Trips which are not planned are the best because the whole process then becomes about discovering!! And, we just went with the flow – booked our tickets last minute, booked a hotel a week before leaving and we were all set…to visit Kerala (Kochi)! Honestly, we were a little unsure if we should visit Kochi after the devastating floods but, we were pleasantly surprised to see the city so alive!! By the end of the trip we were quite happy with our decision.
Cochin, another name for Kochi means “like-China”. When the Chinese migrated there in the 14th century, they thought that the region resembled China and therefore they named it Cochin. We were quite intrigued by the history of this city. It was invaded time and again by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and finally by the British. It was not just the invaders, but because the city was an important spice trading center, it was also often visited by the Arabs, the Jews and the Chinese. The city thus has had an influence of many cultures.
We arrived at Kochi on a Saturday morning and took a cab directly from the airport to Fort Kochi (which was 1.5 hours away from the Kochi airport). Infact, we were ferried to Fort Kochi while we were in the cab. This was quite fascinating! The name ‘Fort Kochi’ is derived from ‘Fort Emmanuel’ which was the first Portuguese fort built in Asia in that area. But we could hardly see any remains of the Fort now.
We stayed at the Towerhouse (a Neemrana property) located at the Vasco da Gama (Fort Kochi) square and that’s where you get the best view of the famous Chinese nets that were introduced during the 14th century. After settling down, we picked up the map and zeroed down on places we wanted to visit. Though local transport was easily available, we decided to walk around Fort Kochi. The weather was lovely and every place we wanted to visit was approximately 1-2 kms away.
Since it was a three days trip we decided to stay in Kochi and not venture elsewhere. People advised us to travel to Munnar, Alleppey, etc but we decided not to. There is a lot you can do in Kochi.
So here is my take on what you should not miss during a visit to Kochi:
- Trying the local food and cafes – We tried a variety of food during our stay and everything was just perfect. We tried the fish wrapped in banana leaf with rice at a local restaurant at Fort Kochi. We tried some lip smacking biryani at Kayees Rahmathullah near Mattacherry area. Kashi Art Café (at Fort Kochi) had a great vibe. As you enter you will find a lot of interesting artefacts. On another day we discovered this small but cozy café named Fusion Bay, which served local food. We were so hungry and ended up finishing everything we ordered. We left the place with a big smile. This place is a must visit!
- Visiting the Kerala Kathakali centre – if you want to get introduced to Kathakali as a dance form (an important part of Kerala culture) then this place is a must visit. It was a great experience for us. The intricate make-up was done right in front of us. We were also given a translation of the story which was presented that night and it helped us understand and enjoy the performance better. It was an overwhelming experience!
- Taking the ferry ride/boat jetty to Ernakulam – Although it was a nightmare because we had to stand in a long queue for almost 1.5 hours to buy the tickets, by the end of the ride I realized it was all worth it. The sunset, the waves, the glimpse of the INS ‘Vikramaditya’ made it worthwhile. It was all so serene.
- Indulge in some shopping – Since Kochi has been at the center of Indian spice trade, spice shopping is a must!! We bought some very aromatic spices from the local spice market at whole sale price. Most of the spices are grown in Kerala so there is no way you can miss the spice shops. We also picked up some Kerala cotton sarees from Jayalakshmi (located at MG road in Ernakulam).
- Witnessing fishermen at work – While walking around the streets, we also spent some time watching fishermen at work. They were using the Chinese fishing nets for fishing.
- Getting to know the city by visiting the museums – There are quite a few museums in the city. We visited three –
- The Mattancherry Palace (which is also a museum) – The Palace was built and gifted by the Portuguese to the king of Cochin around 1555. The Dutch carried out some expansions and renovations in the palace in 1663, and thereafter it was popularly called the Dutch Palace. This was the best museum because it had a lot to offer- information about the history of Kerala and its people, wildlife, culture, handloom, architecture and murals.
- Indo-Portuguese museum – located inside the Bishop house. We got to see some old maps of Kerala which is of historical and geographical importance. This museum also showcased the Portuguese influence on the city.
- Indian Naval Maritime museum – As we entered the gate, a gentleman told us that two sturdy bunkers to store arms and ammunition (built by the British) were after many years converted into this museum . While this museum showcased a lot of information about the Indian navy, do not miss the documentaries screened inside. You get to learn a lot about the Indian navy’s glorious past.
- Visiting churches, synagogue, beaches – During our stay we also visited many other touristy places. I’m listing down some of the names here.
- Cherai Beach located on the northern tip of the Vypin island
- Paradesi Synagogue
- Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica – The Dutch invaded and conquered Cochin in 1663. All Catholic buildings were supposedly destroyed but the St. Francis Church and the Cathedral were spared. The Dutch made the cathedral their arms storehouse. Later it fell into the hands of the British who demolished it when they took over Cochin in 1795. One of the decorative granite pillars of the destroyed Cathedral is still kept as a monument at the Basilica premises.
- St. Francis Church – The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.
- Jewish cemetery and Dutch cemetery – Although you won’t be able to enter the cemeteries but you can definitely get a glimpse from outside.
- Try getting an Ayurvedic healing massage – During my search for good Spas I came across some names which might be useful to you – The Fort Ayurveda spa, at the Fort House hotel in Fort Kochi, Ayurville, Agastya Ayurveda Massage and Wellness Center on Princess Street. I did not try any of them so please do your research well before going for a massage.
- Visit Spice bazaar on Broadway. Broadway is opposite to marine drive (Ernakulam). Though you will find spice market in Fort Kochi area, those might be expensive. Jew town also has a Spice market.
- Do go for the ferry/jetty rides but to avoid long queues make sure that it’s not a national holiday or during peak hours when people use ferries to commute the most!