Cochin is the commercial capital of Kerala and is often referred to as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Kerala is the state in Southern India described in most travel journals now as ‘Gods own country’. Cochin has a safe deep natural harbor and was the epicenter of trade in Black pepper, spices, cardamom with the Dutch, Portuguese, Jews, Chinese and Phoenicians.
Today Cochin is composed of Ernakulam City, Fort Kochi, Willingdon Island, a man made island created by the British due to dredging in the 1920s to deepen the port, Mattancherry and Kumbalangi and other islands which are connected by ferries and bridges. It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities of Kerala having had European influence right from the early 1500s. Vasco de gama the great Portuguese explorer was buried in the St. Francis church in Kochi until his body was taken to Lisbon fourteen years ago.
Cochin is inhabited by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Jews and thus is a true melting pot of many influences.
Travel to Cochin
Cochin can be reached by air at its brand new international airport at Nedumbassery which is 26 km to the north of Eranakulum.
Apart from the major Indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, there are a host of international flights from Colombo, Dubai, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah and other cities in the Middle East which come into Cochin. These flights cater to Kerala’s migrant population who work in these foreign lands, Kerala used to have the highest suicide rates in the country due to high education and high unemployment rates all this as changed with the prosperous migrants and their remittances
Cochin is served by three railway stations Eranakulam Junction ( locally known as South) which is the most important, Eranakulam Town( locally known North) and The Cochin Harbour Terminus on Willingdon Island. No trains run to Fort Kochi or Mattanchery which are accessible by ferry. One of the most scenic routes to Cochin from Mumbai is via the Konkan railway along the beautiful Malabar coast of India. Trains reach Cochin from other cities of India like Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and other parts of the state such as Trivandrum and Calicut.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation runs the bus service of Kerala it has a central bus stand near the Eranakulam Junction railway station. A variety of bus services are available for travel through out the state. The private bus operators also have two bus stands these buses tend to be overcrowded and their drivers have a dismal safety record.
Long distance buses also run to Mumbai, Chennai, Mangalore and Chennai. Both the K.S.R.T.C. as well as the private buses are rarely air conditioned but the Garuda service of the K.S.R.T.C. which operates on the Trivandrum- Palakkad and Trivandrum to Calicut routes both of which go via Kochi is air conditioned.
By Autorickshaw, Prepaid Taxi
One can get autorickshaws easily in Eranakulam they are harder to find in Mattancherry and Fort Cochin. Prepaid taxis are available at the airport and the railway stations. One can also rent a car with a driver to go to other destinations from Cochin. S.S.Travels in Cochin is a reputed car rental agency.
Cochin is best explored by the cheap local excellent ferry service which runs through the various waterways linking Eranakulam to Mattancherry, Eranakulam to Vypeen,Fort Cochin to Vypeen,Willingdon Island to Fort Cochin etc Tickets are available at the Main boat jetty in Eranakulam and other jetties . At the Main boat jetty tourist desk offers free maps and timetables for ferries and buses can be obtained. There is also a half a day boat cruise organized by the Kerala Tourist Development Corporation but it doesn’t stop at Fort Cochin or Mattancherry.
Local Bus service in Cochin
There exists a local bus service within Cochin it is privately operated and rarely does it adhere to a numbering system. There is etiquette to be followed while riding the bus the seats in the front of the bus are reserved for women and are not to be occupied by men unless they are empty. Conductors can assist a tourist as though they speak Malayalam they do understand sufficient English to help one get by.
The Kerala Tourist Development Corporation
With offices at the airport and in Eranakulam the KTDC is a powerhouse of information for travel around Cochin and the rest of Kerala. It can organize hotel stays at the other hotel properties it owns and organize sightseeing as well as the all important ‘kettu vellam’ houseboat cruises which are so popular the world over as one can lazily traverse the numerous lagoons and backwaters of Kerala. The KTDC office is on Shanmugham Road in Ernakulam the telephone number is (0484/353234)
Climate: Cochin being a coastal town it has a temperate climate maximum in the summer months is 35C and the minimum in the winter is 25C. There is a monsoon season from June to September.
Best Time to Visit: The months of November to February are the best months to visit Cochin,
Eranakulam City and its Sites
The city was was named after Erayanarkulam the Tamil name for Lord Shiva. The main attraction in the city is its Marine Drive or Shanmugham Road. It is a a popular place for an evening stroll offering as it does a spectacular view of the Harbor and the backwaters.
Hill Palace Museum is located at Edapally 10 km away from Eranakulam it houses displays of old coins, weapons and sculptures and has a small deer park associated with it.
The Museum of Kerala History is also located at Edapally and features sound and light shows highlighting scenes of ancient Kerala History. The M.N.
Mangalavanam in the heart of Kochi is a verdant ecological oasis which is an attraction for many species of migratory birds.
In Eranakulum one can enjoy traditional Kerala cuisine and seafood at Kadalaoram and Fry’s Village Restaurant at Chittoor Road. One can partake of specialties like puthoo, iddiappams and the toddy laced vellayappam.
When one is visiting Cochin, one must try and take in a Kathakali performance which is the dance theater peculiar to Kerala state. Ideally preformed during the temple festivals during the winter months shorter performances are held year round at venues around the city daily. Cochin Cultural Center, Kerala Kathakali Centre, Art Kerala are some of the venues where one can daily partake a Kathakali performance.
Separated from Eranakulum by a salt water bay Fort Kochi is steeped in History it has many sites to see as well most famous are the Chinese Fishing nets near the Harbor. They illustrate a mechanical method for catching fish used by the local fisherman and brought to India by Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan.
The St Francis Church a protestant church is located here it was built by the Europeans in 1510AD and it housed the remains of the Poruguese explorer Vasco De Gama until they were shipped out to Lisbon. It is said to be the oldest church in India. Nearby is the Santa Cruz Basilica a Roman Catholic Church.
Fort Kochi has a number of boutique hotels which are heritage homes which area exponents of Portuguese or Dutch architecture. Near the St Francis Church is the Malabar House boutique hotel in a 300 year old colonial home. Some of the other boutique hotels are the Old Courtyard Hotel which is on Princess Street and housed in a 200 year old building which is an example of Portuguese architecture with ancient arches and alcoves and eight bedrooms overlooking a courtyard. Chiramel Home is yet another boutique hotel housed in a timbered home and an exponent of Dutch architecture with high ceilings. Old Harbour Hotel is a located in a 300 year old building built in the Dutch style. It has an Aryuvedic spa and a gorgeous terrace.
Brunton Boatyard is a Casino Group Hotel in Fort Kochi and it is located near the Fort Kochi Jetty. It was once a distillery.
Fort Kochi has a number of old homes which display various styles of architecture such as Pierce Leslie Bungalow which was the office of Pierce Leslie & co a coffee company founded in 1862. It reflects Portguese, Dutch and local influences as well. Vasco House, Koder, Thakur, David Hall, VOC gate and the J Thomas Pvt Ltd. bungalow are all worth exploring. The later is going to be soon the Neemrana heritage hotel. More examples of colonial homes can be found at Loafers corner which offers a view of one of Cochins oldest streets Princess Street.
One must sample also the seafood delights cooked up on shacks lining Fort Kochi beach, these are impromptu shacks which serve the fresh catch brought in by the fisherman using the famous Chinese Nets and also the deep sea trawlers. The fresh seafood is cooked right there on the beach and in shacks around Vasco de Gama square for a true sampling of the spicy and flavorful Kerala cuisine.
Cinnamon at Stuber Hall is a expensive boutique in Fort Kochi where one can buy designer clothes and objects d’art from other parts of India.
Fort Immanuel is a symbol of the pact between the local ruler the Maharaja of Kochi and the Portuguese ruler and was built in 1503. It was subsequently destroyed by the Dutch and the British but the remains of this once magnificent fort can be still seen from the Beach.
Also located in Fort Kochi is the Dutch cemetery with tombstones of early European voyagers who landed here.
Jew town and the oldest Synagogue in the country built in the 16 century are the most famous sites on Mattancherry. Though there are hardly any Jews left in India the synagogue remains a symbol of their existence in the centuries past.
The Synagogue is a magnificent testament to this episode in history as it is adorned with ornate oil burning lamps and hand painted blue and white hand painted tiles which came from China. Jew town is also the location for much of the spice trade and one must visit the spice dealing rooms on Spice road.
Many of the old bungalows in the narrow streets of Jew town still bear the surnames of the old Jewish families who resided there but they don’t live here any more as most of the Jews from here have emigrated to Israel, these old homes have become antique stores which depend on their survival on foreigners who come here looking to take home a piece of Keralas history for a bargain.
Also located here in Mattancherry is the Dutch Palace built by the Portuguese in 1555 and restored by the Dutch in 1663 with a blend of Indian architecture. The main hall was the site for the coronations of the the Maharajas of Cochin. The courtyard has a small Hindu temple and the Palace has murals on its walls depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Though it is called Dutch Palace the Dutch didn’t stay here.
On Bolgatty Island is situated the Bolgatty Palace built by the Dutch in 1744 narrow and long with 15 acres of lush greenery. It is now a hotel property of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.
A man made artificial island named after Lord Willingdon, a British Viceroy of India is the site of the most magnificent property of the Taj group of hotels, the Taj Malabar. It offers a spectacular view of the backwaters and locals say that in the evening when one is seated in one of the sea facing restaurants of the hotel one can actually espy Dolphins swimming and playing the azure waters. The Island is the location for the Head Quarters of the Southern Naval Command and the Port Trust too.
Cochin should be a part of every tourist India Itinerary.