Written by phileasfogg on 16 Jun, 2013
Kochi (or Cochin) has its own special place in history, because this was one of the biggest, busiest and most prosperous cities on the early spice route. It acted as an entrepôt for the spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, turmeric, etc—which grew all along the…Read More
Kochi (or Cochin) has its own special place in history, because this was one of the biggest, busiest and most prosperous cities on the early spice route. It acted as an entrepôt for the spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, turmeric, etc—which grew all along the Malabar coast (of which Kochi is a part). It also acted as a port for ships coming in from Arabia and Africa from the West, China and the Malaccas from the east. This was where it was happening back in the days of Vasco da Gama and the hectic spice trade.
This is where it’s still happening. Kochi is one of India’s major ports. It is home to an international airport; home, also, to the only Indian shipyard that is part of a city; and it is home to the headquarters of the Indian Navy’s Southern Command. More importantly for insatiable travelers, it has loads to offer: a fascinating history (of which many remnants are still to be seen), a rich cultural heritage, lots of natural beauty, and an almost-addictive local cuisine, rich in seafood and spices.
Orientation and getting around: Kochi spreads across three main areas: two islands and the mainland. The easternmost part of the city, which lies on the mainland, consists of the twin cities of Ernakulam and Kochi. This is the modern, commercial part of Kochi—there are malls here, large markets, major hotels, government and private offices, and the massive Cochin Shipyard, which dominates the seafront.
To the west of Ernakulam and mainland Kochi lies a stretch of water known as Vembanadu (or Vembanad) Lake, one of India’s largest lakes. Kochi forms Vembanadu’s link to the Arabian Sea, so this stretch of water is really part-sea, part-freshwater. A bridge (and a ferry) here connects the mainland to the nearest island to the west, Willingdon Island. Willingdon is mostly given over to the navy, and there’s little here for the tourist. Further east—and connected to Willingdon, both by bridge and ferry—is the island on which Fort Cochin sits. This is the touristic centre of Kochi, and where you’re likely to be spending much of your time.
Between Fort Cochin, Willingdon, and Ernakulam, you can travel by ferry, bus, taxi or autorickshaw—all are easily available. While taxis charge up to about Rs 3,500 for a full day’s hire, autorickshaws are a cheaper way of travelling over longish distances—we spent only Rs 70 for an hour’s drive around Fort Cochin and the Jew Town area, including waiting time.
Within Fort Cochin, walking is the best option: there are sights to see every few metres, and it’s a usually pedestrian-friendly area of quiet tree-lined lanes.
Must-sees and must-dos: Most of Kochi’s best attractions are historic, and clustered in and around Fort Cochin. The Chinese Fishing Nets, huge cantilevered nets that were originally set up by traders from the court of Kublai Khan, are the most visible sights along the sea front. A few minutes’ walk from here will bring you to St Francis’s Church, the oldest European-built Church in India—and the place where Vasco da Gama was briefly interred before his remains were taken back to Europe by his son. Near the church is the Dutch Cemetery, and nearby, the Bishop’s House, within the grounds of which is the fascinating Indo-Portuguese Museum. Further east, and towards the north, lies Kochi’s other major cathedral, the Catholic Santa Cruz Basilica, originally dating back to the 16th century, though the present building is an upstart, barely a hundred years old.
All of these areas can be covered in a single walk, with perhaps a stop for refreshments at one of the many tea- and coffee-shops on the atmospheric
Princess Street, lined with lovely old colonial buildings. While you’re in the vicinity, do make it a point to visit the Cochin Cultural Centre, which hosts a daily hour-long Kathakali performance.
Further out (and it’s advisable to take an auto or taxi), but also on the same island, is Jew Town, home to Kochi’s Paradesi Synagogue, a beautifully restored old synagogue that is worth a visit. Nearby is a large Spice Market (and lots of smaller retail shops where you can buy a range of Keralan spices, including some, like the large glossy seeds known as ‘massaging seeds’) that aren’t really known outside of Kerala). Also within close range is the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built by the Dutch for the king of Kochi and now converted into a museum.
Further out, on the mainland, are other attractions. The Kerala Folklore and Theatre Museum, in Ernakulam, is an amazing (even if very jumbled!) storehouse of artefacts from not just Kerala, but also other parts of South India. Also in Ernakulam is the Thripunithura Hill Palace Museum—this one, sadly, was closed on the one day we had some hours free to see it, so we missed it. It was highly recommended by some of the people we met, so we’ll make it a point to include it in our itinerary the next time we’re in Kerala.
Further out from Ernakulam, you should certainly go on a cruise along the green, beautiful, and serene backwaters of Kerala: cruises range from a half-day tour to tours of a couple of days, where you live on a traditional Kerala houseboat known as a kettuvallom. Beyond the backwaters, and on the mainland, are two lovely little places for getting a closer look at Kerala’s wildlife: the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, which is one of India’s richest reserves of avifauna; and the Kodanadu Elephant Training Camp, where the Forest Department trains elephants for its work in the forests—this is an especially delightful place to see elephants (particularly the adorable calves!) at close quarters.
Eating out: If you like seafood (and more so if you like your seafood spicy!), Kochi is one of those cities that will warm the cockles of your heart. Fish, crabs, prawn, mussels and squid are among the popular items on local restaurant menus, and recipes run the gamut from the thoroughly traditional to the interestingly modern fusion meals that combine local Malabar food with Western influences. Also, since Kochi has long been a melting pot of different cultures and religions (including the Syrian Christian community, the Jews, and the Muslims), even the local cuisine isn’t completely homogenous.
For more details, read my journals on my favourite places to eat in Kochi, and some other restaurants that we dined at, but didn’t like as much.
Written by koshkha on 20 Oct, 2012
The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi in the Kerala city of Kochi (aka Cochin) are one of the tourist attractions that draw visitors in their hundreds, cameras at the ready, to observe what's now a rather lame performance. Whilst they were once a major…Read More
The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi in the Kerala city of Kochi (aka Cochin) are one of the tourist attractions that draw visitors in their hundreds, cameras at the ready, to observe what's now a rather lame performance. Whilst they were once a major source of fish for the local fish market, there seem to be rather slim pickings these days – though that might be because the fishermen are dipping the nets in and out of the water in order to maximise the tips from tourists. On our first visit to Kochi 8 or 9 years back, we were with an organised tour and obediently gathered round to watch the fishermen do their stuff. This time we were alone, just my husband and I, and we didn't feel the need to put them through their paces though I was still intending to get plenty of photos. The Chinese fishing nets are unusual in being a land-based form of sea fishing situated on wooden jetties stretching over the sea. Rather than casting lines from the coast or sailing off in a boat and dropping nets, the traditional Kerala way of fishing used large land-based nets which are dipped into the water, left for a while and then raised, trapping the fish in the large net. Four long bamboo poles are joined together at their tops and the nets are attached to the bottom to give a large, square netted area. The four are joined to at a fifth longer pole which is weighted with rocks and has ropes attached to it and is used to raise or lower the nets.It's not clear why these are known as Chinese fishing nets but it's assumed that the technique was imported to India by a Chinese explorer called Zheng He but there seems to be little proof of the origin. Each fishing net has around half a dozen men to work it – or these days, to collect the tips from the tourists. That might sound scathing but this is one of those sights that's worth parting with some cash to get a full understanding of what's going on. Yes, it can be a bit cheesy – or maybe I should say 'fishy' – but it's still worth seeing and getting some photos. We visited out of the main tourist season and escaped the nagging of the fishermen, easily brushing off those who tried to lure us to a fishing performance by telling them that we'd been before. I was actually just as interested to take a walk around the seafront fish stalls, many of them selling fish so fresh they were still gasping and seafood so fresh it was still moving. We had to meet our driver a few minutes later so we couldn't take advantage of the offers of fabulous fish and shellfish but we gathered that nobody actually expected us to just buy raw fish. If we wanted to buy, they would take us to a nearby café to get the food cooked. I wish we had taken advantage of this as we subsequently went to an absolutely awful street-side restaurant and missed the chance to have something potentially really good. As well as the fish market, there are numerous people with or without small stalls or trolleys trying to sell all sorts of things. I bought a collapsible hat for a friend who burns easily because our driver insisted this was his friend and we didn't have the heart to not take something whilst we were passing the time whilst we waited for our driver. The area around the fishing nets should be good for a bit of people watching but does require an ability to avoid too much discussion with people who are trying to sell you things you don't really want. Close
Written by Vaidya on 31 Jul, 2005
I was waiting at Broadway for a bus to Palarivittam, where I wanted to see a handicrafts centre. Owing to overconfidence, I took the wrong bus. This was a long-distance bus going to Allawae. It took me some time to realize my mistake, and by…Read More
I was waiting at Broadway for a bus to Palarivittam, where I wanted to see a handicrafts centre. Owing to overconfidence, I took the wrong bus. This was a long-distance bus going to Allawae. It took me some time to realize my mistake, and by this time, I was already out of Kochi town. I decided to see Allawae and wanted to know about it. On the bus was a gentleman who was an accountant in a hotel at Allawae. He said that his hotel is an old palace, the food is good, and I would enjoy the trip.
The hotel is built on the bank of the mighty river Periyar as it enters a deep valley. The other bank is not so high, so the hotel looks sort of perched up on a high and straight hillock and gives an unrestricted, breathtaking view of the river below and a large expanse of greenery all around. The restaurant has a hall with an open veranda, which extends beyond the bank almost on the river - i.e., if you look down from the parapet wall, you see water below from all the three sides – left, right and front. I ordered stuffed fish cooked in plantain leaf.
While I was eating, I noticed some local fishermen with boats by the side of the river some distance away – near the PWD guesthouse, to be precise. I just wanted to go for a boat ride – the dense, green forest through which the river was meandering was inviting me. One of the men had a motorized country boat, and he agreed to my request for a boat ride. There was a heavy language problem - but I felt that the fisherman thought that I might be interested in something special. I just nodded in affirmation. He took me in a particular direction and went on and on. I was breathing in the fresh environment and looking at the deep jungle.
He stopped at a point and started to explain something – but there was no need of any explanation. It was the place where the mighty river is believed to have changed its course on a request from the sage Shankaracharya. I had read this story in my childhood, and it had made a deep impact on me. The scene looked the same as it was in that pictorial book. I never imagined that the place of deep mythological significance really existed, and I did not know that it was in Kerala and so close to Kochi! I could not believe that my childhood wish – forgotten with age – would be fulfilled in such a manner. Was it a divine providence that one thing led to the other? Like the way sometimes one innocent card move, moves all the cards to their right position in a game of Freecell.
Written by dackelynn on 13 Jul, 2006
Fort Kochi is the central tourist area in Cochin. Highlights include the Chinese fishing nets, Dutch Cemetery, the Santa Cruz Basilica, and the wide variety of foods available. Prepare to be pestered by sellers from the north of India. …Read More
Fort Kochi is the central tourist area in Cochin. Highlights include the Chinese fishing nets, Dutch Cemetery, the Santa Cruz Basilica, and the wide variety of foods available. Prepare to be pestered by sellers from the north of India. Close
Take a relaxing boating trip on the backwaters. These tours can usually be arranged at your hotel or at a shop in Fort Kochi. There will be van sent to your hotel in the morning and off you go to the backwaters! Depending on…Read More
Take a relaxing boating trip on the backwaters. These tours can usually be arranged at your hotel or at a shop in Fort Kochi. There will be van sent to your hotel in the morning and off you go to the backwaters! Depending on your arrangements, you can have a motorized boat or a traditional wooden Kerala boat. I opted for non-motorized. It was extremely relaxing to drift through the backwaters with about six other tourists. We got to stop for a coconut drink break, have a nice lunch on an island and view a cord-making demonstration. This trip is a must for those in Kerala. Close