Kochi is an enchanting place also known as the Gateway to Kerala, and you don’t have to be an architecture or history buff to enjoy that. Though art and historical sites are the biggest draws for most visitors, this port city has enough magic for everyone.
Once ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, Kochi carries the perfect fusion of colonialism and contemporary. Boho cafes snuggle next to giant Chinese fishing nets, while a 400-year-old Jewish synagogue sits proudly next to the oldest European church in India. Then there are alluring beaches, intoxicating spice markets, beautiful islands, and languid backwaters. Kochi also hosts the world famous Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an event that sees much of the city turning into an art exhibition ground. So here are a few things to explore on a short trip to the port city.
Go to Fort Kochi
First things first…don’t go looking for a fort. There is none. Fort Kochi is a small town peppered with history and its remnants. It’s called Fort Kochi because it was once the location of Fort Emmanuel, built by the Portuguese and later destroyed by the Dutch. The best way to discover this historic place is through a leisurely walk, although there are bicycle tours on offer as well. Must-visit sights include Saint Francis Church (believed to be the oldest European church in India) built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. This was also the burial site of explorer Vasco de Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524, before his remains were taken back to Portugal. The imposing Santa Cruz Basilica is another interesting sight. The gothic façade was built by the Portuguese in 1506 and deemed a cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. Don’t miss the magnificent painting of the last supper on the top of the main altar and large canvas paintings of the Passion of Christ on the ceiling. There is plenty of wall art around every corner in Fort Kochi.
Cast a fishing net
The Chinese fishing nets have become iconic sights of Kochi. Legend is that these nets were originally brought down from the royal courts of Kublai Khan, the great Chinese emperor and introduced in 14th century by Zheng He, a Chinese explorer to the local fisherman. The best way to witness them is silhouetted against the setting sun. Bargain for the catch of the day, fresh from the boat, and have it fried to perfection with garlic and chilies at one of the nearby stalls.
Mattancherry Palace or Dutch Palace
Though it lacks the grandeur that you’d expect of a palace, this former residence of the Raja of Cochin, Veera Kerala Varma, houses a collection of elaborate coronation robes, disintegrating palanquins, and royal family portraits. It came to be known as the Dutch Palace as it underwent major repairs at the hands of the Dutch. The biggest attraction here are the murals that depict various episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Take a stroll down history at his three storied family-run museum that houses a priceless collection of over 5,000 artefacts. The entrance constructed from the remnants of a 16th century temple in Tamil Nadu and wooden carvings collected from across Kerala is fascinating. Stored inside are masks, sculptures, costumes of traditional and ritual art forms, musical instruments, traditional jewellery, manuscripts of rare medicinal and astrological secrets, and Stone-Age utensils preserved with utmost care.
Watch a Kathakali performance
You can’t come to Kerala and not watch a Kathakali performance. One of the best places to catch one of the oldest forms of entertainment is the Kerala Kathakali Centre near Santa Cruz Cathedral. Be early–the highlight is the makeup session that precedes the dance. The centre also showcases Kalaripayattu performances and offers classes in yoga and meditation.
Go chasing waterfalls
The gorgeous Athirapilly waterfalls, which drops from a height of 80 ft has guest-starred in lots of Bollywood movies. The sight of the water crashing onto the ground will not just take your breath away but also leave you with a sense of wonder at the sheer power and magnificence of nature. Be prepared (wear anti-slip shoes) for a 10-15 minutes trek to the bottom of the falls for the best views. Barely 5 km away is another family favourite, Vazhachal Waterfalls. Bird watchers will be thrilled to know that the surrounding dense forests are home to four endangered species of the Hornbill and other rare and vibrant animals. Be armed with binoculars.
Eat your heart out
You will be committing culinary sacrilege if you come to Kerala and not try Kerala’s greatest love–pazhampori (batter fried banana fritters with a crisp exterior and a melting sweet centre). At Sree Muruga Café, it is served with an unusual bed fellow–beef fry topped with onions. The sweet and spicy combination will leave you speechless. Another must try is the Dutch specialty breudher (pronounced broo-dhuh) at Quality Bakers near E.S.I Hospital. This bread with toddy, spices, and ghee is best enjoyed with mutton korma. Whatever you do, reserve some space for mutton biryani at Kayees Rahmathulla Café at Mattancherry. Not a biryani fan? Then head over for breakfast for a plate of freshly cooked mutton chops with puttu.