An ancient trading port and coastal town, Kochi has been the gateway to India long before other cities like Mumbai came to the fore. A city packed with history, an entry to the far east for European colonists, and one of the main destinations that came to define the spice route. Kochi or more commonly known as Kochi among locas has come to be defined by all of this and a lot more.
Kochi is a relatively small city packed with history, the city is where the Arabian Sea and the prized backwaters of Kerala come together. Kochi has an interesting influence of primarily South Indian and European culture that traces back to all the European powers that once occupied this beautiful city.
Kochi due to its proximity to the sea is full of beautiful views of the sea, you may have come across images of chinese fishing nets by the sea, the most commonly practiced method of fishing in Kerala. Bustling spice markets and quaint boutique cafes come to define the the beautiful enigma that is Kochi.
History and culture of Kochi
Kochi has been around longer than most cities in India, it’s significance traces back to the common era, where Kochi was frequently visited as one of the most important markets on the spice route for its abundance in spices and sandalwood.
With the arrival of the Portuguese came the establishment of the trading center in the heart of the city. This would soon lead to the Portuguese establishing Kochi as the first Indian city to ever be a European colony. Kochi remained the seat of Portuguese India till the 16th century, before the Portuguese decided to make Goa the new capital of their overseas colonies.
The Portuguese influence can still be seen in some of the houses built in Kochi. The St. Frances Church in Kochi is where Vasco Da Gama was originally buried before his remains were moved to Lisbon. Along with the Santa Cruz Basilica and the ruins of Fort Emmanuel and a lot of smaller buildings around the Fort Kochi area.
Soon after the Portuguese moved their seat to Goa, the Dutch captured the Malabar coast and established the ‘Dutch Malabar’ a network of the Dutch East India Company with Kochi as its’ capital. The Dutch contributions came in terms of Hortus Malabaricus: A detailed study that covered the various flora of the Western Ghats and primarily the Malabar region. The Dutch played a pivotal part in building the Kochi Harbour and the piers, before it finally became a part of the British Colonial Empire. Kochi has since been a part of Kerala after India attained independence. The Communist Party of India formed the first freely elected communist government in the world.
Kochi has a lot of similarities with Pondicherry, when you come to think of it. On a quick visit to Kochi, it is hard not to fixate on the unique contemporary culture of this place, you may also get a sense of what life in colonial Kochi might have been like.
The Chinese fishing nets that are so synonymous with the city have also played a part in lending Kochi its name (Co – Chin; like China). While we know that Kochi has some of the most beautiful churches you can find, the Jewish Synagogue and the Jain temple are also stunning pieces of architecture and give a strong perspective of the religious diversity of Kochi.
Watching a Kathakali Performance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre, is a great way to understand the intricacies of an art form that has not only stood the test of time in Kerala, but has also been celebrated and acclaimed internationally.
How to get to Kochi
By Air – Kochi has an airport and quite likely the coolest airport in the world. In 2018, Kochi became the world’s first fully solar powered airport. Kochi also has the biggest airport in Kerala. Kochi enjoys great connectivity with most metros and tier 1 cities in the country and flying into Kochi is always an option. We recommend booking flights to Kochi early as they’re likely to get expensive due to the city being a major touristic hotspot,
By Rail – Ernakulam Junction, the main railway station for Kochi is an important junction on the Konkan railway network. This means that Kochi is again extremely well connected to most cities by rail, especially on the Western network. Kochi is also well connected by rail to neighboring states like Tamil Nadu.
By Road – Kerala has great roads. So driving within Kerala or taking a bus due to great state transport infrastructure is super easy. However, due to the location of Kochi and its distance from other cities outside Kerala, driving to Kochi is one long drive.
Best time to travel to Kochi
Kochi is accessible throughout the year. The weather while it’s humid is not unbearable and while the summers can be hot, they aren’t unbearable in comparison to say Rajasthan or some other parts of North India.
While the monsoons can play spoilsport to your sight-seeing plans, Kerala is something else during the monsoons. The term God’s own country is at its most accurate during the monsoons. Especially when you visit the Athirapally waterfalls an hour away from Kerala.
Winters are the most pleasant, afternoons can be slightly hot, for most parts though, the weather has a nice pleasant breeze to it making it the best time to visit Kochi and the rest of Kerala.
Getting Around Kochi
Fort Kochi, as a neighborhood is really small and is extremely easy to explore by foot, you could also rent a bike to explore this neighborhood which is full of vibrant cafes and art galleries.
To explore other parts of Kochi, you can easily hire a rickshaw, even the local state transport buses are great, The Kerala state buses also have A/C buses operating on local routes. To visit places like the Athirapally Waterfalls, Hiring a cab is the most convenient option.
Breaking stereotypes about Kochi
South Indian food is more than Rice and Sambar – Kerala is a food lover’s paradise.While they love their Sambar and Rice, the options are plenty and they are all delectable. Kerala food is extremely nutritious and even after a hearty non vegetarian meal you are unlikely to feel as heavy. This is due to the way the food is prepared and since it isn’t cold like North India, Ghee and Butter aren’t used as much, food is primarily cooked in coconut oil which is much healthier.
Go Check Out
Kathakali Show at Kerala Kathakali Centre every evening – Located in Fort Kochi near the Santa Cruz Basilica, the Kerala Kathakali center has a Kathakali performance every evening from 6 PM to 7:30. The performance is as authentic as it gets with the elaborate costumes and the heavy make up. The performances are usually a medium to narrate classic epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. A must visit when in Kochi.
Chinese Fishing Nets in the morning – Wake up early to see the local fisherman drop these massive chinese fishing nets into the sea as they start another day of work. While this method of fishing is not as commonly used as you may think. You can still catch a glimpse of the method and how it works. The place can get chaotic during the day the best time to visit is definitely in the morning at sunrise or at sunset.
St Francis Church – St Francis church is one of the most iconic churches not only in Kochi or Kerala but the entire country. This is also the church where, legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama was buried after his death before his ruins were moved to Lisbon a good 14 years later.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica – Built in the 16th Century, this church was one of those that was not destroyed by the Dutch. Built in the Gothic architectural style, the Cathedral was given Basilica status by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and is frequented by tourists throughout the year.
Paradesi Synagogue – Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in India as well and the entire British commonwealth. Located in the Jewish quarters of the old town. The synagogue is an absolute must visit and of the many defining landmarks of the city.
Cherai Beach – Kochi is a port town, which means there has to be a beach worth visiting. Cherai beach is just that, separated from the Backwaters by a thin stretch of Sand. Cherai Beach is perfect for swimming and to relax.
Willingdon Island – The largest artificial island surrounded by the backwaters is a nice break from the bustle of the city. It is also where the commercial and the industrial districts are located.
Athirapally Waterfalls – Athirapally Waterfalls are about an hour away from Kerala in the Chalakudy district are the highest and the largest waterfalls in Kerala.If you’re in Kochi during the monsoon, you must definitely visit the waterfalls as the experience is truly surreal.