Spread over a series of islands and crisscrossed by the sea and backwaters, Kochi (long known as Cochin) speaks of old world charm and leisure. The culturally and historically rich port city is the gateway for several visitors to start their tour of Kerala in South India, often hailed as ‘God’s Own Country’.
Nestled between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the city has been one of the sought after destinations in the world. Situated 10 degrees to the north of Equator; Kochi experiences hot and humid climate throughout the year. The best time to visit Kochi is between October and April.
Kochi earlier comprised of Ernakulam, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry but now refers to the sprawling urbanization making rapid inroads into the hinterland. Fort Kochi and Mattancherry remain wonderfully serene, steeped with sepia tinted memories of past glory and heritage. With its spice markets, Jewish synagogue, European church, Chinese fishing nets, Portuguese palace and seventeenth-century Dutch homes, Kochi stands testimony to the irresistible pull felt by wanderers and traders for over 600 years.
Kumarakom, known for houseboat rides on backwaters and also for its bird sanctuary, and Alappuzha (called Alleppey) are situated to the north of Kochi. Kochi serves as the gateway to the hill stations of Munnar and Vagamon in Idukki and the wildlife hotspots of Eravikulam National Park and Periyar National Park.
Kochi rose to significance as a trading centre after the Muziris port was destroyed by massive flooding of the river Periyar in 1341. With the royal family shifting its seat to the city, Kochi grew leaps and bounds and gradually became the chief harbour on the Malabar Coast.
Christian, Arab and Jewish settlers from Middle East and later Europeans jostled on its streets for a share of the lucrative spice trade. So lucrative was the spice trade that wars were fought and destinies changed often.
The Portuguese, then Dutch and later the British successively competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade from the early 1500s onwards. The city often was the battle ground for European colonizers vying for monopoly of the spice trade. Though under British suzerainty, Kochi was ruled by the Kochi Rajas.
The city is also home to Kochi Jews, also called Malabar Jews, the oldest group of Jews in India. Majority of the Kochi Jews have migrated to Israel and only a miniscule number remains.
Fort Kochi and Mattancherry have preserved an extraordinary wealth of early colonial architecture. Away from the hurly burly of Ernakulam with its high-rises, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry remain wonderfully calm and picturesque. Strolls through the quaint boulevards, sampling fresh seafood from seaside vendors and ferry rides top the to-do lists of visitors.
Kochi offers visitors opportunities to have a dekko at the culture of Kerala. The city museums –Pareekshit Thampuran Museum, Museum of Kerala History or the Indo-Portuguese Museum – offer visitors a glimpse of Kerala’s varied history and heritage. For visitors interested in performing arts, several cultural centres organise performances of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Kalaripayattu and other dance forms.
If you are not one to shy away from excitement, uproar and commotion of jostling crowds, then make merry at the Kochi Carnival held in the last week of December. And if you want some fun Kerala style, then time your travel for the Indira Gandhi Boat Race organized during the last week of December.
Kochi is also a haven for shoppers. Be it ‘ayurvedic’ clothing and fabrics, Indian textiles and home linens, personal care products, coir products, electronic items and mobile phones, antiques, arts, handicrafts and curios, Kochi is the best place to buy. Kochi is also The Destination to stock up on your pantry.
The area adjoining the Synagogue is chockablock with shops selling spices like pepper, bay leaf, cinnamon, green cardamom, brown cardamom, cloves, etc. And if you are looking for some rest and recuperation, Kochi is the place. The city is a much sought after destination for Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine and well-being.
WHERE TO STAY
The city offers something to suit all budgets. Rooms can fill up quickly from November to mid-February (especially December and January), so plan well and book ahead. Hotels which are more European and American in style can be found in Fort Kochi. Willingdon Island also has some of the premium hotels. Ernakulam city caters for all travelers. There are a large number of boutique hotels in Fort Kochi. The city also has home stays (B&B) in Fort Kochi for backpackers and budget travelers. While tariffs for the home stays could range between Rs 350-800, price for staying in premium hotels could vary between Rs 9,000-20,000.
WHERE TO EAT
Being a coastal city, Kochi abounds with eateries which specialize in fresh seafood. From Thattukadas (roadside eateries) offering meals for less than Rs 50, to upscale restaurants, the city offers variety to suit every palate and to every budget. From the ubiquitous North Indian food to Chinese, Spanish and Continental menu, gourmands will be spoilt with choice. Foreign food franchise chains such as KFC and Domino’s also have presence. Though finding a purely vegetarian eatery could be difficult, several restaurants and hotels offer sadya, the typical Kerala lunch on banana leaf. Thattukadas offer value for money but lack of hygiene could be a concern.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Kochi can be visited all through the year. However, the best time to visit Kochi is between October and April.