay you to be extra vigilant with your valuables. Although pickpocketing doesn't have a high profile, we have heard of the odd problem with theft. (I guess opportunists exist throughout the world, and there is no point in making it easy for the unscrupulous.)
I’d strongly suggest that you look for a hotel either in Fort Cochin or Mattancherry rather than the other side of the estuary in busy, bustling Emakulam.
Keep an eye out for locally owned working elephants--they're often kept in the centre of connurbations!
We stayed, in Fort Cochin, a little out of town, and although the Hotel Abad was sited direct onto the pavement next to a small roundabout it was surprisingly quiet. Externally it wasn’t the most welcoming of hotels looking run down and uncared for but amazingly the reception hall was attractive and thankfully at variance with the outside. The marbled reception was light and airy and the staff beamingly helpful. The single “compact” lift took us slowly to the second floor (we could have walked quicker) and our simple bedroom door was opened for us by the porter.
The furniture comprised of two single beds, a couple of easy chairs and a large television and all in all it was comfortable enough for a night’s stay. I don’t think I would have wanted to spend many more nights here: the windows had horizontal bars, the view was fairly uninspiring over tiled and corrugated rooftops, and a whole section of the window was held together with masking tape. However, efforts had been made to create a homely feel with a couple of bird prints tastefully framed and hung over the beds.
This was the only time I suffered “Dehli Belly” and so we ordered room service. I was well off my food so opted for a bowl of tomato soup and a bread roll whilst my wife went for a couple of spicy dishes and pitta bread. My soup was good enough and with a couple of litres of cola (bought from the shop next door) I was fit as a butcher’s dog the following day. My wife didn’t rave about the dinner but viewed it as “adequate”.
I slept well on a firm but comfortable bed and we, for the first time on our holiday, watched a film on the TV (Hobo channel!). There are loads of channels to choose from, and channel hopping could entertain you for most of the night!
Breakfast the next day was somewhat chaotic. We just fancied cereal, toast and coffee. The coffee arrived promptly – hot but with an unfamiliar edge to the taste – but there was considerable delay for the food. After about 15 minutes the waiter detected our agitation and came across to the table and said, “I’m afraid the cereal that we have is old and is not fit to serve. If you want we can send out for more cereal”. As the grocery was only next-door we opted for that. Within 5 minutes, cereal was placed before us, quickly followed by portions of hot toast and a good supply of confiture.
The Abad hotel was clean and friendly but does need a "wee bit of sprucing up". There is a large ground floor dining room, it has no natural light but looked welcoming. Breakfast is taken in a separate coffee bar area with an interesting view of a small but very well-kept garden.
Friendly, welcoming, but not one to rave about!
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
Cochin, India 682005
+91 (484) 222-8211
Attraction | "St Francis Church"
The church has an impressive façade with a decorative bell tower at its summit. It has been renovated recently and the bright white finish shone impressively against a clear blue sky. A clock installed in 1923 to commemorate the life of Hal Jones, a local dignitary, boldly declared the time with its roman numerals. Three polished shutters protected arched windows at the upper level and a large heavy-hinged church door welcomed all visitors to the simple but impressive interior.
Behind the altarpiece were three stained-glass windows simple in their design of the sacred cross. The top window with a red cross and blue background and the lower two with a green background. The sunlight reflecting through these windows cast magnificent hues and spooky shadows throughout the length of the church. The past grave of Vasco da Gama was marked with a low wooden and brass barrier and a simply engraved brass plaque. This was evidently well cared for and without fuss signalled Cochin’s important link with the explorer.
In a far corner of the church a basic engraved plaque is unceremoniously propped up against the wall. It states, “this tablet is erected as a memorial of the visit of her majesty Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain on 17th October 1997”. The wall carving itself is lacking in depth and the detail is hard to distinguish. In the vestry is a copy of the original Doop Book, an old baptism and marriage register from 1751 – 1804. The original book was sent to London in 1932 for substantive repair to the leave and was then rebound in the original style.
We were told that many old churches in Cochin were destroyed, often wilfully, in the fierce battles that took place. But St Francis’ was the munitions store so was extremely well protected and escaped any real damage. This is a major tourist attraction in Cochin.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
St. Francis Church
Attraction | "The water front"
Cochin’s “seaside” is not that desirable, but we did pull into a desolated area to view the “big water”. The area did resemble a council tip but we looked beyond the immediate surroundings to the horizon and the becalmed sea near to Cochin harbour. This was a quiet area devoid of tourists (I can kind of see why!) and a short car journey away the reverse was the case.
We passed by Cochin’s oldest residency (between St Francis’ church and the river front) and were soon swamped by the vendors of the street market next to the river. This was clearly a popular haunt for visitors as once we’d managed to “run the gauntlet” we were on the riverbank overlooking the rows of Chinese fishing nets.
Now, it is possible to inspect these nets close up, but you will be besieged by interested fishermen who are prepared to explain the intricate counter-balancing of the nets and give you a demonstration of how they “exactly work”. This will require you to take a short walk and hand over some rupees to their outstretched hand. Our driver counselled us out of this suggesting that it really wouldn’t be a particularly educational experience although it would substantially lighten our wallet. Indeed just strolling around the maze of small boats, watching, at close quarters, the fishermen repairing the nets was I’m sure much more “real” than watching a technical presentation of the lowering and raising of the nets. But still we could see the demonstration from our vantage point and see the graceful manoeuvres as the nets majestically disappeared below the water line. I really would have liked to see them being raised with a full catch, but unfortunately we were never around at the right time (that is high tide).
Local women sat at the road side with small fish spread out before them on cloths and I wondered if these were the discarded catch from the Cheena Vala (fishing nets) or if they’d been caught using rod and line. It was certainly hard to think that this measly collection of fish would supplement the housekeeping money.
A short walk along "the front" and we saw the remanants of the historic town's fortress wall - the majority of it having been destroyed during the many attacks on the town.
Alongside the “fishing village” was the might of the Indian Navy who have, what I believe to be, their headquarters at Fort Kochi.
This was a walk of contrasting interests and worth the effort.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 29, 2006
Attraction | "The Indo Portuguese Museum"
The Indo-Portuguese Museum is well worth a visit and, as with most places in India, has a really cheap admission charge. It’s set in the superb, although somewhat limited, grounds of the well-kept gardens of the Bishop’s House. This is a semi-formal garden with many interesting religious-based statues. Admission to the garden is free and the museum is cheap (free on the first Thursday of each month).
We were well received by the single member of staff and both got the impression that we were probably the first and only customers of the day. He was keen to show off “his museum” and also to introduce us to the museum shop. This had a variety of oils on sale, and this sideline was “gently pushed” at us. I’m not sure if these concentrated oils were a good value, but we had to gently explain that although they were interesting, we were not likely to buy. The curator continued briefly with a soft sell, realised we meant what we said, and then took us around the museum exhibits.
Despite the fact that many churches were destroyed in the many battles that took place in this area, the museum has managed to amass a good-quality selection of Christian artwork and church architecture. In pride of place is an amazing 16th-century carved teak altarpiece, intact and almost in pristine condition. There’s a fascinating section dedicated to processional regalia, including a 17th-century silver and wooden cross (an impressive piece). Beautifully carved iconic items are well displayed, and if you want to take photographs, there is no restriction. Indeed, I felt that the curator was particularly pleased if I took photos. There was an impressively ornate lock on display, and we could only imagine that a set of large well-carved doors would be needed to “carry it off.”
Our guide gave us interesting insight into town life over the ages and described Cochin as a truly Cosmopolitan with at least six religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christian, Jewish, Sikhism, and Buddhism) living in close harmony. There have been up to 13 different cultures in the town, and families share that mix in their birth heritage. He proudly told us that his name was “Robinson.”
In recent excavations, archaeologists stumbled across the base of a huge building. This can be viewed in the museum’s cellar, and it’s believed that it was originally a food warehouse. The curator expressed surprise at the building's site because this area regularly floods and he surmised that the river would have originally been nearer the building. To me that made sense--a warehouse next to the river ideal for unloading cloths or spices as they were transported down the river.
Although this is not a massive museum, there’s plenty to interest the inquisitive and we were certainly entranced by the history of Cochin, as described by the guide, with its strong influences from China, Portugal, Holland, and England. An informative visit!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 31, 2006
Indo Portuguese Museum