Most of us have heard of the Queen of the Arabian sea – Cochin, better known as Kochi, in Kerala. Kochi is widely used as an entry point for most visitors to God’s Own country, owing to Cochin International Airport. However, a lot of travelers tend to just use Kochi as a transit destination for the other places in Kerala. They tend to miss out on the interesting part of this city itself I knew of the various interesting sights that Kochi has to offer but corporate life eluded me from the same. I especially was drawn to the historic part of this town – Fort Kochi and finally, thanks to the Golden Chariot tour, I managed to skim through this part of the town on my return from the Backwaters of Alleppey.
Fort Kochi always intrigued me with its unique fusion of cultures. I had heard that this was the oldest part of Kochi and one could glimpse some bit of European amalgamating with the Indian culture. This part of the town seemed to be a link to the Portuguese settlements in Goa. It also has the unusual settlement of Jews in India. And yet, there were parts of it that were strictly Indian. Sadly, the Golden Chariot tour could only satiate a part of my intrigue to this aspect – why?
‘Coz time was my enemy. However, having said that, I cannot be more thankful that at least I got a glimpse of things here. It is these 10 things to see in Fort Kochi that now becomes my 10 reasons to visit it again and douse my burning wanderlust. So, let’s get going – first with a bit of a background to Fort Kochi and then with my reasons.
History of Fort Kochi
As you can guess, the name Fort Kochi was owing to a fort here. Originally this place was a fishing village until the Portuguese were granted some land here by the Maharaja of Kochi in the 1500s. It is then, this place was fortified and a settlement established with Catholic churches and their homes. The reason for this grant was the protection and alliance the Portuguese provided to the Maharaja to defend his kingdom. In return the Maharaja allowed the Portuguese to conduct trade by using this place as their port. This remained the case for over 160 years, after which the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and took over Fort Kochi. The main fort was destroyed but newer structures came up like the Dutch Palace. This remained with the Dutch for over a century till again it was taken over by the British until Indian Independence.
This feels like recent history until you come across the story of the Chinese traders who visited Fort Kochi even before the Portuguese and left behind some bits of their legacy in the form of the Chinese Fishing nets – the only ones to be seen in India.
With such a colorful history, I am sure you have already got convinced that Fort Kochi is a place to explore. However, even within these, there are some that you should not miss and here is my list of 10 things to do in Fort Kochi.
1) St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi
What was initially built as a wooden church is now all stone and brick. The St.Francis Church in Fort Kochi was our first stop with the Golden Chariot. This church was quite an important one for me to see as I was told that the famous explorer – Vasco Da Gama was buried here. His body was later, taken back to Portugal but the gravestone was relaid and marked within the church. The church was initially a Catholic church but later was destroyed by the Dutch and converted to Protestant.
I found the church simple and charming. There was nothing elaborate about it yet when I went inside, there was this strange feeling of mysterious corners. I could not spend a lot of time here but I sure would love to go back and do some more careful examination so that I can admire the charming interiors better.
2) Sunset over Cheenavala (Chinese Fishing Nets)
Remember I mentioned the legacy left behind by the Chinese in Fort Kochi. The Cheenavala or the Chinese fishing nets hang in there with all their glory, still intact and usable. Over time, these nets have become iconic to Fort Kochi owing to its uniqueness and history dating back to the 14th century. The nets operate on a cantilever mechanism with the help of four fishermen. We had the fortune of witnessing it working,
The Cheenavala are operated even now in the early mornings and evenings. The catch is sold then and and there by the fishermen – all of which is gone within minutes. I yearned to see their artistic beauty against the bright orange sunset but sadly, that was not to be. The sky was a little overcast and I did miss out on a glorious sunset. For me, that again is a reason to come back here.
3) Jew Town in Fort Kochi
This was the most fascinating part of my visit to Fort Kochi. The Jew Town is possibly the oldest settlement of Jews in India. Our guide told us that the first settlement of Jews as early as the 12th century. These Jews blended into the Keralite community and made this place their home. They even, build synagogues out here. Later in the 1500s, European Jews arrived and made Fort Kochi their home. These Jews were termed as Paradesi Jews (Foreigner Jews). They stayed on till the 1950s after which they moved on to the other part of the world. Most of the Synagogues here were re-used as buildings for different purposes but the one that still remained was the Paradesi Synagogue.
The Paradesi Synagogue was closed by the time we reached it and all I got to see was the clock-tower. This formed the center of this Jew Town. From here, I walked around exploring the remnants of the ancient colony of Jews. It was fun spotting the heritage homes, of which right now only three are occupied by the 5 sole Jew inhabitants of Fort Kochi. You can identify these homes with their colorful doors, a Mezuzah placed on their doors and the 6 spoked star of David in their homes. Take a look at these below.
I visited the home of Sarah Cohen, a lady over 95 years who owns an Embroidery shop. Today she is barely aware of the surroundings but her legacy continues through the people who work for her and take care of her. I politely declined an opportunity to take a picture with her for it did not feel right to disturb her. However, I did indulge in capturing some of her legacy with due permission from the staff there.
It is here that I got a glimpse of the interiors of the Paradesi Synagogue. One look at the picture was enough to tell me that I would have to return back to Fort Kochi to explore the Synagogue, stroll around the streets of the Jew Town, discover the Jewish Cemetry and possibly, even spend more time meeting the other members of the Jewish clan here.
4) Mattancherry Palace near Fort Kochi
So close and yet so far. That is exactly the case with Mattancherry Palace for me. Right next to the Paradesi Synagogue, I missed exploring it as we reached after its closing time. The church was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Maharaja. Later, it was extended by the Dutch and was called the Dutch Palace. Though I could not see it, I had heard of how this simple palace was a beautiful and perfect mix of Indian and European styles of architecture. I hear that the murals within the palace are dedicated to the Indian Gods – Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna while the iconic exteriors have the typical European arches. Sigh! I missed it but I hope that you do not!
5) Shopping at Fort Kochi
Whether it is the main road from the St.Francis church or the Jew Town, there is just enough of colors and textures to attract you. The shopaholic in you is bound to leap out and it would just not feel right if you don’t stop by these street shops. From spices to perfumes to cute tickets and colorful clothes – there is just so much for you to see and absorb. Even with my limited time, I did indulge in some shopping. I can only imagine how crazy I would go if I had more time!
6) The myriad Food options
Whenever we spoke about Fort Kochi, my friends had these tons of suggestions of where I should eat. It seems that it is an absolute delight for foodies. I have heard of the Kashi Art Gallery which offers you an unusual artistic ambiance to enjoy some breakfast and coffee. And then, there is the unique You Buy We cook concept where you buy off the fishermen of Fort Kochi and the restaurant cooks it for you.There are numerous boutique restaurants that have these tempting wafts of food hitting you as you pass by them. I have decided that the next time I am here, I am going to try each one of these for each of my three meals of the day.
7) Arts and Culture center in Fort Kochi
I would have loved seeing the Kathakali dance while in Fort Kochi. The colorful costumes, the expressive dance and an insight into its origin would have been quite an enthralling experience. I am told that the different art and cultural centers here have shows that you can catch. You can even witness the artist before the show, as he puts on his elaborate make-up – right from painting his face to the accessories he wears and the jewelry he dons. For years, I have wondered how this is done and here is a chance to finally figure it all out.
8) Hidden treasures in the narrow alleys of Fort Kochi
Fort Kochi strikes me as a place that you should explore on foot or on a bicycle. Here and there, hidden between the bigger things are smaller artistic treasures like this street art. As our bus dashed around, I got glimpses of more of such art and that is where I realized the need to slow down and take in these jewels. Again, a powerful reason enough for me to go back to Fort Kochi.
9) Santa Cruz Church in Fort Kochi
Where the St. Francis Church was simple, the Santa Cruz church is supposed to be elaborate. One look at this picture of its Gothic exteriors and I knew that I had missed out on a major part of Fort Kochi. A further look at some of the pictures of the interiors deepens my craving of seeing this particular church. Naturally, this becomes yet another reason for me to get back here.
10) Kayaking in the backwaters of Kochi
Now I know that this is something that I could not have done in this visit with the Golden Chariot but there is no reason why I can’t do it the next time I head to Kochi. The adventurer in me wants to kayak on the placid backwaters of Fort Kochi . It just seems like the right dose of adrenaline to accompany the peaceful beauty that the backwaters in Kochi bring for you.
Fort Kochi remains my incomplete visit with 10 compelling reasons to go back. I am pretty sure that these reasons are pointers for you on what you should definitely not miss when in Cochin. Don’t you agree now that Cochin is much more than just a transit destination?
- As mentioned earlier, Kochi has its own airport. The Cochin international airport is well connected to the major cities in India and some abroad too.
- Kochi has its own railway station with enough trains stopping here directly.
- Fort Kochi is a significant part of the city and has its own hotels and stay options. In case you are not staying here, you can just hail an auto rickshaw or a cab and visit it.
- The weather in Kochi is quite humid through the year. Light cotton clothes are best suited for this place.
- When visiting the Synagogue, please cover your shoulders and avoid wearing shorts.
- There is plenty of walking to be done. Flat shoes are best suited for it.
- Please be respectful to the Jewish community when visiting them.
- If you are shopping here, please remember to bargain well.