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Destination Guide – Kerala – Kochi

Brief History:

Kochi or Cochin is called the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Located in the south-western state of Kerala, it is the only city in India formed by the amalgamation of different states: the two princely states of Travancore and Cochin, and British Malabar. In 1102 AD, Kochi became the seat of the Kingdom of Cochin, which can be traced to the Kulasekhara Empire. The name of Cochin springs from ‘co-chin’ which means ‘like-China’. The region resembled a Chinese coastal town in the 14th century when the Chinese installed huge fishing nets in the area. SoonKochi became an important spice trading centre on the Arabian Sea Coast of India. Kochi has the ignominy of becoming the first colony inIndia when it fell to the Portuguese in 1503. The city was later occupied by the Dutch, and then by the British, when Cochin becoming a princely state. But on a happier noteCochin was also the first princely state to join the Indian Union when it gained independence in 1947.

Geography and Weather:

Modern Cochin is a bustling harbour town and at 94.88 square kilometres (36.63 sq mi) is the second largest city in Kerala. Most of the city lies at sea-level and it has coastline of 48 km along the western edge. The weather is tropical monsoon with average temperatures ranging between 23° C and 31° C but the heat can get to you as the humidity factor is very high. It also rains heavily- the annual rainfall is pegged at 3,228 mm (127.10 in) and has 132 rainy days in a year. The best time to visit the city is between October and April, when the weather is relatively dry and mildly cooler.

Air/Rail/Road Connectivity:

Cochin has the 7th busiest airport in India. The international airport is located at Nedumbassery- 25 km from the city. It is also the gateway to other tourist destinations like Lakshwadeep.

Cochin has two main railway stations:Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction (also called North and South railway stations). The stations are congested and among the busiest in India with over 128 trains arriving and departing daily. You can connect to Cochin from almost anywhere in India.

Cochin is very well connected by the national highway (NH) network as well as by state highways. There are four national highways passing through state: NH 47 to Kanyakumari (southern tip ofIndia); NH 19 (along the coast) to Mumbai; and NH 49 to Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu passing through Madurai.

Local Transport

The road conditions are a bit patchy in sections but generally good by Indian standards. The public transport system is the same as in other Indian metros- a mix of public and private buses, taxis, call-taxis and auto rickshaws. The major bus terminals are Ernakulam Town, Ernakulam Jetty and a private bus terminal at Kaloor.  The metro-rail project is currently under construction.

Safety & Etiquette:

The city is quite safe but it is not advisable to roam the streets late in the evenings in certain neighbourhoods. While western style dresses are allowed women are advised to dress conservatively. Trousers are preferred to skirts or short dresses. Many temples do not allow foreigners inside the premises. Please check with the locals before any temple visit.

Must Sees:

St. Francis Church: This Catholic Church was built in 1503 by the Portuguese, and Vasco da Gama was buried here initially. Now it is a national monument.

Santa Cruz Basilica: The original church was built by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. It was designed in a Gothic style and had considerable artistic and architectural brilliance. It was elevated to a cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. The British demolished the old cathedral and later rebuilt a new one in 1887. Consecrated in 1905, it is only one of eight basilicas in India considered a heritage building.

Jewish Synagogue: This is the oldest active synagogue in the British Commonwealth. Built in 1858 by the Malabar Yehudan people (a prosperous trading community involved in the spice trade), it was essentially a place of worship for ‘White Jews’, though other Jews did have limited membership to the fold. It is also called the ‘Paradesi’ Synagogue which literally means ‘foreigners’ in most Indian languages. The synagogue has complex of four buildings. It houses some very rare ‘Scrolls of the Law’, several gold crowns, numerous grand chandeliers made of Belgian Glass, a brass-railed pulpit, 18th century hand-painted Chinese tiles (on the floor), and a clock tower. It is certainly worth a visit.

Chinese Fishing Nets (Fort Cochin): This is a beautiful sight at both dawn and sundown. The nets were introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the early 1400s. These nets are essentially shore operated lift nets and can span over 20 metres. It requires a team of six fishermen to operate the contraption and their rhythmic actions are said to hypnotic to the observer. You can also buy fresh catch and take it to any nearby stall-owner who will be happy to cook it for you for a small fee.

Old houses in the Fort Cochin: They have the quaint charm of homes inEngland,Holland and Portugal. Many mansions have been converted to spiffy home-stays.

Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Kottaram): The palace was constructed by the Portuguese to the Maharaja of Kochi (1568). During a latter day siege of Kochi by the Dutch parts of the palace was destroyed. The Dutch Governor repaired the palace and renamed it as Dutch Palace. Apart from thrones and chariots of the Kochi Maharajas, there is a mural room which depicts the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata (Indian Epics) in one large single mural.

International Pepper Exchange, Jew town,Fort Kochi: It is worth a visit to the only Pepper Exchange in the world. While it is quaint to watch some of the old trading practices, you can see and sample a wide range of pepper varieties. Admission is free.

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