This is Kerala all right with its never-ending line of swaying palms, glistening backwaters, fishing boats anchoring at a distance and the never-fading greenery. Yet Kochi, formerly called Cochin, is a beautiful contrast with its wild array of bright neon lights reflecting its bustling port culture. One of the finest natural harbours on the Arabian coast of India, Kochi has been a port of call for foreign traders from early times. The city perfectly reflects the eclecticism in its architecture and culture. Here, you can see the oldest church in India, winding streets with mosques, ancient Portuguese houses, cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, a Jewish synagogue, and a palace built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Hindu Raja of Cochin. With its feet firmly rooted in history, the city is fast emerging as the captivating commercial centre of Kerala.
True to its cosmopolitan nature, Kochi consists of mainland Ernakulam, the islands of Willingdon, Bolgatty in the harbour area and Fort Cochin and Mattancherry in the peninsula. That I was to witness a myriad images was evident the moment, I disembarked from the train at Ernakulum. The sleek modern buildings that house the business community are peacefully sharing the skyline with a series of peculiarly suspended fishing nets dating back to the times of Kublai Khan. The dimly lit curio shops on the narrow cobbled streets of Fort Cochin compete with the ruthless ferocity of the dazzling shops on the mainland selling the most high-tech merchandise. The people are a revelation, too. White dhoti-clad locals enveloped in an unruffled calm mix freely with the pinstriped gentleman, always in a hurry to catch the last train home. It is a heady concoction and well worth trying.
Sights Worth Your While
Fort Cochin: St Francis Church is India’s oldest European-built church. The wooden structure was rebuilt in stone around the mid-16th century. After the British took control over Kochi, it became an Anglical church and is presently being used as the Church of South India. The most interesting sight of this area is the fixed cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that were introduced by the traders from the court of Kublai Khan.
Mattancherry Palace: Built by the Portuguese in 1555, the palace was presented to the King of Cochin, Veera Kerala Varma as a gesture of goodwill. The Dutch later renovated it in 1663 and, hence, it is also known as the Dutch Palace. The two-storey quadrangular building surrounds a courtyard that contains a Hindu temple. The central hall on the first floor was the coronation hall of the Rajas. The murals depicting scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata are wonderful.
Jewish Synagogue: The beautiful Jewish synagogue was built in 1568, and later destroyed by jealous Portuguese marauders. The present day synagogue was rebuilt two years later when the Dutch took over. The Belgian chandeliers hanging from the exquisitely decorated ceiling render a vibrant lively glow to the interiors. The red and gold holy tabernacle that holds the sacred Torah is at the centre of the hall. Its fragile pages are made of paper processed from goatskin and inscribed in ancient Hebrew. The hand-painted, willow pattern blue and white floor tiles are a unique feature of the synagogue.
Magic Of The Backwaters
There’s nothing back about the backwaters. In the geographical sense, the term refers to the huge network of lakes, canals and estuaries that are formed by a splendid geological action of the sea off the coast of Kerala. The waves rolling in from the Arabian Sea forced the rivers to deposit their suspended silt on the ocean floor running parallel to the coast that eventually got filled up to form a whole 900 kms of canal like waterways.
A cruise along these canals would take you into a world of fantasy. This could be organised by the resort on demand or you can contact the tourist office. As you glide along, you would be treated with the most unusual of vistas that you can ever think of. Village after village floats past, the water gently obliterating the boundaries. Here, everything happens in the fluid world. Children go to school in a dinghi pulled by them. The bigger ones carry everything from harvest to Enfield bikes, from young maidens to sturdy bulls. The dinghis are also used to fetch groceries or chase squadrons of quacking ducks. At places, the thick vegetation on either side of the bank form a canopy above the canals. The gentle lullaby of the swash and swirl of waves helps one to forget everything and drift into a peaceful slumber. The water lilies slowly open up their delicate features and the butterflies dance in delight. Skein after skein of birds leaving their roost fly towards the unknown creating beautiful designs in the canvas of a spotless blue sky. A proud kingfisher conducts a solo acrobatic performance every time he manages to catch a dainty fish. You are sure to crave for more even after the ride is over.
The Travancore Restaurant
Opp Pioneer Tower, Shanmugam Rd.
Tel: (0484) 351026
Offering authentic Kerala-style cuisine, its specialities are duck roast and karimeen fry. They also offer snacks at tea time of tapoica with fish curry - all a part of the traditional cuisine. Closed on Sunday.
Kashi Art Cafe
Burgher Road, Tel: (0484) 221769
This hip place in town opens at 8:30 and serves a whole range of food including home-baked cakes. The cafe is popular amongst art lovers as it holds exhibitions, workshops and theatre performances.
M G Road, Tel: (0484) 367759
A multicuisine restaurant of the Casino Group of Hotels. It is probably the best restaurant in Kochi. The specialties are dishes cooked in authentic Kerala style. The traditional fish curry in coconut gravy and the Syrian chicken roast are a must try.
Chinese Jade Pavilion
Located at the Taj Malabar Hotel, it serves excellent food. The other two restaurants of this hotel - Rice Cafe and Waterfront Cafe are also worth a visit.
Gandhi Square, Durbar Hall Ground.
Tel: (0484) 353501
One can enjoy dining in the stylish decor with classical music. A cozy atmosphere for relishing thali meals, South Indian delicacies and other traditional food.
The restaurant at Hotel Abad Plaza serves Indian food and the buffet spreads are quite popular.
The Mahatma Gandhi Road is the city’s main commercial district. A bustling shopping centre where you can buy almost all kinds of goods including textiles, garments, jewellery, handicrafts, electronic goods, books, toys etc. Convent Road, branching westwards, has a growing number of boutiques and outlets for the trendy and brand-conscious. In Jew Street, Mattancherry, there’s a plethora of shops selling old antiques. But most are modern day robbers, so be careful and bargain hard, if you don’t want to be looted. If you are interested in art, then the Kashi Art Cafe on Burgher Street and Dravida Art and Performance gallery would be the perfect choice.
To the South Indians, cinema is a major form of entertainment and Kochi is no exception. Apart from that, Kochi does not have much of nightlife. Cultural shows are conducted regularly to acquaint visitors with the beautiful dance form of Kathakali. The leading among them is the Devan’s See India on Kalathiparambi road. The show features an extra ordinary presentation by P K Devan who explains the dance’s history. He also helps tourists understand the philosophy that lies beneath the drama. It costs around Rs 150. Art Kerala, near the See India foundation, conducts rooftop performances. The Cochin Cultural Centre on the Manikath Road holds the same in an air-conditioned hall that resembles a temple courtyard. The cost is around Rs 100. Kerala Kathakali Centre stages performances at Fort Cochin. The last ferry from Fort Kochi to mainland departs after the show at 9 pm. All these performances begin with the elaborate make-up that a kathakali artist needs to wear. You must not miss this experience.
Malabar Road, Willingdon Islands North End, Kochi - 682009
Tel: (484) 668010
Fax: (484) 668297
Situated on the Willingdon Island, with a magnificent view of the Kochi Harbour and beautiful backwaters, this 96-room deluxe property has two wings ie new wing & heritage wing. All rooms have been recently renovated, elegantly appointed and centrally air-conditioned. Taj Malabar has its own jetty for a boat cruise on the backwaters.
Ernakulam, Kochi - 682 011
Tel: (484) 371471
Fax: (484) 371481
It is conveniently located on Marine Drive, Kochi’s busy commercial hub. Modern business facilities combined with the legendary Taj tradition of the finest hospitality and service make it the ideal businessman’s choice, for work and pleasure.
Willingdon Island, Kochi - 682 003
Tel: (484) 668001
Casino hotel on Willingdon Island, in the middle of Kochi Harbour, is a British legacy, created by Lord Bristow. Ideally located between Fort Kochi and the modern mainland town of Ernakulam, the hotel’s facilities include the ‘cascade’ pool, bordered by lawns and palm trees, which is one of the few places where you can swim in Kochi. The other attraction of this hotel is its famed sea-food restaurant.
C-46-452 (11), Bristow Road,
Willingdon Island, Kochi - 682 003
Tel: (484) 666816
Fax: (484) 669393
The Trident on Willingdon Island, is another addition to the Oberoi Group of Hotels. This newly built hotel on Willingdon Island is a four-star property with all the modern amenities of a five-star. All rooms are beautifully decorated with good views. The large swimming pool is also an added attraction.
The Brunton Boatyard
1/498, Fort Cochin, Kochi - 682001
Tel: (484) 221461
Fax: (484) 222562
Situated at the harbour mouth overlooking the busy ship channel, all rooms boast magnificent views of the sea and the delta. Designed and built in the style and principle of the early Dutch and Portuguese architecture, it’s hard to believe that the Brunton is a new building. The eye-catching antique ‘four poster’ is the centre of attraction in the rooms and suites.
Le Meridien Cochin Resort & Convention Centre
Tel: (484) 705777
Fax: (484) 705750
Set in 12 acres of lush landscaped gardens and conveniently located close to the city, the hotel is designed to give the guests the finest service and facilities. 120 of the total 150 rooms overlook the picturesque backwaters of Kerala. Built on the highest global standards, the convention centre has all the ingredients to make a successful event.