Kochi or Cochin as it is also known as, is the gateway to India’s tropical and hypnotizing state of Kerala. With its international airport as a means of arrival it is more than just a big city. At the heart of the city lays Fort Cochin – an interesting fusion of heritages from many past explorers that reached its shores from as early as the 14th century. The spice trade first brought the Chinese and Arabian traders and later the area became occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. This diverse influence makes Fort Cochin a mesmerizing but perfect place to take in the mix of flavors, architecture and religions.
TOP SITES IN KOCHI:
St. Francis Church
Originally built in 1503, St. Francis Church is the oldest European church in all of India. Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama’s remains were buried in this church, but eventually his body was later moved to Lisbon. The Franciscans retained control over the church until the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663. Because the Dutch were Protestant and the Portuguese were Roman Catholic, the Dutch destroyed all the churches in Kochi except this one. The church was eventually declared a protected monument in 1923 and is now owned by the North Kerala diocese Church of South India. Services run on Sunday’s and on weekdays it is open to the public.
Chinese Fishing Nets
For one of the most photographed sights of Kochi head to Vasco da Gama Square, where you can check out the Chinese fishing nets. These massive nets are attached to bamboo poles and are slowly lowered into the water by a pulley that is attached to weights. Watching the fishermen hard at work against this gorgeous backdrop is definitely a sight to be seen. Fishing is usually done in the early morning and evening, and both times provide great entertainment. In the morning you will also be able to experience the fish market where vendors are lined up near the water side selling the catches of the day. In the evening watching the sunset behind the nets makes for a perfect photo opportunity!
Jew Town and the Pardesi Synagogue
Within Fort Cochin is the Jewish Quarter, known as Jew Town. It is a mix of wonderful old architecture and monuments that represent the Jewish community in Kerala. The most impressive site is the Paradesi Synagogue, which happens to be the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth. It was built in 1567 and the impressive floor is completely laid with intricate hand painted tiles. It is open to visitors from 10am to 12pm and again from 3pm to 5 pm (Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays the Synagogue is closed to visitors). You could easily spend an entire afternoon wandering around Jew Town as it is lined with cute little shops and lovely cafes.
The Dutch Palace
Close to Jew Town is the Dutch Palace (also known as Mattancherry Palace). Originally the palace was built by the Portuguese as a gift to the King of Cochin in 1555, but later it was renovated and expanded by the Dutch. What makes this place so special is that it houses the most incredible murals. The impressive wall to wall intricate images illustrate The Ramayana from the beginning of the sacrifice of Dasaratha to Sita’s return from captivity. Unfortunately taking photos is not allowed inside the Palace, however the amazing Hindu Temple art that dates back to the 16th century is so stunning that it certainly is worth checking out.
Kerala’s Kathakali Centre
Located near the Santa Cruz Bazilica is the Traditional Kathakali Centre and Theatre. This facility is Kerala’s best arts school and the only authentic theatre where Kathakali, music, martial arts and other traditional dance forms are demonstrated and performed. Watching a live performance of this authentic art form is truly awe inspiring. From the intense, exaggerated facial expressions to the articulate movements of the body, this truly is a spectacle that you will never forget.
PLACES TO EAT:
There are few places that stand out which I definitely recommend when looking for a good place to eat.
If you are looking for a delicious and cheap meal look no further than Dal Roti. This locally owned restaurant serves the best kati rolls in the world! Basically they use freshly baked paratha (Indian bread) and make it into wraps filled with various vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. It is utterly out of this world and makes me salivate just thinking about it. The restaurant itself is pretty small and with the lack of air conditioning, it might deter you; but I promise the food will not disappoint and will make you want to come back for more! Dal Roti is open every day from 9am to 10pm and is located on Napier Street.
If you are looking for a café style restaurant with all the bells and whistles (wifi and coffee) head to the Qissa Café. Serving everything from western breakfasts, to smoothies and good cup of joe, this café is a comfortable place to kick back, relax and cool off. With its unique and urban-style décor the Qissa Café definitely feels like an oasis in the middle of the hubbub of sightseeing. Qissa Café is open from 8:30am to 9:30pm every day and is located in No.18 Hotel on Jacob Road.
Lastly don’t forget to take in all the amazing street art that line so many of the walls within Fort Cochin. I promise you that if you spend an afternoon wandering the streets, you will stumble upon so many original pieces of art that take your breath away.
My experience in southern India was far different from the north. I found it to be laid back, less chaotic and absolutely stunning. The people seemed friendlier and most had beautiful big smiles across their faces. There is a something so special about Kerala that I can’t quite put my finger on; but I promise you that by the time you leave you too will be spellbound by its culture, colours and charm! With so much history, art and beauty located in such a small vicinity, spending a couple days in Kochi before carrying on India’s tourist route is definitely a must.
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