Ernakulam is ostensibly the most progressive city in Kerala state boasting hundred percent literacy. Legend will have you believe that that the reason for its prosperity is because the gaze of a much revered goddess Pazhyannur Bhagavathi is fixed on the city, unwavering. The city lends its name to the greater district of Ernakulam synonymous to what is popularly known as Kochi - and here it achieves an identity that supercedes the colourful urbanity the city portrays. Beauty and prosperity takes on many avatars in Ernakulam - shorelines that boast modernity and history - the city shore of Marine Drive in the mainland that lines the famed Backwaters and the lulling culturally replete Fort Kochi Beach coast; the high-rises of the mainland and the colonial bungalows, forts and palaces of its islands; ancient churches, stunning Jewish synagogues, rockcut temples from the Jain era, beautiful Dravidian temples such as Chottanikara and the Ernakulathappan Shiva Temple - differing religious eras co-existing effortlessly; a modern theme park Veega Land thrown against the image of the ancient Chinese fishing nets from the time of Kublai Khan still in use today; a region of peninsulas and islands, natural harbours and bird sanctuaries, lakes and rivers all breathtaking in its natural beauty. It is no exaggeration- Ernakulam-Kochi is definitely one of the '50 greatest places to visit in a lifetime!'
Location and Geography
Geographically Ernakulam district in the South Indian state of Kerala shares its borders with the Arabian Sea in the West; the cultural capital Thrissur in the North, the highlands of Idukki in the East and in the South ‘the Venice of the East’ Alappuzha and ‘the land of letters and lakes’ Kottayam. The rivers Periyar, Muvattupuzha, and a tributary of the Chalakkudy flow through the region. Kerala state is known for its innumerable islands and most of these islands occur within the Ernakulam district precincts; some of the better known ones being Wellingdon, Vypeen, Valiya Kadamakkudi, Cheriya Kadamakkudi, Ponjikkara, Panangad, Cheppanam, Nettoor, Chathanadu, and Chendamangalam. The proximity to the sea as well as the occurrence of rivers and lakes such as the Vembanad Lake endows Ernakulam with a moderate, warm tropical climate.
Ernakulam district includes mainland Ernakulam; Fort Kochi; Old Cochin inclusive of Mattancherry; Palluruthy known for its temples and lotus ponds; Thoppumpady famous for its fishing industry; the man-made Willingdon Island; the fast growing suburb Edappally and the much industrialised Kalamassery; Thrikkakara known for its colourful Onam festivities; the administrative headquarters Kakkanad; and Tripunithura the land of the temples. For all practical purposes Ernakulam-Kochi when describe to the traveler is spoken of as comprising of three parts- Ernakulam mainland, Fort Kochi and Willingdon Island.
How to get there
The closest International Air Port is at Nedumbassery approximately 22 kms away from Ernakulam. A relatively new airport, it facilitates flight services to and from all international and domestic airlines.
The three main stations are the Ernakulam Junction, Ernakulam Town and Cochin Harbour Terminus. All three stations are connected by broad gauge lines to Thiruvanthapuram, Mangalore and Mangalore onwards to Chennai. Most trains from cities in the North of India as well as cities in South India access the railway station at Ernakulam Junction.
The main bus station is located at a proximal distance to the Ernakulam railway junction. Efficient State run bus services connect Ernakulam to other major interstate cities as well as cities within the state. The availability of private buses from Ernakulam to other cities is regular and can be availed at the High Court Junction, near the Ernakulam Railway Station and at the Kaloor Junction.
There are two main ferry stations in Ernakulam- one near the Ernakulam rail junction and the other near the High Court. They are quick, efficient and are by far the most comfortable way to travel between islands.
The word Ernakulam is a derivative of 'Erayanarkulam' a word of Tamil origin meaning the ‘the abode of Lord Siva’. Generally speaking the region referred to as Ernakulam is synonymous with Cochin, the colonial name for Kochi. Specifically speaking Ernakulam is one of the districts in the state of Kerala. It is also the name of a town, the former administrative capital referred to as mainland Ernakulam. Cochin a small town to begin with, today extends its boundaries to include much of the region surrounding the original town and is situated in the district of Ernakulam.
In terms of early history the specific history of the Kochi-Ernakulam region is not lucid and can be better understood by looking at the history of Kerala on the whole. The earliest evidence of history is a seal of the great Mauryan ruler Ashoka. There is mention of the rule of Kerala by the Ays, Ezhimalas and the powerful Cheras in central Kerala in the literary works of the Sangam period. The Cheras were arguably the most powerful rulers of ancient Kerala. The end of the Sangam period also saw the end of the first rule of the Cheras and the emergence of the Kulbharas who ruled the region for three centuries. They were in turn overpowered by Pallavas, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas and the Pandyas. This period was followed by the second Chera rule by the Kulasekhara dynasty, founded by Kulasekhara Alvar, notably one of the 12 Alwars responsible for propagating the Bhakti Cult in South India. During the course of successive Kulasekhara rulers the mighty Chera Empire was split between the Cholas and the Cheras and hence emerged the newly formed kingdom of Venad.
There was much development in the fields of art, learning and trade in this period. The dwindling of the Kulasekhara rule in the Cochin area coincided with the emerging prominence of Calicut under the rule of the powerful Zamorins who were intent on expanding their kingdom. The Cochin rulers and the Zamorins were in constant battle which shaped the history of Kerala. It was during this period of dissention that the Portugese made their entry influencing the history of Kerala. The Cochin rulers befriended the Portuguese offering them trade sanction along the coast and hence gained support in deflecting the warring Zamorins. This alliance eventually led to Cochin, a major seaport on the trade route, to come under the influence of successive foreign rulers the Portuguese in 1530, Dutch in 1653 and 1663 and eventually the British in 1815.
The development of the Cochin(Kochi-Ernakulam) area as a major centre of commercial activity and trade was enabled by the foreign influence and rule the region endured- dating far back to the time of the ancient sea farers the Arabs and the Chinese; and the later rulers the Portuguese, Dutch, and finally the British. The travelogues of famous travelers for example Fa Hien, Vasco da Gama, and Nicolas Conti chronicled the glorious growth and progress of the Cochin region later called ‘Little Lisbon’ by the Portuguese; 'Homely Holland' by the Dutch and 'Mini England' by the English. The Portuguese and the Dutch built beautiful forts which were demolished by the British who built Wellingdon Island and established Cochin as a major harbour.
A few years after Indian Independence in 1947, the Kerala state was formed in 1956 unifying the provinces of Kochi, Malabar and Travancore. This region called Ernakulam-Kochi today is a central commercial and tourist hub one of the most alluring in the South Indian coast of India.
Traveling around the district of Ernakulam one cannot but feel overwhelmed by the historical influences that have rendered the region diverse and multicultural and yet offers up flavours unique to God’s Own Country, Kerala. It might be interesting to explore the entire region as an option to heading straight to beautiful Kochi as most tour operators would have you. Here are some of the areas little known to the overseas tourist especially.
Aluva or Alwaye 25km from Kochi is where India’s second longest river Periyar offers a bathing spot of great tourist interest; a pilgrim centre and a summer resort are the other attractions.
Angamali 40km from Kochi is one of the fastest growing towns in Kerala known mostly for the Little Flower Eye Hospital one of the best in South India.
Bhuthathankettu 50km from Kochi ideal for trekking and exploring; or alternatively for those who fancy a leisurely day outdoors it serves as a perfect picnic spot as well.
Chowarra 9km from Kovalam beach is where the summer resort of the Cochin Royal Family is located. It is also a place known for its weaving and rattan handicrafts centre.
Chennamangalam 26km from Aluva where there is a Jewish centre and Synagogue as well as the ruined remains of the Vypeenkotta seminary built by the Portuguese can be seen.
Edappally 10 km north of the city is famous for its quiet old Church the St George as well as the world famous Museum of Kerala History which boasts an impressive display of audio-visual exhibits, life size statues as well as life like paintings that trace the history and culture of Kerala historically.
Kaladi 45km from Kochi hailed as the birth place of the great Advaitha philosopher and Bhakti saint of the 8th century Adishankaracharya, this is a venerated Hindu pilgrim centre.
Kallil 20km from Kaladi a popular spot for art historians and archeologists, renown for its caves cleaved out of rock that house Jain temples.
Kodanad 50km from Kochi where an elephant training zoo and mini zoo is located is an interesting day trip.
Malayattur 53km from Kochi is a famous Christian Pilgrim centre where the famous St. Thomas Church in Kerala is situated. The Annual Feast celebrated in the months of March-April is important for the Christian pilgrim tourist.
Tripunittura a satellite town about 16km from Kochi was the ancient seat of power of the Cochin Rajahs. The Sri Poornathreyesa Temple and Hill Palace Museum exhibit the pomp and splendor of the Cochin Rajahs. The Hill Palace was built in the 19th century by the Cochin Rajahs has since been converted into a museum portraying the wealth of the Rajas of Kochi - a fine collection of articles including the throne and the crown- are on display. The museum also houses a large collection of archaeological findings. Hill Palace is located 16km east of Cochin in Tripunithura, a satellite town of Cochin.
This is also where the spectacular ‘Athachamayam’ procession that marks the beginning of the Onam festival occurs.
Cochin or Kochi in the Ernakulam district is today the name the whole region is referred to by. Kochi is one of the most beautiful natural harbours and oldest ports in the country. Called the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi some historians claim is a derivative of ‘Cochazhi’ meaning ‘small sea’ in Malayalam; while others claim it was a name given to the lovely port by the ancient seafaring Chinese reputedly of the court of Kublai Khan, to echo the name of their homeland.
The Chinese fishing nets or cheenavala as they are locally called, dotting the Fort Kochi and Vypeen coast are a beautiful yet curious site. They are not found anywhere else in the world outside of China and are still used by fishermen to earn their livelihood today.
The Kochi harbour inherited the significant position it enjoys today amongst the worlds trading routes after the port at Kodugallur or Cranganore was obliterated by the flooding of the Periyar river in1340 A.D. This former port was well known and much favoured by the Arabs and Chinese over many centuries. With the destruction of the Kodugallur port the hand of nature created this natural harbour at nearby Kochi. The development and progress of Kochi as a trade stop for pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and other exotic spices hence owes its fortunes to the benevolence of nature!
St. Francis Church at Fort Kochi is the oldest Church in India most famous for housing the memorial where the famous explorer and Portuguese trader Vasco da Gama, was buried. Though his remains were at a later point sent back to Portugal the burial spot is eternalized at the church. Vasco House, on Rose Street in Fort Kochi one of the oldest Potuguese homes in India adorned by verandahs and glass paned windows is believed to have been the house where Vasco da Gama was believed to have lived.
Another famous church the Santa Cruz Basilica at Fort Kochi was originally built by the Portuguese in 1505 and raised to the ground by the British colonists in 1795. The existing structure built in 1905 was exalted to the status of a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
The Palliport or Pallipuram Fort on Vypeen island is yet another structure that survived the era of the British, who raised to the ground the forts built by preceding rulers. It is - the oldest surviving European fort in India, built by the Portuguese in 1503. While on Vypeen island enjoy Cherai Beach fringed by coconut groves and lush paddy fields. Vypeen island is one of the many small islands off Ernakulam mainland and is accessible by land or boat.
Bolghatty Palace, built on the beautiful island of Bolghatty off the coast of Kochi in the Arabian Sea by the Dutch in 1744 A.D, was initially the Dutch Governors palace. During the period of the British it was the home of the British Governors and today is a well preserved luxurious Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) hotel. The palace on the island of Bolghatty can be accessed by a pleasant ferry ride from the mainland of Ernakulam.
The Dutch Palace at Mattancherry was built by the Portuguese and presented to then ruler of Cochin, Veera Kerala Varma, in the year 1555 AD who befriended them with favourable trade sanctions. Later with the Dutch invasions extensions to and repairs of the structure were carried out in 1663 AD. Hence it came to be called the Dutch Palace though ironically neither the Dutch nor the Portugese actually occupied the palace.
Jewish Synagogue built by wealthy members of the Jewish society in 1568 is truly magnificent. Its 200 year old Chinese red floor tiles, the multi tiered Belgian chandeliers, and giant Old Testament scrolls are stunning! Situated in close proximity to the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry it is the oldest Synagogue in India.
Willingdon Island created in 1933 by the British spearheaded by Sir Robert Bristow. The man made island was created by bogging in the sand dredged up during the British efforts to deepen the backwaters of the Cochin Port. Willingdon Island was where the Airport, Sea port and the railway terminus were located. The airport has since been shifted to Nedumbassery 30kms north-east of Cochin and the main rail junction moved to Ernakulam mainland. Willingdon Island today houses the Cochin Port and the headquarters of the Southern Naval Command inclusive of the naval station.
Where to Stay
Hotel Hill Place
Harbour View Residency
Hotel Wyte Fort
Star Homes-Star Paradise
Star Homes-Star Lagoon
Gokulam Park Inn
The International Hotel
The Woods Manor
Hotel Sea Lord
The Riyan Residency
Paulson Park Hotel
Mermaid Days Inn
Edassery Mansion Kaloor
Hotel Highway Garden
Hotel The Astoria