Cochin India Tours, Ernakulam India Holiday
Cosmopolitan and laid-back, Kochi is one of Southern India's most charming cities. Its lively restaurant and cultural scenes are a world away from the rudimentary tourist infrastructure elsewhere in the region, making the town a rewarding stop-off on any journey through Kerala.
Much of its relaxed vibe comes from the water that permeates the city. A natural harbour-the result of Malabar mud banks- separates the towns of Kochi and Ernakulam, which together make up the conurbation that was known in the British era as Cochin. Consequently, getting around town often requires the use of a bridge or ferry, which, while it doesn't make for the quickest journeys, can be very pleasant for the leisure traveller. The Water surroundings also have the effect of making the city feel very clean by Indian standards.
Its aquatic location made Kochi the ideal gateway to India for seafaring foreigners, who have been using it as such for more than five centuries. The Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Mysoreans and British all came and went, and this cultural melange is evident in the architecture and open outlook of the city. There is also Jew Town, one of Kochi's top tourist districts, to add to the mix.
That area, along the Mattancherry and Fort Cochin, lies to the west of Vembanad Lake, part of a series of islets and peninsula that boast most of the tourist attraction. East of the water on the mainland is Ernakulam, the hub of the city.
The local art scene has flourished in Kochi, and art lovers have plenty of venues from which to choose.
Chitram Art Galley
M G Road
Tel: 0484 3096812
Open daily 9.30am -8pm. Free admission.
Dravidian Art and Performance Gallery
South of Customs Jetty
Tel: 0484 3096812
Open daily 9am-5pm. Free admission
Kashi Art Gallery
Tel: 0484 2215769
Open: daily 10am-12.30pm, 2-6pm. Free admission
The palatial mansion at Bolgatty was built in 1744 when the Dutch controlled Kochi and later became a British residency. With its acres of lawns and gardens, this old residency has been converted into a resort.
Santa Cruz Basilica
This Roman Catholic Church at Fort Kochi was built in the 16the century but had to be rebuilt in the 1800s. Notable features include the woodcarvings and murals inside. In 1984, Pope John Paul II raised the church to the status of Basilica.
St Francis Church
Originally dedicated to St Anthony, this is reputedly India's first European built church. Built of wood by Portuguese friars in 1503, the church was rebuilt in stone later in the same century. The oldest inscriptions found in the church are dated to 1562. Vasco da Gama was buried here in 1524, until, 14 years later, his remains were shipped to Lisbon.
Over the years the church has experienced a number of conversions and it now used by the Church of South India. The building is impressive and an unusual feature of it its rope-operated punkha (fan).
Vypeen Island is home to the Pallipuram Fort. It was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and taken by the Dutch in 1663. The island also has a lighthouse, and its beaches are becoming increasingly popular with holidaymakers. Vypeen Island lies 450m from Fort Cochin ferry jetty.
Once the seat of the Palyithachan, hereditary ministers of Kochi Princely State, Chennamangalam has a 17th century palace presented to it by the Dutch. The palace is now part of a trust that looks after 60 or so temples in and around the village.
The village also has interesting historical associations with the Jews, who built their oldest synagogue here, as well as with the Jesuit Christians and the Muslims. The 16th century mosque still stands, but the Jesuit seminary was destroyed by Tipu Sultan.
Kodungallur, near Chennamangalam, is believed to be the port of Muziris mentioned by Pliny, and is also the place where St Thomas is said to have landed, bringing Christianity to Kerala.
Malik Ibn Dinar, who first brought Islam to India, built Kerala's first mosque, Cheraman, at Kodungallur. The mosque that now stands here probably dated from the 18th century. 42km north of Ernakulam.
Chinese Fishing Nets
Chinese fishing nets were probably introduced when Kerala traded with the Chinese court. The nets are framed with wood and strung along poles, tied to suspended boulders. The boulders help keep the net down when it is dipped into the water at high tide. Four or five men pull the net out of the water using a rope with a pulley system and rocks at the other end to balance the weight. The nets bring in large catches, and a good place to see them in action is at Kochi.
Museum of Kerala History
This museum makes good use of paintings, sculptures, sound-and-light effects and audiovisual aids to depict the history of Kerala from the Neolithic period through the arrival of colonial forces to modern times.
1568 Thripunithura has the Hill Palace Museum, with its collection of coins, manuscripts, scriptures and princely relics of Kochi and Travancore.
This walk through Mattancherry, near Fort Kochi, offers an opportunity to See Kochi Synagogue, the royal palace and the Jew Town Market, a spice trade centre.
Start at the Mattancherry Palace, which has good and ferry access to the rest of Kochi.
Tel: 0484 2226085
Open: Sat-Thur 10am-5pm.
Also called the Dutch Palace, this palace was actually built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and gifted to their ally, the ruler of Kochi, who gave them trading rights. The palace was practically rebuilt after the Dutch took over Kochi in 1663. Built on two floors around a quadrangle, it incorporates European influence into the traditional Nalukettu plan.
The palace is renowned for its marvellous murals from the 16the and 17th centuries depicting the entire Ramayana and scenes from the Mahabharata. The Central Hall was used for coronation ceremonies and has an interesting display of dresses, turbans and palanquins.
Open: Sun-Thur 10am-noon and 3-5pm
Also called Paradesi Synagogue, this was founded in 1568 and rebuilt by the Dutch in 1664, two years after the Portuguese destroyed the building. A wealthy Jewish merchant, Ezekial Rahbi, donated the clock tower in the 18th century. Notable features include Cantonese willow-pattern tiles, Belgian chandeliers, interlocking pews, gilt columns, ornate brass pulpit and a slab from the 14th century Kochangadi Synagogue that is now in ruins.
Jew Town Market
The market has developed into a bazaar for antiques, curios, handicrafts and tourist souvenirs with shops selling anything from Kathakali masks, jewel boxes and trinkets to ornate bullock carts.