The port city of Kochi, set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, is a flourishing example of Kerala's eclecticism.
Churches old as the culture itself, mosques at the end of winding lanes, palaces built in Portuguese architectural style with half a century old Portuguese houses, cantilevered Chinese nets set on Kerala's famous backwaters, the ancient Jewish community of Jewtown, the popular beaches on the Malabar Coast with Fort Cochin and Matancherry as the historical sites are there to remind the visitors of Kochi's rich historical heritage.
The UN in lieu of Kerala's rich cultural heritage recently declared Malayalam as a universal language.
Kochi consists of mainland Ernakulam that bustles with life and commerce and is a one-stop destination for banks, bus terminals, railways stations, theaters, colleges etc; the artificial island of Willingdon; Bolgatty and Gundu in the harbor; Fort Cochin and Matancherry in the southern peninsula along the Lakshadweep Sea; and Vypeen Islands north of Fort Cochin that are attractions which you will see when you travel to Kochi, Kerala.
Ferries shuttle between the Islands that are well connected to each other by bridges over the harbor where dolphin sighting is a common affair.
Kathakali performances can be enjoyed at Art Kerala, Cochin Cultural Center and Kerala Kathakali Center. Unique to Kerala, Kathakali bridges the gap between traditional dance norms and theatre. Based on the stories from the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, it is a group performance where elaborate gestures and character specific makeup and costumes are used instead of dialogues. For instance, a man of noble birth like Ram would have a green face, an angry villain a red face and a woman a yellow face.
On your travel to Kochi, do not settle for the familiar food from back home. It is a must to try some of the many varieties of sea food prepared with the local spices with coconut milk and oil.
Places to visit on your travel to Kochi :
St Francis Church -
The tombstone of Vasco da Gama, buried in the church for 14 years before being taken to Lisbon, is present here. Considered to be the oldest European church in India surrounded by villages reminiscent of medieval English County, Portugal and Holland, it was constructed by Portuguese Franciscan friars in 1503.
Santa Cruz Basilica -
This Catholic church dates back to 1902. Its large size, spacious interiors painted in eye-catching pastel colors and militaristically furnished inspire faith.
Indo-Portuguese Museum -
Vestments, statues, silver processional crosses and altarpieces from Cochin diocese are some of the relics belonging to India's oldest Catholic communities that are being preserved in the gardens of Bishop's house in fort Cochin. Visit this museum on your travel to Fort Cochin, Kochi to get familiar with the Catholic heritage.
Dutch Cemetery -
North of the St Francis Church, the cemetery established in 1724 contains graves of known and unknown Europeans.
Mattancherry Palace, KochiMattancherry Palace -
Also known as the Dutch Palace after being renovated by the Dutch in 1663, the palace was gifted to the King of Cochin, Veer Kerala Varma as a goodwill gesture by the Portuguese in 1555. It houses some of the most magnificent murals in India set in the galleries depicting scenes from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends. Though photography is prohibited to avoid damage similar to the cracks that appeared on Mona Lisa, a visit to the palace on your travel to Kochi will leave an unshakeable imprint of the scenes on your mind's eyes.
Pardesi Synagogue -
The original synagogue, like many of the historical places in Fort Cochin, was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662 to be rebuilt two years later under the Dutch occupation. The famous hand-painted willow-patterned tiles from China that made an appearance in Salman Rushdie's novel The Moor's Last Sigh, is its distinctive feature. An ornate gold pulpit and a separate balcony upstairs for women worshippers are present inside the sanctuary.
As you step out from the still synagogue into the buzzing streets with depilated buildings functioning as firms engaged in spice trade, air scented with ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves elevate your lungs in this ancient Jewish settlement.
Vypeen Island -
Besides the Kerala backwaters spotted with Chinese fishing nets, Vypeen Island has miles of surf beaches for daring sports. Here, you can hear the powerful waves crashing onto the boulders, the waves of resonating thunderous sounds slowly capturing your heart with its raw sensuality. However, for those of you wish to bathe in the placid cool waters of the Lakshadweep Sea, Cherai Beach is the place to be.
The People's forest in Malayalam is a project that began in the 1990s to restore Fort Cochin as the lungs of Kochi. With over 100 species of trees, including the mangrove that have disappeared from the Malabar Coast, are planted along the streets and public places. The Annual Tree Festival with an assortment of activities for the entire family, around the 'Mother Tree' that predates the Portuguese arrival is both educational and inspiring.