Things to Do in Kochi
Kochi: Situated on the south-west coast of India, Kochi or Cochin is a bustling commercial port city with a trading history that dates back to at least 600 years. Called as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, the city is the financial, commercial and industrial capital of Kerala.
The city is marked by influences of Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, Chinese and the British city as well as that of the Indian rule of the Chera Dynasty followed by rule of the Feudal Lords. A gaggle of islands interconnected by ferries, this cosmopolitan town has upmarket stores, art galleries and some of the finest heritage accommodations. In a true vintage-meets-future fashion, pubs, restaurants, shopping hubs and futuristic stores crowd Ernakulum, Jew Town and Fort Kochi while palaces, beaches, temples and heritage sites marking their presence too. Kochi is also an important place to see Kathakali and Kalarippayattu performances and annual Biennale Festival.
Kochi merchants began trading in spices such as black pepper and cardamom with the Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. This helped Kochi to prosper and to become the gateway to old India. It was from Kochi that the colonization of India started. Portugal was first to establish its base in Kochi in the 1500s, followed by the Dutch and English. The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1814, compelled the Dutch to hand over Kochi to the British in exchange for Bangka Island in Indonesia.
The British managed to establish their influence over Kochi, limiting their direct administration to a small enclave of Fort Kochi and British Ernakulam with their capital at Bolgatty Island. The rest of the Kochi was administered by Kochi Maharajas from their capital at Thripunithura. However, the real administration was done by Diwans (Prime Ministers), leaving the Maharajas to patronize culture, arts and focused heavily on public health and education areas.
The foundations of modern Kochi city started when Sir Robert Bristow, a senior Royal Navy Engineer felt the need of a modern large port after the opening of the Suez Canal. This made the creation of the largest man-made island in the country, the Willingdon Island to house new Kochi Port.
In the 1930s, the Kochi Maharaja joined the public outcry to form a common state of Malayalam-speaking people by merging with the Kingdom of Travancore and British Malabar. Kochi Maharaja Kerala Varma Raja was at the forefront of this agitation and passed the Aykiakerala Resolution in the Kochi Parliament. In 1947, the Kingdom of Kochi and Travancore merged to form the Royal State of Travancore-Kochi. The Kochi Maharaja was amongst the first to advocate the state joining the newly formed Indian Union. Finally, in 1949 the state of Travancore-Kochi merged with India.
Set on a magnificent estuary, serene Kochi has been drawing traders, explorers, and travelers to its shores for over 600 years. Nowhere else in India could you find such an intriguing mix: giant Chinese fishing nets, a 450-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese- and Dutch-era houses and the crumbling remains of the British Raj. The result is an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal and Holland and an English village grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast. It’s a delightful place to explore, laze in arty cafes and relax at some of India’s finest homestays and heritage hotels. It’s also an important center for Keralan arts (traditional and contemporary) and a standout place to see Kathakali and kalarippayat.
The city of Kochi, on the southwest coast of India, is an enchanting place that’s had an eclectic influence. Known as the “Gateway to Kerala,” Kochi’s culture and architecture will take you back in time to when the Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese and British occupied the city. The architectural and historical sites in Fort Kochi are the biggest draws for most visitors.
For travelers that prefer to explore a city without needing to hop on a bus or take a taxi, Fort Kochi makes an ideal place as most places are reachable on foot or bicycle. The area is very accommodating for tourists, with delicious food, tons of things to do, and an array of accommodations across all budgets.
The best way to acquaint yourself with Fort Kochi and the events that have shaped it is to begin with a guided heritage walk covering the important landmarks. These include Fort Immanuel, the Dutch Cemetery, Santa Cruz Basilica, and Saint Francis Church (believed to be the oldest European church in India) built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Saint Francis is most famous for being the burial site of explorer Vasco de Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524 before his remains were taken back to Portugal.
Meander Through Mattancherry
Mattancherry is an atmospheric and multicultural old neighborhood in Fort Kochi that’s full of colonial buildings. It’s a delightful area to meander through, especially in the evenings when the temples are illuminated with lamps and their bells clang. The main attraction there is Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese and presented to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, then renovated by the Dutch in 1663. It lacks the grandeur that you’d expect of a palace, but the understated appearance is part of its charm. Inside is a small museum and some rare art inside, including paintings of previous kings and some beautiful murals from the Hindu epics.
Shop for Spices
In the heart of Mattancherry, between Mattancherry Dutch Palace and the Pardesi Jewish Synagogue, is a quaint area known as Jew Town by the locals. It’s the center of the spice trade in Kochi, and the air is filled with the heady waft of masala. These days, you won’t find many Jewish people there. The local Jewish population has been outnumbered by an influx of Kashmiri shopkeepers who hawk their wares to tourists. However, the Synagogue remains in use. Its interior is resplendent with chandeliers, gold pulpit, and imported floor tiles.
The iconic Chinese Fishing Nets, undoubtedly Kochi’s most recognizable sight, have been there since the 14th century and are remarkably still in use today. Take a turn at the net, as the local fisherman will show you how they’re operated in return for a small fee.
For a meal of some of the freshest fish you’ve ever eaten, head to the waterfront where the nets line the short in the late afternoon. There you can buy fresh seafood from one of the fishmongers, get it cooked at a nearby shack, and enjoy eating it as the sunsets.
Fort Kochi’s main tourist strip, Princess Street, is one of the oldest streets in the city. This is the place to go for people-watching, cafes, restaurants, bookstores, tea shops, art galleries, and souvenirs. You’ll also find grocery stores there, so you can to restock on any essential items. It’s a lively destination for an evening walk as street vendors and hawkers line the road. To learn about Kerala’s culture, it’s worth making the journey to this privately owned museum on the outskirts of Ernakulam.
Opened in 2009, the Museum’s three floors are packed full of interesting artifacts related to the state’s heritage. Its architecture is magnificent, with the entryway made from the remnants of a temple and wooden carvings warranting a special look. Kerala art and dance forms are a focus, with stage performances taking place at 6.30 p.m. daily.
What is special about Kochi?
Popularly known as the Queen of Arabian Sea, the city also flaunts one of the finest natural harbors of the world and was the center of the world spice trade for many centuries. Old Kochi (presently called West Kochi), loosely refers to a group of islands that comprise Willingdon Island, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, etc.
Are Kochi and Ernakulam the same?
There is another city in Japan with the same name – KOCHI. Ernakulam is the name of the district in which Kochi, the seaport in Kerala state is located. This place is known and called as Kochi or Ernakulam commonly.
What is famous in Kochi for shopping?
- Marine Drive.
- Jew Town.
- Cochin Spice Market. Image Source.
- Malabar Chips. Image Source.