Venice of the East
Kochi – Queen of the Arabian Sea (earlier known as Cochin) is a cosmopolitan city in Kerala with a bustling commercial port. From the long stretches of beaches to the aromatic fragrances of spice fields and from hidden aquatic world of the coastal backwaters to the jungles of the Cardamom Hills around the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kochi is, no doubt, a rare marvel of Kerala’s tourism treasure.
The major port city is bracketed by various islands marking it as Queen of the Arabian Sea. Prior to 14th century when flood carved out the harbour of Kochi and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants, Kochi was never mentioned in the travelogues of famous explorers. Since then it became an important spice trading center on the west coast of India.
It is very contrasting to see the city grow commercially yet it has a cultural gem which is guarded and is a great exhibition in itself to tourists.
Fort Kochi the thumb shaped peninsula is the gem of Kochi. It is 20km from mainland of Ernakulum the district which is keeps the economy of the entire state regulated. The main sections – modern Ernakulam and the old peninsular districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin to the west – are linked by bridges and a complex system of ferries. During the twenty minute ferry ride from Ernakulam to Fort kochi you will be able to see man made island Willingdon which haws a Navy base.
Upon reaching Fort Kochi you will realize how refreshingly different it is from bustling mainland. Historical remains and heritage of the place makes the long history of the city being colonized by different rulers quite evident. The history of European involvement from the early 1500s onward is dominated by the aggression of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, who successively competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade. This left a diverse cultural trail at the port city. The town is made up such that it is like a small exhibition. Spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church and seventeenth-century Dutch homes can all be found within an easy walk. Few of the major attractions are:
Fort Kochi Beach: the atmospheric harbor side is strung with elegant Chinese fishing nets, now emblematic of Kerala. The remains of the Fort Immanuel can also be seen here
Church of St Francis: it is the first built by Europeans in India. Vasco da Gama was buried here in 1524, but his body was later removed to Portugal.
Mattancherry Palace: The sight at the top of most itineraries is Mattancherry Palace. While its squat exterior is not particularly striking, the interior is captivating, with some of the finest examples of Kerala’s underrated school of mural painting, along with Dutch maps of old Cochin, coronation robes belonging to past maharajas, royal palanquins, weapons and furniture.
Pardesi Jewish Synagogue: The neighborhood immediately behind and to the south of Mattancherry Palace is known as Jew Town. The synagogue’s oldest artifact is a fourth-century copperplate inscription from the raja of Cochin.
Kathakali Centre: Kochi is the only city in Kerala where you are guaranteed the chance to see live kathakali, the state’s unique form of ritualized theater. These mesmerizing dance dramas – depicting the struggles of gods and demons – are an unmissable feature of Kochi’s cultural life.
Indo-Portuguese Museum: The Indo-Portuguese Museum, located within the premises of the Bishop’s House, displays various artifacts collected from different churches. The museum, preserves the rich heritage of Indo-Portuguese culture, art and architecture in Kerala, owes its origin to Dr Joseph Kureethra, the erstwhile Bishop of Kochi.