Lying on the extreme south of India is the state of Kerala- often referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’ by travelers. The commercial city of Kochi rests right at the heart of Kerala, along the coasts of the Arabian Sea. With a rich cultural heritage, precious history, phenomenal lush green nature and ever warm hospitality, Kochi has everything that a traveller looks for!
As we step into Kochi, one might feel the presence of a burgeoning second tier metro city engraved into a rich bed of colonial history. The remnants of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule is there all over the destination. It is well connected via air, road and even water! Kochi International Airport is located at Nedumbasseri, 30 kms North East of the city. Domestic and International carriers frequent Kochi, connecting South of India with the rest of the world. National Waterway No.3 too aids in the transportation to this port city.
Any port city around the globe has got its fame through trade links. Kochi is no exception – the array of Portuguese, Dutch and British penetration into India owes a lot to the rich ‘Spices Potential’ of South India. And when the traders-turned-rulers left the nation, they left behind monuments telling stories of the past. St. Francis Church located at Fort Cochin is one such preserved monument of the Portuguese presence five centuries ago. It was here that that the mortal remains of world famous explorer- Vasco Da Gama, was buried. The church is an excellent introduction to Portuguese architecture. Gama’s remains have been transferred to Lisbon after being in the church for fourteen years. Though one might think that there is going to be a gigantic Fort somewhere in Fort Kochi as the name suggests, it’s not true!
Fort Kochi is actually a uniquely preserved town where travelers can stopover for one or two days to take in the port city’s centuries old atmosphere. The picturesque view of the Chinese fishing nets along the shores of Fort Kochi is a must ‘click’ for photographic memories.
This fishing system introduced by the Chinese traders back in 18th century is still an active method used by local fishermen. Though the nets are also seen in other parts of Kerala, it’s only in Fort Kochi that you can see an array of Chinese fishing nets functioning at the very same time.
The streets of Fort Kochi are filled with stalls from where souvenirs can be purchased. They have marvelous collection of pebble jewelry, coconut husk handicrafts, cotton wears, shells, stone bronze sculptures and more. People are friendly with speak English well – a definite boon for international travellers.
On the way from the city to Fort Kochi is the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica. The church is one of the eight basilicas in India. Built by the Portuguese, the basilica holds Sunday prayers alongside being a heritage site. The gothic style basilica is known for its architectural and artistic grandeur.
Mattanchery & Jew Town
Mattanchery is another old town that lies adjacent to Fort Kochi. Travelling around these two places is made easier due to the proximity. Dutch Palace of Mattancherry is a recommended stopover. The palace is a quadrilateral structure originally built by the Portuguese and renovated by the Dutch. There are two main galleries of authentic mural paintings depicting the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Vinayaka, Vishnu and Goddess Durga. The palace also holds a temple (Temple of Pazhayannur Bhagavati, the patron deity of the Cochin royal family) inside its premises. On display are the Kochi royalty’s weapons, royal palanquins, manuscripts of older Kochi’s administration, royal clothing etc.
Another remarkable visit should be to the Jewish Synagogue located at the heart of Mattanchery. The synagogue is the oldest existent one in Kerala for the five Jew families staying in Kochi. Maintained as a historical monument of the once strong Jewish presence in Kochi, the synagogue comprises a prayer hall, display of paintings and a clock tower. The Jew town of Mattancherry is an excellent distraction for collecting some rare antiques for your home décor! While swiping away the historical scenes of Kochi, travellers can also entertain themselves at the various food and beverage outlets throughout Mattanchery and Fort Kochi. Gastronomic delights are endless here, with fine dining restaurants serving the fresh catches from the Chinese fishing nets; European themed café’s with limited yet exquisite continental food; exotic local tea shops offering tit-bits with fresh masala teas; and roadside hawkers selling everything from coconut to pickles!
For those who seek more historical vestiges, they can venture out to the Pallipuram Fort, which is considered as the most ancient European building in India and located 4 kilometres away from Cherai beach. The fort has a hexagonal structure built in 1503 A.D. and is popularly known as Ayakkotta or Alikkotta.
Another significant place is The Hill Palace at Tripunithura, Kerala’s largest archaeological museum located 12 kilometres from the city. It lies within a 54-acre land and in the past was used by Kochi royalty as the administrative office in the 18th century. The horse cart gallery and weapon gallery are two best attractions of the heritage museum.
The local currency is Indian Rupees. Carry cash while travelling and shopping as most local shops do not prefer USD, other foreign currencies or credit cards.
Public Transport via bus is advisable while visiting multiple places in a day. Most buses will have signboards written in local language Malayalam. Remember to ask local people for assistance.
Tuk-Tuks (Three-wheelers) are available throughout Cochin. It is advisable to hire one with the fare meter on. There are fine English-speaking tuk-tuk drivers who offers ‘full-day city sightseeing’ programmes. It’s better to negotiate prices with them before you head on!
Bargaining is allowed at most shops in Fort Kochi and Mattanchery. So show your skills and catch the fish!
It is advisable not to entertain street beggars if you see one, which is very rare.
Most historical monuments in Kochi are under the surveillance of the Archaeology Department of India and Photography is strictly prohibited ‘inside’ most of them.
Ayurveda & Kathakali
From the roots of Ancient India
Ayurveda is the oldest healthcare form known to mankind, originated thousands of years ago in India. As any other medicinal systems, Ayurveda too stands for preventing illness, healing and preserving life. Hundreds and thousands of foreigners visit the South Indian state of Kerala every year just to get Ayurveda treatments. Ayurveda treatments have proven effective if followed strictly under the guidance of experienced practitioners. Today the commercial side of Ayurveda offers therapies and products for a short period of time. Tourists visiting Kerala can try on the rejuvenating oil massages, detox, anti-aging and weight loss therapies. On the other hand, those preferring continuous treatments for ailments are advised to stay at the Ayurveda centers for treatments of longer periods. The duration can be anywhere between a week to three months or even more! Treatments over longer periods claim to even have completely cured cancer and ailments including diabetes, depression, gastritis, infertility, heart diseases and many more.
Kochi Cultural Centre is the apex organisation working in the field of Art, Culture and Entertainment industry for the preservation, promotion and propagation of Kerala’s rich culture, tradition and heritage through performing arts. The centre conducts coaching classes in various streams of ethnic arts of Kerala and also owns two state-of-theart live performance theatres with a special focus on ‘Kathakali’, the dance drama originated in 17th century! A difficult dance form to master, Kathakali is notable for its elaborate costumes, in-depth detailed gestures, body movements and facial expressions.
Discover the Backwaters of Allapuzha on Houseboat
To Gaya Travel, the trip to Kochi is not complete without visiting Allapuzha, commonly known as Allepey (its old name), which lies 70 kilometres from Kochi and requires an hour and a half drive to get there. Allapuzha is the only district in India that is located 1.323 metres below sea level, where paddy is cultivated. Besides farmers, this district that is surrounded by water is also home to fishermen and toddy-tappers.
As we travelled outside Kochi, the scenery of daily life along the way is continuously interspersed with countless churches, Hindu temples and mosques, signifying Kerala’s religious diversity and harmony.
Allapuzha has been drawing travellers from around the world due to its remarkably popular houseboats called kettuvellom, barges that used to ferry rice from various parts of the backwaters to the city. These days, the rice barges have now been well kitted out with hotel-standard rooms, toilets and lounge, including kitchen, since they now take enthusiastic tourists not just for cruising around the backwaters but also for overnight on the boat. These houseboats run during the day and dropped anchor at 5:00 p.m. so as not to disturb the fishermen doing their catch during the night.
Gaya Travel was impressed with the kettuvellom, the vessel where we were destined to have our delicious home-cooked lunch on board while cruising along the calm waters of Vembanad Lake. As the houseboat slowly and quietly began making its way, we were all in awe of the wonderfully serene and tropically lush backwaters’ scenery. Besides the flanking greenery, man-made edifices, locals going about their daily lives and various other vessels, we also witnessed birds such as cormorants, eagles, egrets and kingfishers swooping by, surely to the delight of ardent birdwatchers and avian enthusiasts. The 4-hour cruise was indeed therapeutic to us city-weary travellers who were seeking for effective ways to totally relax – we finally found it during the cruise thus Gaya Travel deemed it as the main highlight of our trip to Kerala.
Where to Stay
A well flourished hospitality sector of Kerala offers wide range of accommodation options to travelers of any class. If your preference is to experience a heritage stay with fine seafood dining, the palace turned heritage hotel, Bolgatty Palace – centuries old Dutch mansion run by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) – is one ideal choice. Here, guests can also enjoy a 9-hole golf course, live Kathakali performance and Ayurvedic offerings. Brunton Boatyard is a part of the CGH Earth Experience Hotels India and is yet another building that recalls Fort Kochi’s colonial heritage. The hotel was a shipbuilding yard during the Portuguese and Dutch period. They offer great cuisine showcasing Kochi’s once famous spice-trade! The rooms are limited in number in order to preserve the authentic architecture. Central reservation system is available at the CGH Earth Experience Hotels web.
Other properties worth considering in Fort Kochi are the intimately chic and boutique Malabar House and the Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel, the only property that has direct sea view in Fort Kochi.
Besides Fort Kochi, travellers can still stay at other reputable and efficient properties located within Kochi such as the dashing and strategically located Dream Hotel Kochi, the spankingly new and spacious Crowne Plaza Kochi and the fresh and suave Holiday Inn Kochi, which has been given an invigorating facelift.
Peak tourist season: October-March
Unbearably hot season: April & May
Rainy season (most suitable for Ayurveda): June-July
While Kochi can be explored to its fullest within two days, tourists can extend their Kerala visit to Thekkady, a hill station located 190 kms from Kochi. Truly undisturbed by the rest of the world, Thekkady is a perfect getaway for busy city dwellers! Not just for relaxation and stress relief, it is an opportunity to know Mother Nature in close! Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady is also a Tiger Reserve and home to herds of elephants, sambar, lion-tailed Macaques and Nilgiri Langurs. Trekking, night jungle safari, tree-house stay, wild camping, hiking, jungle walk, bamboo boating, tea plantations and a lot more awaits tourists in Thekkady! Gaya Travel suggests Kochi for a rejuvenating holiday from your busy hustles of city lives! Visiting God’s Own Country is indeed worthwhile!
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