Cochin Hotels, Ernakulam Hotels
Cochin has a complex geography with a number of islands, headlands and inlets between the Arabian Sea and backwaters. Cochin is Kerala's largest city, and its principal port and commercial hub. It holds more a big-city feel than Trivandrum, with high-rise tower blocks looming over the waterfront, constant maritime traffic chugging through the port, and a modern, neon-lit centre, Ernakulam.
The old peninsular districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin, across the harbour, formed the focus of colonial trade until Independence. Now the place is Kerala's chief tourist enclave. Fort Kochi can be by a network of passenger ferries and bridges
Fort Cochin's pretty backstreets, filled with two-and three-hundred-year-old merchants' houses, are an irresistible attraction. Memorable places to stay, eat and drink stand on virtually every corner. But the overwhelming popularity with high-spending foreigners has compromised its essentially relaxed, traditional feel in recent years.
Kochi also provides plenty of tourist-friendly introductions to Kerala ritual arts-among them the splendid Kerala Folklore Museum, on the southern edge of the city, with its extraordinary collection of artefacts from around south India. Top-notch kathakali performances feature alongside processions of elephants and drum troupes in the many annual utsavam festivals held in the area very October or November, the largest of them at Thripunithura, southeast of Ernakulam.
Stay in Cochin / Ernakulam
Cochin sprang into being after the silting up of Muziris harbour forced the royal family to move here in 1405. The name probably derives from kochazhi, meaning the new, or small, harbour. European involvement in the rapid expansion of the town was characterized by constant blockades and clashes, as the Portuguese, Dutch and British competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade.
In the 1920's the British expanded the port to accommodate modern ocean-going ships, and Willingdon Island, between Ernakulam and Fort Kochi Cochin was created by extensive dredging.
These days, with a population of more than 1.5 million (if you include the greater metropolitan area), it is by far Kerala's fastest growing city, and its most prosperous. The teeming industrial belt at Eloor, 17km north, and phalanx of skyscrapers springing up along Marine drive bear witness to the boom Kochi has been enjoying since 2000.
Other conspicuous symbols of the new prosperity, underpinned by a thriving IT sector and rapidly expanding port, include a crop of vast gold emporia and the construction of a ritzy new yatch marina.
"If China is where you make your money," declared Italian traveller Nicolas Conti in the Middle Ages, "then Kochi surely is the place to spend it." Kochi has acted as a trading port since at least Roman times, and was a link in the main trade route between Europe and China.
From 1795 until lndia's Independence the long outer sand spit, with its narrow beach leading to the wide bay inland, was under British political control. The inner harbour was in Kochi State, while most of the hinterland was in the separate state of Travancore. The division of political authority delayed development of the harbour facilities until 1920-1923, when the approach channel was dredged so ships that could get through the Suez Canal could dock here, opening the harbour to modern shipping.
Ins and Outs
Cochin International Airport is at Nedumbassery, 30km northeast. Both the main railway station, Ernakulam Junction, and the main long-distance bus station are in Ernakulam.
There are three main places to stay, but everything to see is in Fort Kochi, on the southern promontory. Willingdon Island has precious few tourist charms to draw you across the causeway from Ernakulam and is awkwardly placed without your own transport. Immediately opposite the jetty at Ernakulam is Bolghatty Island, and beyond it Vypeen Island. During the day, a fun, quick ferry service stops at major points around the bay.
Once in Fort Kochi, the palace and the synagogue in Jew Town are close to a jetty but you'll need to rent a rickshaw or bicycle to get to St Francis' Church. After 21.30 public transport begins to grind to a halt and you'll need to take a rickshaw or taxi to get around.
Popular Hotels in Kochi / Ernakulam
Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC)
Tel: 0484 2353234
Main Boat Jetty
Tel: 0484 2371761
This travel agent, with good maps and local information, runs daily backwater tours, has information on more than 2000 temple festivals in Kerala, and runs Costa Malabari guesthouse.
Old Kochi is thumb-shaped peninsula whose northern tip presides over the entrance of the city's harbour, formed the focus of European trading activities from the sixteenth century onwards.
With high-rise development restricted to Ernakulam across the water, its twin districts of Fort Cochin, in the west, and Mattancherry, on the headland's eastern side, have preserved an extraordinary wealth of early-colonial architecture, spanning the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras- a crop unparalleled in India.
Approaching by ferry, the waterfront, with its sloping red-tiled roofs and ranks of peeling, pastel-coloured godowns (warehouse), offers a view that can have changed little in centuries.
Closer up, however, Old Kochi's historic patina has started to show some ugly cracks. The spice trade that fuelled the town's original rise is still very much in evidence: scores of shops lining the narrow streets of Mattancherry enjoy a brisk turnover of Malabari cardamom, chillies, turmeric and ginger, while the famous Pepper Exchange has boomed since it went online a couple of years back.
But since the late 1990's, an extraordinary rise in visitor numbers has had a major impact on the town. Thousands of free-spending foreign tourists pour through daily during the winter, and with no planning or preservation authority to take control, the resulting rash of new building threatens to destroy the very atmosphere people come here to experience.
Whereas old Portuguese arches and Dutch wood verandas used to dominate the streets of Fort Cochin, now garish signboards and the glass fronts of air-conditioned Kashmiri handicraft emporia are more likely to draw the eye.
Tourism has also brought some benefits to the area, inspiring renovation work to building that would otherwise have been left to rot. Quite a few splendid old mansions across the town have been restored to accommodate high-end heritage hotels, where you can savour the 300-year old architecture from the comfort of an antique four-poster or courtyard plunge pool.
The district where tourism has made its most discernible impact is Fort Cochin, the grid of venerable old streets at the northwest tip of the peninsula, where the Portuguese erected their walled citadel, Fort Immanuel.
Only a few fragments of the former battlements remain, crumbling into the sea beside Cochin's iconic Chinese fishing nets. But dozens of other evocative Lusitanian, Dutch and British monuments survive, ranging from stately tea brokers' bungalows to Bishops' places, spice traders' mansions and the gabled facade of the oldest church in Asia.
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A good way to get to grips with Fort Cochin's many-layered history is to pick up the free walking-tour maps produced by both Kerala Tourism and the privately run Tourist Desk, available from their respective offices and counters. The routes lead you around some of the district's more significant landmarks, including the early eighteenth-century Dutch Cemetery, Vasco da Gama's supposed house and several merchants' residences.
Fort Cochin also has a small but active arts scene based around the popular Kashi Art Cafe on Burgher St and new David Hall Gallery on the Parade Ground. For kathakali and other traditional forms of ritual dance and drama, you've a choice of venues staging daily tourist shows.
The Fort's pair of beaches, on the northwest edge of the peninsula, are certainly not places you'd wish to swim from or sunbath on, with slicks of dubiously coloured pollution washing over them periodically-although Riverside Beach is a good spot for viewing the Chinese fishing nets. The nearest decent seaside destination is Cherai Beach, 25km north.
Mattancherry, the old district of red-tiled riverfront wharfs and pastel-coloured houses occupying the northeastern tip of the headland, was once the colonial capital's main market area-the epicentre of the Malabar's spice trade, and home to its wealthiest Jewish and Jain merchants. Like Fort Cochin, its once grand buildings have lapsed into advanced states of disrepair, with most of their original owners working overseas.
When Mattancherry's Jew emigrated en masse to Israel in the 1940s, their furniture and other non-portable heirlooms ended up in the antique shops for which the area is now renowned-though these days genuine pieces are few and far between. Kashmiris have taken over the majority of them, selling handicrafts and curios at inflated prices to the tour groups and cruise-ship visitors who stream through daily during the winter.
The sights at the top of most visitors itineraries in Mattancherry Palace, on the road side a short walk from the Mattancherry Jetty, 1km or so southeast of Fort Cochin. Known locally as the Dutch Palace, the two-storey building was actually erected by the Portuguese, as gift to the Raja of Cochin, Vira Kerala Varma though the Dutch did add to captivating, with murals that are among the finest examples of Kerala's underrated school of painting.
A few hundred west of the palace, on Gujarati Road, lies the peaceful Jain temple, boasting a pair of airy marble sanctuaries with some delicate carving.
Jews are believed to have been trading in Kerala as far back as biblical times. Though few of them remain, this historical part of Kochi has retained its distinctive atmosphere and is a thriving tourist area. Originally it was a centre of the city's spice trade, and the residue of that industry detectable in the air.
However, most of the cumin and ginger has now given way to tourist shops full of saris, fabrics and usual Indian wares, from where traders give the hard sell to passing foreigners. This can be begin to grate after the fifteenth 'no, thank you', but the area has enough charm to compensate, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on whose upstairs balconies you can take respite from the retail hustle and admire the view.
The focal point of the area is the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest in the Commonwealth. This peaceful place of worship is well worth dropping into see the Belgian glass chandeliers, But don't forget to look down; the floor is covered with hand-painted Chinese tiles, each of which is unique. As in all synagogues, Scroll of the Law and Golden Crowns are kept on site. 10am -12pm and 3-5pm Sun-Thur closed on Jewish holiday.
Ernakualam Presents the modern face of Kerala, with more of a big-city feel than Trivandrum.
Other than the contemporary art on display at the small Durbar Hall Art Gallery on Durbar Hall Road, and the remarkable Folklore Museum on the southern outskirts, there's little in the way of sights.
Running in parallel with seafront, roughly 500m inland, Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road is its main thoroughfare, where you'll find some of the largest textile stores, jewellery shops and hotels. Prime leisure destinations for the city's well-heeled middle class are the massive Shopping malls in NH-Bypass.
Enough day-trip destinations lie within easy reach of the Cochin to keep you here for weeks. Topping most visitors' lists are the enjoyable tours of small backwater villages to the south, where you can get a tastes of rural life from a motorboat or canoe, and where the island of Kallancherry holds an award-winning community tourism project.
A bus or auto-rickshaw ride out town, Thripunithura is the site of a former royal palace and museum, while an hour's ride across the harbour and north up the coast from Fort Cochin brings you to a 3km stretch of sand known as Cherai-the nearest decent beach to the city.
Further afield, at Kodanad there's an elephant camp where you can help bath baby elephants in the river, and some spectacular waterfalls at Athirapally, a couple of hours' drive further northeast.
And if you're heading inland towards Munnar, Thattekkad, Kerala's number-one bird sanctuary, has a batch of appealing guesthouses and camps nestling on the banks of the Periyar River, and makes an ideal spot to break the long journey into the hills.
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