Kochi, also Cochin is a collection of many islands, and is a part of the district of Ernakulam. The laid back town of Fort Kochi, also called Old Kochi is part of Kochi. It has a mix of the Potuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the local culture. Mattancherry is near to it, and the mainland of Ernakulam is a half an hour bus journey from Fort Kochi, or a ten minute journey from Fort Kochi jetty to the Ernakulam jetty on a ferry. The Kochi I saw is a post about my experiences in Kochi. Yes, I think Kochi is an experience, not just sights and sounds. If you are a serious backpacker, you have to try this place.
Walk, or bike
There are buses from the airport to Fort Kochi, and this is where you alight. After that Fort Kochi is can be explored by walk or on a bike.
Cost: Bike – Rs.250 – Rs.350 per day, Bicycle: Rs. 100 day, On foot: Free
Yes this place is a paradise for photographers. I guess photography goes well with walking. Just walk around taking pictures. One of them may get you a photography award?
Bus/Auto rickshaw rides
There are buses which take you to places within Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, and to places within Ernakulam. Auto rickshaws are aplenty, and some drivers can speak English. They act as tour guides too.
“I paid a rickshaw driver Rs.100 this morning and he took me around Fort Kochi. He showed me Jew Town, the Jain Temple, the Dutch Palace, the Chinese fishing nets, and the churches. You know he spoke English. The best part was that he was Muslim, but he knew so much about the history of this place, and he also knew so much about Hinduism, and about Christianity. I guess this is the best Rs.100 I paid”, an Australian tourist told me.
“Oh! good for you. Rs.100 is a bargain. You got a good deal then. I am going out to Ernakulam city, to check out some museums. I guess I will see you later”, I said.
The islands of Kochi are connected by bridges, but traffic density makes land transport slow. Ferries might well be the fastest form of transport in Cochin. The waiting time for a ferry may be between 5 minutes to 10 minutes. I used the ferry service a lot during my stay here. I have used the ferry from Fort Kochi to Ernakulam Town, and to Vypeen Island. Bikes and cars can be ferried across.
Chinese Fishing Nets
While walking along the Vasco Da Gama Square you can witness the Chinese fishing nets. Introduced by Chinese emperor Zheng He sometime in the 15th century, it still lives on. The fishermen do show you how the nets are operated, but for a small fee. The fishing nets are lowered for a few minutes, and then raised. The catch is usually small. Few fishes. some crabs, and lots of sea weed. These fishes are sold within few minutes. I got to watch it all, but without a fee.
Witness an Auction
It was 5PM one evening when I along with few fellow travelers staying at the same hotel went out to the Chinese fishing nets. They weren’t operating any nets then but few fishermen went out to the sea on their motor boat and brought with them their catch. Among those were three King Fish, and lots of cuttlefish. As soon as they were brought to shore, it went on auction. Restaurateurs were huddled around the catch, and were bidding for them.
The starting price for the large one was Rs.4000, but it sold for Rs.7000, and the starting price for the small one was Rs.3000, but it sold for Rs.4,500. The auction started and ended within five minutes the catch was brought to shore.
The cuttlefish. It went on the weighing scale, but I’m not sure how much it went for.
St. Francis Church
This is a heritage building. The oldest European church in India, it is now part of Church of South India. The original Portuguese altar is at the Indo-Portuguese Museum, a five minutes walk to the museum from here. The British almost had the church destroyed, but stayed it. In fact the sign outside the church says they did some renovation here.
There were awesomely crafted statues, this church is historically important, but one cannot spend more than 10 minutes here. Besides the place was under renovation, but a must see for history buffs like me.
This was where Vasco Da Gama was buried when he came here the third time. His remains was later shifted to Lisbon in Portugal.
This cemetery is more than 285 years old, it has tombs of 104 Europeans. It is open only at the request of the visitors. None of the tomb carry a cross, and they are all of the Dutch architecture. St. Francis Church is maintaining a record of people buried there.
Maritime Museum of Kochi
The Maritime Museum displays history of the Indian navy. It depicts the bravery of men and women to keep India’s coast safe from external aggression by sea. The museum celebrates the accomplishments and the bravery of the sailors in the medieval age as well as the modern age. It also tells story about Kerala being one of the trade routes of the ancient and medieval times. The museum is located inside a small compound next to INS Dronacharya, a gunnery school in Kochi. The gunnery school trains men and women of the Indian navy in handling missiles, artillery, and radar systems.
Visiting hours: 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM in the morning, 2:30 PM to 6:00 PM in the evening. I walked to the museum, and by the time I got there it was 2.20 in the afternoon.
Santa Cruz Basilica
The basilica is one of the oldest churches in India, and a heritage building. The architecture is Indo – European. The building was once used by the Dutch as an armory. There are canvas paintings depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
The cathedral is colossal, Christian art filling the interiors. The interior is a work of art by an Italian painter Antonio Moscheni. He has also the same man who decorated the St. Aloysius Church at Mangalore (I studied at St. Aloysius College in Mangalore for two years). If you have to look up at the ceiling to see the painting make sure you have someone to support you if you fall on your back.
The Indo-Portuguese Museum is inside the Bishop’s House. This museum shows details about Portuguese in Fort Kochi, the Portuguese influence in the area, especially their art and the architecture.
The alleys of Jew Town has antique shops, and shops from where people were buying memorabilia. Most of the Jews living here have left the place, now there are people of other communities living here. The Paradesi Synagogue is in the Jew Town.
This is the oldest in India, and in all the Commonwealth of Nations. it was built by the Cochin Jews on the land gifted by the Raja of Cochin, Rama Varma. They had a prosperous trading community here. This was built here after the first one was destroyed at Cranganore. The one in Cranganore was built in the 4th century after the Jews got here after the destruction of Jerusalem for the second time at the hands of the Romans.
You’ll have to take your shoes off because the flooring was done with 300 year old Chinese tiles, and the hall has multitude of antique lampsm Belgian chandeliers, and other artifacts. Photography is not allowed inside, but there are many photographs of the interiors in other travel websites. You can spend five to ten minutes here. The Synagogue shares its wall with the Pazhayannur Bhagavathy temple which is next door. The entry fee is small.
The Portuguese built the palace and gifted to the Raja of Cochin, Kerala Varma in 1555. The Dutch renovated the church after they took it. But over the years everybody came to know it as the Dutch Palace. Today it is a museum which tells the story of the Rajas of Cochin, and the Portuguese, Dutch, and the English influence in the region. There is also a mural depicting the story of Ramayana. There are palanquins, royal umbrellas, coins, stamps on display. The compound has a temple for Pazhayannur Bhagavathy, the protective Goddess of the Kochi royal family. In the same compound, is the Lord Krishna temple, and a temple for Lord Shiva. The palace doesn’t look like much but it is worth going to, considering the fact that there is a lot of history.