Kochi (125 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram, 1,500 kilometers south of Mumbai by road) is Kerala's main port, commercial hub and largest city, with a population of around 2.1 million people. It is famous for its colonial mansions and loin-clothed fishermen, Hindu temples, Portuguese churches and mosques. There is a large navy base here. The harbor is filled with ferries, rice barges, fishing boats and oil tankers.
Kochi was known historically as Cochin and is still called that name by many people. Described as "one of those historical port towns that never quite made it in the modern world," it is located on one the finest natural harbors on the Arabian Sea Coast and was one of the most important cities for the spice trade between Asia and Europe. Kochi is known for it religious tolerance. Many Muslims and Hindus send their children to Christian schools.
Kochi is made up of three districts: Ernakulan, the main city on the mainland, Wullington Island, where most of the port facilities are located; and Fort Kochi and Mattancheeru, the densely-populated, canal-laced areas that extends to the south. The streets are clogged with bicycle and trishaws, trucks and cars.. There are more goats wandering around than cows.
Situated on the Malabar coast, for a long time Kochi was India's outlet to the world and the world’s link to India. It was here that the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first arrived, paving the way for European colonisers. The city remains steeped in its heritage, which is reflected in Portuguese, Dutch and British forts, palaces and bungalows that are scattered throughout. Today, Kochi is an eclectic mix of diverse cultures, including a large community of Syrian Christians and the Black and White Cochin Jews.
History of Kochi
Kochi (Cochin) has always been an important trading center. Syrian Christians, Muslims and Jews from west Africa and Chinese came here in search of spices, gems, tea and teakwood, which is said to behave been used to build Nebuchanezzar's palace.
Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese explorer and the first man to sail between Europe and Asia, landed at Kochi in 1500 and established a colony here in 1502 on his second voyage. Vasco da Gama had left Portugal to find the source of spices that were transported to Europe by Arab traders. In his quest, he reached the Malabar coast. He traveled to Kerala thriee times His discovery of a sea route to the Malabar coast led to the Portuguese coming here in large numbers. Game came the third time in 1522 to retire. He died here of malaria and was buried on a thick stone slab in St. Francis' Church (1510), the oldest European church in India. Later his remains were taken back to Portugal. A sign above the slab reads: "Here lay Vasco da Gama who died on Christmas Eve of the year 1524 at Cochin".
The Portuguese built churches, schools and hospitals. The ywere driven out by the Dutch, who captured the port in 1663. The Dutch used Kochi as trading center and supply stop for Europe-bound vessels from the Spice Islands in the present-day Indonesia. When the British took over in 1807 they used the port to ship tea to Britain.
The local spice trade has been traditionally dominated by Jewish merchants who fled persecution in north and thrived under a liberal-minded raja. Kochi is still a major ginger, cardamum and tea trading center today. Most of the Jews are gone. Many migrated to Israel after India gained independence in 1947.
The Cochin Jews are a small but very ancient Jewish community in Kerala. Also know as the Cochinis, they have traditionally lived in several towns along the Malabar Coast: Attencammanal, Chenotta, Ernakulam, Mallah, Parur, Chenemangalam and Cochin. Like their neighbors they speak Malayalan,a Dravidian language similar to Tamil. Few of them speak Hebrew.
The Cochin Jews are one of the smallest Jewish communities in the world. In 1948 there were 2,500 of them and three synagogues. . In 1953, 2,400 of them emigrated to Israel. Only around 30 remained in Cochin as of the early 1990s. While the Cochin Jews kept mainly to themselves they were well liked by other religious groups.
In Kerala there were 65 Jews as of 2000. Isolated from the mainstream Jewish community, Cochin’s Jews developed some unique customs as a result of their small size. The main synagogue has no rabbi. During marriage ceremonies the rites are read by the groom. They make their own Sabbath wine from local grapes. Their daily prayers are chanted in shingli, a unique version of standard Jewish Prayers.
Tourism in Kochi
Kochi is a vibrant mix of art, history, culture, food, carnivals and festivals. Sprawled along a gorgeous estuary, it features beaches along blue Arabian Sea, colonial buildings and artistic and aesthetic retreats. Established around Fort Kochi, the city is in a festive mood throughout the year but particularly comes alive during the four-month-long Kochi Biennale, the largest art exhibition in India,. Boat rides, spiritual Onam, grand Shivaratri celebrations and the grand Kochi Carnival also draw large numbers of visitors.
One traveler wrote in the Washington Post: In Kochi “overlapping Dutch, Portuguese, Jewish and British cultures have produced a gem of a town. The historic district of Kochi, at the tip of a peninsula, is known as Fort Kochi, and many key sights are within walking distance. This is a welcome change from most sprawling Indian cities, where a walk around town is a virtual impossibility. The main shopping area is in another, more modern city, Ernakulam, about a half-hour’s drive away, but it’s a joy to simply wander in the historic district. [Source: Washington Post, September 14, 2009]
“We stay in a lovely hotel, Brunton Boatyard, some 20 luxury rooms set on the site of an 18th-century boatyard. It’s a grand place, and Cindy and I take a cooking class that helps unlock some secrets of South India cuisine. The remnants of the once-thriving Jewish community here can be found in “Jew Town,” where a 16th-century synagogue stands amid a welter of antiques dealers and Kashmiri shopkeepers. In keeping with the jumbled culture of Kochi, the interior of the temple is lined with 18th-century blue and white tiles from Canton depicting a mandarin’s love affair, while the chandeliers are from Belgium.”
Getting There: There are many flights to Kochi via either Mumbai or New Delhi. You also can connect via Doha, Qatar, because many natives of Kerala work in the Middle East. By Air: The airport at Kochi is connected to all major cities in India as well as some international destinations. By Road: Good roads connect Kochi with other cities in Kerala and the rest of the country. By Train: The nearest railhead is at Ernakulam, which is connected with all major Indian cities.
Entertainment and Shopping in Kochi
Kochi is one of the best places to buy precious and semi-precious jewelry, antiques, coffee, tea, spices, metal utensils and ceramic products as well as gold, The city has bustling markets. One of the best stops is Mahatma Gandhi Road that boasts a slew of stores that offer a fine selection of national and international brands. You can find budgeted buys of Kerala's renowned saris. Jew Town is lined with antique shops and handicraft stores and offers a wide selection of jewelry, artefacts and furniture. Near St. Francis Church is Bazaar Street, merchants and brokers sell bags of nutmeg, ginger and pepper using traditional under-the-towel bidding. Broadway is crammed with small shops that sell a range of articles from kitchen utensils to clothes. After shopping, relax and unwind at the cafes perched above the stores.
Greenix Village is a unique cultural art village that provides a mesmeric introduction to Kerala culture and traditions. Every evening, the renowned dance drama of Kathakali is shown, along with Kalaripayattu, a unique martial art form. Tourists can also attend an audio-visual cultural history show at the museum. Indian classical dance performances are staged in the evening; yoga classes are held in the morning. An art gallery restaurant, a book shop, vignettes of Kerala's craft and cottage industry and a curio shop can also be found in the village. Greenix was launched in 2006 and is the home to several artisans. It was named 'The Best Innovative Project from the Department of Tourism, Kerala State'.
Padayani is a merging of theater, satire, music, painting and dance performed in Pathanamthitta, Central Travancore. A part of an ancient ritual, this dance is performed in Bhagavati temples, located on the banks of the Pampa river, in honour of Goddess Bhadrakali. The dancers wear elaborate masks and perform this vigorous dance. Kolam thullal is the best-known mask that is made by drawing patterns on leaves of areca nut. These masks are believed to be a representation of divine characters and spiritual forces.
Kathakali is a form of dance-drama that blend dance, music, drama and devotion and features fabulous make-up and costumes. Indigenous to Kerala and one of the oldest continually-performed forms in theater in the world, it resemble the pantomime acting of Japanese noh, in that actors wear elaborate masks, and features men doing martial arts like movements to the rhythm of drums. Kathakali is usually performed outdoors, often in temples. temples often host shows that are free to the public. Sometimes several thousand people sit through the nine hour performances that last all night. Kathakali means "story acting"
Kathakali is renowned all over the world and is one of the seven classical forms in India. Kathakali in its present form originated in the 17th century and is based on ancient temples carvings. Dancers act out episodes of the Ramayana and Mahabharata to the music of singers and percussionists. Hand gestures and facial expressions are important, with particularly emphasis on the dancer-actor’s eyes and finger motions. The movements and footwork are smooth and slow and take great effort to execute correctly. Performers do not jump or run around much. Kathakali is performed to the rhythms of the chenda, a loud thunderous drum, and a the maddala, a instrument which produces softer and more relaxed sounds.
The Washington Post traveler wrote: “The highlight of our stay in Kochi is attending an evening performance of kathakali. In “The God of Small Things,” author Roy describes how the dance-drama has been debased for the tourists. Perhaps that is true. But I find the experience quite evocative even though we see a shortened version; true kathakali can last all night. Kathakali depicts highly stylized tales from the great Hindu epics such as “Ramayana.” You need to arrive a couple of hours early so you can watch the actors put on their makeup and then their costumes. It is a magical transformation, as various shades of green, blue and red makeup, combined with spectacular masks made of rice paper, turn the actors into what appear to be life-size puppets. We can’t make much sense of the play itself, but it is spectacular to watch nonetheless.” [Source: Washington Post, September 14, 2009]
Kochi Food And Cuisine
Popular seafood delicacies include Kochi fish curry and fish mollie, which are cooked with locally produced spices. One of the most popular dishes in the city, stew, can either be made of chicken or mutton. Kerala Fried Prawns is considered to be the signature dish of Kerala, Fresh prawns are fried crisp in coconut oil, with the aroma of mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric and chillies. Chuttuli Meen is a Kerala-Jewish dish that comprises a flat full fish, marinated with onions and green spices. A host of other spices are added to make this finger-licking dish.
Flaky, fluffy, crispy and soft is how best a Malabar parotta can be described. It is usually eaten with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and is a variant of the North Indian “lachha paratha”, or the Malaysian “roti cannai”. This unleavened flatbread is usually drenched in yummy curries like chicken Chettinad and other meaty stews to cut the spice of the dish, while adding an element of crispiness to it. In Kochi, you will find plenty of stalls selling parotta with egg curry – the dish has become popular among locals and tourists alike as a quick street snack. To prepare it, maida (flour) is kneaded with oil, ghee (clarified butter) and water, and even egg. The dough is then beaten into thin layers which are then coiled and rolled flat and lightly fried. It is said that the flatbread was brought from Malaysia by Indian Muslims, and subsequently spread to other neighbouring states over time.
One of the most popular dishes of Kerala, Malabar prawn curry is prepared with prawns cooked in tamarind, coconut and jaggery. In the process, first prawns are cooked with turmeric powder in a clay pot, followed by the addition of a blend of spices, salt and water. Later, pieces of drumstick are added and cooked. After coconut paste, tomatoes, green chilli are added, the contents are boiled. To this, a mixture of curry leaves, chilli, fenugreek leaves and shallots fried in oil, is added.
Puttu is extremely popular as a breakfast dish throughout Kerala. It is served with kadala curry, which is made of black chickpeas, garlic, mustard seeds, red chilli, onions, whole coriander, and turmeric, curries leaves, garam masala, salt, and of course, grated coconut. It is a traditional delicacy.
Popularly called Malabar biryani, Kerala Biryani is an aromatic layered rice dish that is made with chicken, fried onions, dry fruits, nuts and ghee (clarified butter). The ingredients are mixed together and then sealed and slowly cooked in steam, which is called the dum method. There is a plethora of recipes for this decadent dish, with each state and region having their own versions. The Malabar style uses ghee and spices like cloves, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg liberally to give the dish a nice fragrance. Moreover, unlike traditional biryani, this particular style uses a short and thin type of rice called khaima or jeerakasala.
Boat Cruises In Kochi
Tourists can travel by houseboat in the Kochi backwaters. All one needs to do is just sit back and enjoy the scenic views as the boat drifts slowly through quaint villages and lush green environs. The backwaters of Kerala run from Kochi to Kollam, with Alappuzha being the entry point. Fringed by lush palm groves and dotted with quaint hamlets, these picturesque backwaters are best explored on a river cruise that happens in modern houseboats that are kettuvallams or large vessels that were earlier used for trading. While the scenic beauty around the waterways is mesmerising, these spacious and well-decorated houseboats add to the charm of the experience.
Traditionally, a kettuvallam would be around 60 feet long and about 15 feet wide at the beam. Some of the new houseboats have a length of more than 80 ft! Constructed from locally sourced natural materials such as jackfruit tree wood, palm wood, coconut fibre, bamboo poles, ropes, bamboo mats etc, these boats offer guilt-free tripping. They are constructed by tying together (rather than nailing) wooden planks with coconut coir. The planks are coated with resin extracted from cashew nut shells. Bamboo poles and palm leaves are used for constructing the roof. Some of these boats also have solar panels for generating electricity. If carefully maintained, these boats can last for decades.
Sunset Cruises can be enjoyed in the calm waters of Kochi Harbour. Most of the cruises span two hours and cover prime locations like Fort Kochi and Kochi Shipyard. Marine Drive is one of the best spots for mesmerising views of sunsets. You can sit by the lakeside promenade or take a cruise on the Marine Drive and enjoy the cool wind. Chinese fishing nets, Bolgatty Island and Willingdon Island, set against this picturesque backdrop, make the experience more enchanting.
Sights in Kochi
Famous churches include Santa Cruz cathedral and St. Francis Church.Near St. Francis Church is Bazaar Street, merchants and brokers sell bags of nutmeg, ginger and pepper using traditional under-the-towel bidding. The magnificent Bolghatty Palace was built by the Dutch in 1744. Mattancherry Place was built by the Portuguese in the mid 16th century. The Dutch Palace was to presented to the Portuguese by the Raja of Kochi in 1555 and later renovated by the Dutch. It is well known for its murals of Hindu mythology, coronation hall and display of dresses and palanquins. The natural and man-made islands offshore contain colonial residences; craftshops where ropes and carpets are made; white churches built by the Portuguese; palm trees; and warehouses full of spices.
Also worth checking out are the Shiva temple; Mangalavana, a pond in the middle of town that attract thousands of resident and migratory birds; the Parikshith Thampuran Museum, with its fine collection of 19th century painting, old coins and stone sculpture; the Museum of Kerala History, an interesting museum with a good audio-visual program; and the Hill Palace Museum, the largest archeological museum in Kerala with a fine collection of sculptures, rare coins, old weapons, manuscripts and memorabilia from the Kochi royal family.
Marine Drive is a three-kilometer-long promenade facing the pristine backwaters of Kochi and lined with malls, eateries and handicraft shops. Stroll along the scenic trail and view Kochi Harbour in the distance and enjoy the scenery of the backwaters. Tourists can also explore the area by boat as well as on foot. Rainbow Bridge is an arch-shaped structure that is lit up during the night.
Chinese Fishing Nets
The entrance to Kochi Harbor and the tip of Fort Kochi are famous for Chinese fishing nets — funnel-shaped, spiderweb-like cantilevered fishing nets — which are operated with a pulley system by teams of four men who drop the nets in water and every half hour or so pull them out to see what they caught. The fishing technique was reportedly introduced by Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan. Nearby are some small shacks that serve freshly prepared shark, tiger fish and other delights.
Chinese fishing nets are unique to Kochi and some parts of China. Called Cheenavala in Malayalam, they were perhaps introduced by Chinese explorer Zheng He. Many fishermen earn their livelihood by fishing using these nets, and a whole stretch of the coast along Fort Kochi and Vypeen is dotted with them. Watching the fishermen in action with these nets has become a major tourist attraction.
Like huge hammocks, these cantilevered fishing nets are dropped in the sea and are left for a certain period of time. To sink the net in the water the fisherman only has to walk on it. His weight is enough to sink the net. Later, when they are full of fish, the fishermen draw them in. Once the fish is caught you can select what you like and also get one of the shacks to cook it for you. These fishing nets were established on the shores of Kochi between 1350 and 1450.
Forts in Kochi
Fort Kochi (south of Fosse Street) features narrow streets lined with tall trees and colorful flowers peeking out of windows of old houses. Built by the Portuguese in 1506, the fort still reflects vestiges of its glorious past. Of particular interest are the streets of Fort Kochi that leave one in awe of the culture and heritage they so boldly display. Some of the popular haunts include Princess Street, Burger Street, Rose Street, Tower Road etc. You can enjoy a quiet stroll along Mattancherry roads like Jew Street, Palace Road and TD School Road that transport you to a different era. Fort Kochi Beach, lying nearby, is another attraction. There are spectacular view of sunsets here. The Chinese fishing nets and the sailing ships add to the picturesque view.
Fort Immanuel (at Fort Kochi) was among the first European forts established in India. Built in 1503 by the Portuguese, it was once a symbol of the alliance between the ruler of Kochi and the monarch of Portugal. An imposing ruined structure along the beach, it makes for an interesting exploration. According to legend the Portuguese were welcomed by the ruler of Kochi in year 1500. After signing a treaty with the king, the Portuguese gradually started expanding their power and built the first European city in India, Santa Cruz City. The city remained a Portuguese stronghold until it was taken over by the Dutch colonisers.
Palliport (Pallipuram) Fort is also one of the oldest surviving European forts in India, Built by the Portuguese in 1503 on Vypeen Island, the fort has a hexagonal shape and is constructed with lime, laterite and wood. The architecture of the structure is notable as it has been built on a lower floor at an elevation of five feet. The layout of the fort is such that it would have been easy to mount guns to command the quarters around the fort. Inside, there is a vast open space that leads to the cellar. Local lore says that the cellar is a tunnel that takes you to the Cheraman Masjid in Kodungalloor.
Historical Sites In Kochi
International Pepper Exchange is the only place in the world where pepper is an exchange currency. Located near the Spice Market in Jew Town, it also happens to be the only online commodity exchange in Kerala. It was established in 1957 and is a great place to witness the ancient barter system in practice to this day. Tourists can shop for various fragrant varieties of pepper and other interesting spices. The spice trade in Kochi was essentially run by Jews who settled here long back. However, after the British rule ended and the nation of Israel was formed, Jews left their spice warehouses and went to Israel. Today, only vestiges of that culture remain and tourists can explore that rich heritage as they breathe in the scent of ginger and pepper wafting through as they stroll down the street.
Princess Street is the oldest street in Kochi. It features a long line of scenic houses, the majority of them constructed in European colonial architectural styles. A stroll through this street takes you past buildings with British, Dutch, Portuguese and French influences. Tourists can enjoy shopping for unique handicrafts, traditional items, exquisite jewelry and clothes. They can also enjoy a respite at the various spas and Ayurvedic centers located here. Don't forget to sample delicious delicacies at the various eateries on the street. Princess Street is locally known as Loafer's Corner.
Parade Ground is the place where the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese conducted their military drills and parades. Covering an area of four-acres, it was originally part of Portuguese facility where armaments were stored. The ground was used a field hockey and football field by the Portuguese and Dutch colonisers, while the British used it as a cricket pitch. During the colonial rule, the ground hosted the flags of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. After Independence, the British Union Jack was taken down to hoist the Indian Tricolor, and since then hockey matches between the Navy and local clubs have been regularly organised. Some of the national level football tournaments have also been played here. Today, the ground is an arena for those who come to play football and cricket. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international contemporary art festival of Kochi, is also inaugurated here.
Clock Tower (next to the Paradesi Synagogue) presides over the Mattancherry area in Kochi. This 45-ft-high structure has four faces that are marked with numerals written in Hebrew, Latin and Malayalam, with one face being blank. The dial of the tower that is towards the Maharaja's face has Malayalam numerals, the one towards the synagogue has Hebrew and the third, Roman. This was done so as an eclectic mix of Jewish, Latin and Malayali populace called the region their home. To bring to notice the passing time by the people of all communities, the tower that struck after every hour, was marked in different languages. The Clock Tower was commissioned by a well-known local businessman, Ezekiel Rahabi in 1760, and remained fully functional until 1930.
Dutch Cemetery (en route to Fort Kochi Beach) is one of the oldest cemeteries in India. Reflecting the Dutch architecture of those times, the cemetery is bordered by high walls. An ancient pillar stands at the entrance with the year 1724 inscribed on it. The cemetery is home to 104 epitaphs and tombs that carry authentic records of hundreds of people of Dutch and British nationality. Many of the tombs are made of granite and red laterite and have no cross. There are big as well as small tombstones and the inscriptions on the epitaphs are in old Dutch script. According to historical sources, the last person to be laid to rest here was Captain Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913.
Palaces and Houses in Kochi
Vasco House is one of the oldest Portuguese houses in India and is believed to be the residence of renowned explorer, Vasco da Gama, who loved in Kochi until his death in 1524. It was built in the early 16th century and boasts balcony cum verandahs and fine European glass paned windows, characteristic of that time. In fact, it was one of the finest examples that paved the way for the construction of European-styled buildings in Fort Kochi. The large windows of the house open in the direction of St Francis Church. Today, it has been converted into a homestay, where visitors can still catch vestiges of glorious days gone by. The 500-year-old Vasco House is located on Rose Street. After Gama died of malaria on Christmas Eve in this house, he was buried at the St Francis Church nearby.
Bishop's House (near the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi) is an architectural gem perched on a little hillock. marvel. Boasting large Gothic arches and a circular garden path, winding up to the main entrance, the house is a visual treat. Some of the other notable features are a maze of corridors, elaborate living rooms, stained glass windows, wooden staircases, a marble plaque near the main stairway. The walls of the house are adorned with 36 exquisite paintings that depict historical events that led to the formation of the Catholic Church in Kerala. The house was built in 1506 as the residence of the Portuguese governor. Next to it, lies the Indo-Portuguese museum, which has precious artefacts, collected from various churches under the Kochi diocese.
Pierce Leslie Bungalow is a quaint and charming house built in 1892. One of the most popular heritage buildings in the city, it draws tourists from far and wide for its architectural splendour. A unique amalgamation of Kerala, Dutch and Portuguese styles, the mansion boasts fine wood panels that make up the roof of the ground floor, arched doorways, expansive rooms and carved doors. The cascading balconies and extensive rooms of the mansion are a visual treat for tourists. The bungalow hosts two houses called Koder House and Old Harbor House, along with waterfront verandahs that add to the elegance of the bungalow. This building used to be the office of Pierce Leslie & Company, which was a prominent group of coffee merchants in India.
Durbar Hall is a 100-year-old space that has hosted conferences and meets organised by kings and presently is known as the Durbar Hall Art Gallery. The building boasts an ostentatious Dutch facade, a deep verandah, modern interiors and marble flooring. Paintings by renowned artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Manu Parekh, Souza and Padmini are hung on its inner walls. The first floor was given to the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi, which opened the Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1991. Regular art exhibitions are also hosted here. In the past, the hall has acted as a venue for important historical events like the institution of the administrative reforms in 1938 and the founding of the constitution of Kochi. Cultural and sports events, exhibitions, and military parades have also been hosted on these grounds. Various governmental and artistic societies have used the building as their headquarters.
Jew Town (near Mattancherry Palace) has only a handful of elderly Jews left but there is a functioning 16th century synagogue that contains unique blue-and-white floor tiles, scroll of the New Testament and Hebrew texts inscribed on copper plates. The synagogue has no rabbi. It is kept going by a community of elders. Many of the houses are now occupied by Hindu antique dealers. Some still have the Star of David on the exterior walls. Jew Town is now pretty touristy. Many tourist that come here are Jews from other countries. Some of the local Jews are a little tired of being gawked at.
Jew Town consist mainly of winding street between Mattancherry Palace and Jewish Synagogue. It is among the oldest parts of the city that once hosted a thrivibg Jewish community. Today, it is best known as the best spot to look for bargains on handicrafts, spices and antiques. Hindu vendors greet visitors with Shalom, a Jewish greeting, and attempt to lure you into their shops selling Jewish memorabilia, brass statues, Pashmina shawls, Chinese vases, candlesticks and , rose water sprinklers. Restaurants and cafes perched atop the restored spice warehouses.
The story goes the king of Kochi gave a piece of land to the Jews who came to trade there. The place was called Mattancherry. 'Mattan' is derived from a Hebrew word that means donation and 'cherry' in Malayalam stands for settlement. After a flood in Periyar river in 1341, the Kochi Port was formed that helped the town become a spice-trading hub. Until Israel was formed in 1948, Jew Town was a prominent Jewish settlement. Since then Jews in Cochin have steadily migrated to Israel.
Paradesi Synagogue is the main attraction in Jew Town and one of the oldest synagogues in India.. Featured in Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” it was constricted in 1568, destroyed by canon fire in 1662 and rebuilt two years later. This interior of imposing edifice is adorned with Belgian chandeliers. The floor of the synagogue is lined with willow-patterned and hand-painted tiles from China that are believed to be dating back to the 18th century. It is believed that the synagogue contains four scrolls of the Torah (First Five books of the Old Testament). These are encased in gold and silver chambers.
Temples in Kochi
Thirumala Devaswom Temple is one of the most important temples in Mattancherry. Dedicated to Lord Venkatachalapathy, the sanctum sanctorum houses the idols of the lord with his consorts, Sreedevi and Bhoodevi on either side. Visitors can pay their respects to the shrines of Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Mahalakshmi and Garuda, a mythical bird and the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The temple sees huge crowds when many festivals are organised in the months of November and April. The temple yard houses statues of Swami Vijayendra Theertha, a philosopher and a king of Vijayanagara. There is a holy tank as well. Of particular note is a huge bronze bell that is about four feet in diameter and six feet high. It is said that in earlier times, the chiming of the bell could be heard from afar. The temple was constructed in 1559.
Vaikom Shiva Temple (Vaikom, 10 kilometers south of Kochi) is dedicated to Lord Shiva and boasts marvelous Kerala-style architecture. Believed to have been founded by a Hindu sage, it is popularly called Kashi of the South. Devotees can also visit Ettumanoor Shiva Temple and Kaduthuruthy Thaliyil Mahadeva Temple. It is said that worshipping at all the three temples opens doors to a multitude of blessings. According to legend demon Kharasura once did severe penance and prayed to Lord Shiva to attain moksha or salvation. Lord Shiva granted him all his wishes and gave him three lingas, asking him to worship them to attain moksha. Kharasura carried one in his right hand, the other in his left hand and the third tied around his neck. After travelling for long he sat down to rest awhile. When he rose to continue his journey he realised that he couldn't lift the lingas. Upon hailing Lord Shiva, he was told that Lord Shiva would remain where he had been put down to give moksha to anyone who came here to worship him. So it is said that the lingam in the right hand is Vaikom, the left one Ettumanoor and the one on the neck is Kaduthuruthy. Udayanapuram (near Vaikom), know for its wood carvings and stone sculptures
Ernakulam Shiva Temple is an unusual Shiva temples that faces the sea on the west,. Built on an ancient site in the Durbar Hall Ground, the temple offers picturesque views of the Arabian Sea. The sanctum sanctorum houses a lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva) that is said to be 'swayambhoo' or self-originated. The temple is sprawled over an area of 1.2 acre and is built in typical Kerala style of architecture. The ring-shaped sanctum sanctorum is particularly beautiful with gorgeously sculpted walls and a copper-tiled roof. From here, tourists can get splendid views of the two-storeyed Western Gopuram that has been designed with gabled roofs and slanted windows. A dining hall or Oottupura and a marriage hall have also been added to the structure recently.
Thrikkakara Vamanamoorthy Temple is the only temple dedicated to Lord Vamana, who is one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, it lies near Ernakulam. Vamana is believed to have ended the glorious rule of King Mahabali, in the guise of a Brahmin boy. The temple, which is around two millennia old, is also listed as one of the 108 Divya Desams (divine places). Many believe that Thrikkakara was the capital of the Mahabali's kingdom. The 10-day Onam festival is flagged off from this temple with a colorful pageant. Since Onam is the most important festival of this temple, the Onasadya (Onam feast) is also held in a grand manner. People across all religions participate in the same, celebrating communal harmony in a big way. Earlier, under the reign of the Maharaja of Travancore the Onam festival here was jointly organised by the 61 Naduvazhis (local rulers). The other festivals the temple observes are Vishu, Diwali, Makar Sankranti, Navratri and Saraswati Puja.
Churches and Convents in Kochi
St Francis Church is one of the oldest churches built by Europeans in India. It is known for its beautiful design and ambience. Boasting a lofty structure with a gable roof framed with timber and covered with tiles, the church has two steeped pinnacles on either side of the facade. It was built by Portuguese Franciscans friars group in 1503. Initially, it was a mud and wooden structure and was dedicated to St Bartholomew, and later to St Antonio, the patron saint of Portugal. In 1524, on his third visit to Kerala, the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, who reached India from Europe by sea, fell ill and died in Kochi. He was buried in St Francis Church. About 14 years later, his remains were taken back to Portugal. His burial spot inside the church has been demarcated. Protected under the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the church is open to visitors on weekdays. On Sundays and special days, the church holds services.
Santa Cruz Basilica (near St Francis Church) is one of the eight magnificent basilicas in India. Constructed by the Portuguese in 1505, it boasts two lofty spires that can be seen from a distance, this pristine white structure has a contrasting vividly painted interior. The overwhelming arches and the altar add medieval touches to the church's architecture. Tourists would be especially awed by seven canvas paintings that have been inspired by the 'Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci. As you gaze at the mesmeric ceiling, beautifully adorned with paintings depicting scenes from the Via Crucis of Christ, you are left marvelling at the skill of the artisans of that time. Don't miss out the intricate wall carvings and stained glass windows that enhance the beauty of the church.
Our Lady's Convent is famous for embroidery. A tour of the convent is a unique experience where visitors can encounter elegant embroideries and needlework, for which the convent is a center. Most of the lace, embroidered and crocheted fabrics reflect an old-world charm and are largely influenced by designs in Italy and Spain. However, modern designs are largely used now. There are a plethora of products on display and tourists can indulge in shopping to their heart's content. Some of these products can also be bought at Jews Street, Mattancherry. Many women are employed by the convent and perform exquisite embroidery work on handkerchiefs, saris and table cloths. The convent receives orders from all over the world for its handmade and unique products. According to legend needlework came to Kerala through Christian missionaries and European nuns, who shared their skills with the women of Kochi. After the 9th century, Kochi became a center for needlework of diverse kinds.
Museums in Kochi
Museum Of Kerala History (in the Edapally area) greets visitors with a statue of sage Parsurama, who is believed to have carved Kerala out of sea. As you move further, you see various interesting exhibits relating to different stages of Kerala's history. From Neolithic to modern age, the evolution is depicted through life-size figures. The museum has three galleries: Museum of Kerala History, Gallery of Modern Art and Dolls Museum. The Museum of Kerala History is the oldest and gives a history of Kerala through 36 dioramas. The Gallery of Modern Art has a collection of nearly 230 works by some of India's modern artists such as Raja Ravi Varma, MF Husain, FN Souza, Ramkinker Baij, etc. At the Doll's Museum, there are about 150 dolls that depict the culture and dance traditions of India. An unmissable event is the live sound and light show in English and Malayalam.
SNC Maritime Museum (within INS Dronacharya at Fort Kochi) pays tribute to the Indian Navy. As you enter the museum, you are greeted by wooden boards on either side that narrate the evolution of the Indian Navy from 712 to the present. The galleries of the museum have been set up in old bunkers, and while one gives a peek into the history of Kerala, the other portrays the rich history of the Navy and the maritime history of India from the times of the Indus Valley Civilisation. A highlight of the museum is a detailed map of the sea route taken by Europeans to reach the Konkan coast. You can also find models of famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, and legendary sea warrior, Kunjali Marakkar, who fought bravely against the Portuguese navy. The museum also has archives of the elaborate literature on ship-building carried out throughout the country. Moreover, visitors can find detailed displays of the contribution of the Indian Navy in the wars of 1965 and 1971 with Pakistan, the Kargil War and the Goa Liberation. These are shown in the forms of flags, rank badges, uniforms, naval regalia from different times of history and a memento given to the Navy by their Pakistani counterparts during the Partition. The memento carries the inscription," Goodbye and Good Luck." Tourists can also find the armoury, naval models and other equipment.
Kerala Folklore Theater And Museum is housed in a three-storey building and opened in 2009. Showcasing the rich heritage of Kerala's art and dance forms, it contains masks, sculptures made in wood, stone and bronze, costumes of traditional and ritual art forms, musical instruments, traditional jewelry, manuscripts of rare medicinal and astrological secrets, and stone age utensils are all preserved in this museum. The building has Malabar, Kochi and Travancore styles of architecture, where the entrance is constructed from the remnants of a 16th-century temple in Tamil Nadu and wooden carvings brought from across Kerala. The entrance gate is decked with an attractive manichitratazhu (a traditional ornate door lock of Kerala). Pierced wooden windows, reflecting Malabar style of architecture, add to the beauty of the entrance. The first floor of the building, called kalithattu, is reminiscent of the Kochi style of architecture. It displays costumes of various traditional and ritual dance forms of Kerala like theyyam, kathakali, ottanthullal, and mohiniyattam. The second floor is called Kanjadalam or lotus petal, and is adorned with beautiful mural paintings and has a wooden ceiling made of 60 frames.
Kerala Lalitha Kala Academy is an academy for fine arts that was set up in 1962 to promote art and artistic heritage. The aim of the academy is to encourage culture, painting, plastic and visual arts. It is an autonomous institute of culture functioning under the State Department of Culture. The structure of the academy, at Thrissur, is an architectural marvel. Tourists can also check out works by noted painters like K C S Panikker and the late T K Padmini. The hub of cultural and art discussions and events in Kerala, the academy provides a unique platform where master artists can interact with upcoming artists. The academy also plays a key role in developing visual arts like sculptures, photography, ceramics, graphics and paintings.
Islands and Beaches of Kochi
Scenic Willingdon and Vypeen islands are linked by bridges and ferries to Kochi. Kumarkon contains an island resort. Gundu Island (a motor launch trip from Kochi) is famous for its colorful coire coconut-fibre products such as mats and carpets. Many boating companies organise dinner cruises amidst city lights that illuminate Kochi’s waterways.
Bolgatty Palace (on Bolgatty Island) is a Dutch palace, and is just a short boat ride away from the mainland. Now, a heritage hotel, run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), it is an ideal retreat to experience the grandeur of the royal lifestyle. In 1744, an anonymous Dutch businessman constructed Bolgatty Palace. Between 1909 and 1947, it served as the British Residency. Tourists can explore the island that boasts a neat golf course. The panoramic views of the harbour and the port make this place a great picnic spot for families. Regular boat service is available from the mainland, and tourists can reach Bolgatty Islands on a ferry from High Court Jetty. The island is located at a distance of about 2 kilometers via Goshree Bridge.
Vallarpadam is one of the picturesque islands that forms part of Kochi. , Vallarpadam is best known for the Vallarpadam Church or the Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom. An ancient church that has been given the status of a basilica, it is one of the most prominent spiritual sites in Ernakulam district. The pristine white structure was built by the Portuguese in 1524 and is dedicated to Holy Mary or Vallarapadath Amma, as she is fondly called here. The church houses an image of the Virgin Mary that is believed to have been brought by the Portuguese. The best time to visit is during the feast of Vallarapadath Amma, a week-long event that is held on September 24. Initially, the church was called the Church of the Holy Spirit, however, it was destroyed in a flood in the 17th century and a new church was set up at the same spot in the year 1676.
Vypeen (Vypin) (just north of Kochi) is a quaint island with pristine beaches, old lighthouses, hiking trails and Chinese fishing nets. Some of its beaches like Cherai, Kuzhuppilly and Puthuvype are among the longest beaches in Kochi. Puthuvype Beach is also home to one of the oldest lighthouses in Kerala. Tourists can visit Munambam, the largest fishing harbour in Kochi that lies to the north of Vypeen. Tourists can reach Vypeen via boats from Fort Kochi. This 27-kilometer-long island is connected to the city by bridges called Goshree bridges. They start at Kalamukku in Vypeen, touch two other islands, Mulavukad and Vallapadam, and then end at Marine Drive in Kochi. Other popular attractions in Vypeen include Nedungad, Pallipuram Fort, Sahodaran Ayyappan Smarakam, Veeranpuzha, which is a part of Vembanad Lake, Criz Milagress Church, Sree Perumpadappil Bhagavathi Temple, Njarakkal Fish Farm and Elamkunnapuzha Temple.
Willingdon Island (southern Kochi) is one of the largest man-made islands in India. Surrounded by pristine backwaters of Kerala, the island is a pleasant place to stroll around on scenic walkways admiring views of the Arabian Sea and the backwaters area. Willingdon Island hosts some of the best hotels in Kerala. The island was created in 1933 and named after the then British Viceroy of India, Lord Willingdon. The architect of this artificial island was Robert Bristow and was created with soil trench produced during the deepening of famous Vembanad Lake for the construction of the modern Kochi Port. Currently, the land is under the Indian Navy and Kochi Port Trust.
Fort Kochi Beach has golden sand and tranquil waters. Lined with swaying palms and dense bushes, the beach attracts people into snorkelling, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, catamaran sailing and parasailing. Many European-style bungalows dot the shoreline, and the coastline has many small stalls, where one can indulge in traditional dishes made using freshly caught fish.
Cherai Beach (north of Kochi) has nice white sand and is lined with coconut groves. Extending for 15 kilometers, it has places with shallow waters that are ideal for a relaxing swim. Lying to the north end of the long barrier island of Vypeen island, Cherai Beach offers both backwaters and beach experience. Interesting shells and conch can often be found on the beach. Dolphins often swim by. You can see Chinese fishing nets. The beach is lined with shacks that offer a fine selection of Malabar cuisine. You can engage in water sports like surfing and speedboat rides..
Mattanchery and Mattanchery Palace
Mattancherry (northern Kochi, embracing Jew Town) is one of the most vibrant spot in Kochi, with eclectic mix of spices, history, handicrafts, culture and food, The best way to explore it is by strolling down the bustling streets and breathing in fragrant spices, the aroma of authentic cuisine, while culture and tradition spill unchecked at every turn. This is especially evident in the brightly painted walls that look like fine works of modern art.
The main attraction is Mattancherry Palace or the Dutch Palace, is a beautiful amalgamation of Kerala and colonial styles of architecture that built by the Portuguese in 1545 as a gift to Veera Kerala Verma, of Kochi dynasty. Since the palace saw many renovations under the rule of the Dutch, it came to be known as the Dutch Palace. Tourists can admire its long and spacious halls and lovely murals adorning the walls. The two-storeyed structure also houses some of the works of the great poet, Kalidasa. Tourists can also get a peek into the royal lifestyle through the life-size portraits of the rulers of Kochi, sheathed swords, axes, daggers and ceremonial spears ornamented with feathers, along with royal caps and coins issued by the rulers of Kochi. The palace is home to the presiding deity of the royal family, the 'PazhayannurBhagavathi' (the Goddess of Pazhayannur).
Mattancherry Palace is one of the best examples of Malayalam-style architecture mixed with colonial influences. Its interiors are beautifully adorned, with 17th and 18th-century murals depicting scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Besides, tourists can admire life-size portraits of all the kings of Kochi since 1864, sheathed swords, daggers and axes, together with ceremonial spears decorated with feathers, royal caps, coins issued by the kings of Kochi, silver sequinned gowns, royal umbrellas made of silk and brass, along with plans laid out for Kochi by the Dutch. Of note are the paintings in the king's bedchamber that depict the stories of Ramayana, the murals in the coronation hall that depict Goddess Lakshmi on the lotus, sleeping Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati with Ardhanariswara, the coronation of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna lifting the mountain Govardhan and other goddesses. The room opposite Coronation Hall has paintings of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Devi and an incomplete painting; and another room has murals of Kumarasambhava and works by renowned poet, Kalidasa.
Mattanchery Palace was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in.1998. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Mattanchery Palace was built around 1555 A.D. by the Portuguese. It is a two tiered quadrangular building consisting of long and spacious halls. The central open courtyard enshrines the tutelary diety of the royal family "Pazhayannur Bhagwati". The upper story consists of a coronation hall, bed chamber known as Ramayana room, dining hall, assembly hall and the staircase. There is also a chamber in between the first floor and the ground floor used as "harem" by the rulers. The wooden roof supported by laterite walls is covered with tiles. The first floor is formed by teak wood beams and rafters and planks. The ceiling of the first floor is unique with intricate carvings especially over the central coronation hall.” [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]
Places worth checking out near Kochi include Chennamangalam, an interesting old town that once contained a Jewish colony, a 16th century Portuguese seminary and a 13th century Syrian church, and a temple used by Kshatriya chieftains. The town is also a center of hand loom weaving and coir manufacturing. Pallipuram Fort, built in 1503 by the Portuguese, is one of the oldest existing European structure in India. Kanjiramattom Mosque was erected over the mortal remains of Sheik Parid and was where the Muslim saint, Bavra, prayed and attained eternal bliss. Vaikom (10 kilometers south of Kochi) is the home if the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple (See Temples Above). Kottakkal (100 kilometers north Kochi) is known for traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is the home of Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal.
Chottanikkara Bhagavathy temple is an important pilgrimage center. Ambalamuga contains a freshwater lake with many migratory birds. Tripunithura is the home of a hill palace used by a maharajah and a Vishnu temple. Charai Beach on Vypeen island is one of the nicest beaches on the Malabar Coast. Kochi near Vembanad Lake and Alappuzha, the center of houseboat cruising tourism. Guruvayar has a famous Krishna temple.
Aluva (10 kilometers northeast of Kochi) is a scenic town known for the annual Sivarathri celebrations, held in honour of Lord Shiva. These events are held in the Malayalam month of Kumbam, usually February/March, on the banks of the tranquil Periyar river. Special pujas, offerings and prayers are held during the festival that is organised at the Aluva Manappuram Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. During the day, rituals are performed at the temple by over 500 priests while a sea of devotees gather to pay their respects to the deity. Many of them fast throughout the day. Besides prayers, cultural programs and trade fairs are also organised. The festival is celebrated in remembrance of Lord Shiva, who drank a deadly poison to save the world.
Chottanikkara Temple (10 kilometers west of Kochi) is dedicated to Goddess Rajarajeswari, an avatar of Goddess Bhagwati. The goddess is believed to heal devotees of mental disorders and illnesses. She is draped with a crimson cloth in the afternoon, when she is revered as Goddess Lakshmi. In the evening, the deity is worshipped as Goddess Durga and draped in blue clothes. Devotees can also pay obeisance to the idols of Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Lord Dharma Sastha and Upa-Devas, kept in the premises. The architecture of the temple is noteworthy as it boasts a three-tiered gopuram or gateway and an elephant shed or Anakottil. An unmissable sight is a gold-plated high flagstaff that shines when the rays of the sun fall on it in the afternoon. The best time to visit the temple is during the Guruthi Pooja that is performed in the evenings. Tourists can also attend the annual Chottanikkara Makam Thozhal, a festival celebrated with great pomp and show.
Ambalapuzha (10 kilometers south of Allappuzha, 60 kilometers south of Kochi) is the home of much-revered Sree Krishna Temple. Featuring Kerala architecture style, the temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, is a fine example of the skill of the artisans of that time. Don't miss Pal Payasam, a delicious daily offering of sweet milk porridge. The temple is renowned for Pallipaana (a ritual dance for Goddess Bhadrakali), which is performed every 12 years by velans or sorcerers. While touring the temple, one can come across majestic paintings depicting the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Interestingly, the temple was the site where the first Ottanthullal, a legendary satirical folk art, was performed. The best time to visit the temple is when the Ambalapuzha Temple Festival is held. An annual event, it is organised on Moolam day of Mithunam month of the Malayalam era.
Historical and Cultural Places Near Kochi
Kalady (30 kilometers northeast of Kochi) is a pilgrim center known for traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It is the birthplace of Indian philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya, who was born in the 8th century. Kalady is home to two shrines, one dedicated to Dakshinamurthy and other to Goddess Sharda. Kalady is lined with several temples, the most important of which are Sri Krishna Temple, Manickamangalam Temple and Sri Adi Sankara Keerthi Mandapam. To soak in the spiritual fervour of the surroundings, devotees can visit the various ghats around the area that are drenched with peace and tranquility. Tourists can also visit the popular Crocodile Ghat, where it is said that a crocodile once caught young Shankaracharya. According to legend one day, the widowed mother of Shankaracharya fainted on her way to a bath in River Poorna. The little boy prayed to Lord Krishna for help and the lord blessed him and said that the river would flow where his feet left prints. Thus, the river changed its course and started flowing here, and the area came to be known as Kalady , meaning feet.
Chendamangalam (30 kilometers north of Kochi) is a quaint village famous for a 175-year-old synagogue that is one of the biggest in Kerala. Boasting a typical Kerala style architecture, it is noted for its majestic altar adorned with intricate artwork. As you look up, you can see the high roof, painted with bright chequered patterns. Moreover, the synagogue has a wooden balcony with finely carved railings and balusters. Another balcony is exclusively dedicated to women and boasts exquisite wooden craftsmanship. A spiral wooden staircase leads you to this balcony. Tourists can also visit Paliam Palace, the residence of Paliath Achans, the prime ministers of the rulers of the region around Kochi. Various relics and documents are on display here. Another attraction is the ruined Vypeenkotta Seminary that was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese.
Cheruthuruthi (120 kilometers north of Kochi) is a quaint riverside hamlet and home of the Kathakali Training Center. Located at the western extreme of Palakkad Gap, and thus enjoys a unique topography. The main attraction is Kerala Kalamandalam, sprawled over a 32 acre area amidst picturesque surroundings. This school is a prestigious institution for the training of classical dance forms like Kathak, Koodiyattam, Ottamthullal and Mohiniyattam. Tourists can get the ‘A Day with the Masters’, a cultural tourism package and visit the costume and Kalari gallery to learn more about the arts.
Another attraction is the Irunilamkode Temple, lying close by, which is dedicated to Lord Dakshinamurthy. A rock-cut temple, it hosts a rare idol of the deity that can be seen sitting on a pedestal, with one leg mounted over the other. All four of his hands hold traditional symbols and his head is crowned with silver headgear. There are idols of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Devi sculpted in the temple as well. According to legend a few villagers stumbled upon the temple by accident about 300 years ago. Now, it is protected by the Archaeological Department of Kerala government.
Kodungallur (29 kilometers north of Kochi by National Highway 66) is a historically significant town and a municipality on the banks of river Periyar on the Malabar Coast. Believed to be the place where the Apostle, St Thomas, landed in A.D. 52, it is noted for its historic forts, opulent temples and serene mosques.
The main attraction in Kodungalloor is the Cranganore Fort that was built by the Portuguese. The ruins of the fort still reflect the grandeur of the structure that once boasted 18-ft-thick walls. Another attraction is Kodungalloor Bhagavathi Temple, dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali. An ancient temple, it draws devotees from all over the region and sees huge crowds during festivals and rituals. Tourists can also pay their respects at the Chennamangalam Synagogue that has been constructed in traditional Kerala style. It is among the oldest synagogues of the Malabar Jews. Tourists can also visit the Cheraman Mosque that faces east unlike other mosques in the region that face west.
Another attraction nearby is Kottakavu Church that belongs to the Syrian community living in Kerala. It is believed to be one of the seven original churches established by the Apostle St Thomas. In 2006, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Kerala launched the Muziris Heritage Project to scientifically retrieve and preserve the historical heritage of the region, from North Paravur to Kodungalloor. Some of the other historical and religious sites in the area are: Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple, which is one of the oldest Shiva temples in South India (Lord Shiva is said to have lived here with his whole family); Edavilangu Sivakrishnapuram Temple where Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna are the presiding deities; Chirakkal Kovilakam, the palace of the royal family of Kodungalloor.
Nature and Animal Places Near Kochi
Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary (on the northern bank of River Periyar on the outskirts of Kochi) was the first bird sanctuary in Kerala. A tropical evergreen forest at the foothills of the Western Ghats, the bird sanctuary is home to over 300 species of birds including bronzed drongo, Sri Lankan frogmouth, bronzed drongo, racket-tailed drongo, shama, Malabar parakeet, Malabar grey hornbill, white-bellied blue flycatcher etc. The forest also has around nine species of reptiles and 28 types of mammals, living amidst beautiful plantations of mahogany, teak and rosewood. It was made popular by renowned ornithologist Dr Salim Ali, who called it the richest bird habitat in peninsular India.
Kumbalangi (just south of Kochi) is the first of its kind eco-friendly tourist village ringed by pristine backwaters. Lined with mangroves that cut the land from water, the village is an ideal site to see the popular Chinese fishing nets. Tourists can engage in activities like boat cruising and fishing. Tourists can also visit the artist's village of Kalagramam, where you can see mesmeric displays of handicrafts and fishing equipment. A popular activity to engage in is bait-fishing. Visitors can also book homestays in many houses and enjoy a real village life experience. Interestingly, plastic is banned in the village and there are no man-made structures here.
Athirapally Waterfalls (63 kilometers from Thrissur and 70 kilometers from Kochi) are the most famous falls in Kerala and near Vazhachal Waterfalls, another delightful sight. Athirappilly Waterfalls are multi-tiered and hidden amidst a thick forest of the Western Ghats. Birdwatchers find this place appealing as there are a variety of migratory and endemic birds here. If you are lucky, you can also spot a hornbill. Four endangered species of the hornbill are believed to reside here. Visitors can also engage river rafting and trekking.
Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary (near 90 kilometers north of Kochi) has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with about 50 types of orchids, teak, rosewood and many medicinal plants. Animals include tiger, leopard, sambar deer, spotted deer, barking deer, Asian elephant and gaur. Several species of birds, snakes and lizards can also be found here. Spread over an area of 125 square kilometers, the sanctuary was set up in 1985. The best time to visit is from October to March. Peechi used to be home of the world's only elephant driving school. Perspective mahouts entered a months-long course and learned to control elephants through foot movement and verbal cues. A sign outside the school read: "BEWARE! Elephant driving school nearby. No thoroughfare allowed." Tourists can also visit a dam, about 20 kilometers from Thrissur.
Thrissur (50 kilometers north of Kochi) is often referred to as the cultural capital of Kerala. It hosts its own film festival, the Thrissur International Film Festival, among many other cultural events. The area of Thrissur played an important part in fostering trade relations of Kerala with other parts of the world. Earlier, the city was called Trichur and it is said that it was founded by Lord Parasurama, the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Thrissur is also known for a form of body art that is practiced here. Known as Puli Kali or Kaduvakali, it involves painting the body and head to look a tiger and is mostly showcased during the festival of Onam. Another festival to look out for is Thrissur Pooram, when decorated elephants march through the city to the Vadakkunnathan Temple. A visit to the Indian coffee house that was established in 1958 is also worth the while as it is called the cultural hub of the city.
Thrissur is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in Kerala and is home to a famous temple, called the Guruvayur Temple. Dedicated to Lord Guruvayoorappan, a form of Lord Vishnu, the temple is also known as Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple. The presiding deity is in the traditionally orthodox form of Mahavishnu, with all the compliments - four arms each carrying sankh (conch), chakra(wheel), gadha (mace) and padmam (lotus). The temple has earned the sobriquet of 'Dwarka of the South' as this avatar of Lord Vishnu is said to be Lord Krishna, who was thus envisioned by his parents at the time of his birth in Dwarka. The architecture of the temple is particularly noteworthy and leaves one entranced with its grandeur. The sanctum sanctorum is designed in two layers with copper sheet roofing plated with gold. The Moolavigraha (main idol) is made of Pathalanjana Shila (a variation of granite that is harder than metal) and is considered extremely sacred. The old doors of the sanctum sanctorum are set with gold plated bars and embellished with gold bells. There are about 101 bells that are all made in silver and plated with gold.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airstrip is Kochi airport, which is well connected to all the major cities in the country. By Road: There are regular bus services to Thrissur from other major cities. By Train: Thrissur Railway Station is a major railhead of South India. It is well connected to other major cities of India.
North of Cochin
Kozhikode (150 kilometers north of Kochi) is the modern name for medieval Calicut. Calicut was where the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in 1498 with the first European mariners in Asia. The Malabar king was disappointed by the Portuguese gifts of trinkets and washbasins and Da Gama sunk a huge Calicut ship loaded with pilgrims returning from Mecca. When the Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived two year later there were clashes with Muslim traders so the Portuguese ended up establishing their capital in Kochi, a rival kingdom down the coast. Today gondola-like boats are lined up on the beach and some local inhabitants think that da Gama was an American businessman or an American businessman or an Indian king. Calicut gave us the word "calico" Calicut was and still is the pepper capital of the world. The once great port that shipped goods to Europe and the rest of the world was closed in 1989 as their piers were neglected and became unstable. [Source: Merle Severy, National Geographic, November 1992]
Kannur (300 kilometers north of Kochi) was an important port described by Marco Polo as a great emporium of the spice trade. St. Aneglo's Fort is massive triangular fort, built by the Portuguese, captured in 1660 by the Dutch who sold it to a local raja. It was captured by the British in 1790. Parassinikadavu (26 kilometers away) is where the "Theyyam" dance is performed every day at a temple near a snake park with three snake pits and two big glass houses for king cobras.
Bekal (100 kilometers north of Kozhikode, 50 kilometers south of Mangalore) is a secluded and charming destination with majestic 300-year-old Bekal Fort and serene beaches. Among the unique handicrafts found here are granite idols, coconut products and wood carvings. Bekal Fort is known for its unique keyhole-shaped construction. Built in 1650 by Shivappa Nayaka of Keladi, it has no palaces or mansions as it was never an administrative center but is still one of the largest and well preserved forts in Kerala. Perched at an elevation of 130 feet above sea level, the fort has an observation tower that has peepholes from where you can get amazing views. Other attractions near the fort include the Anjaneya Temple, which is noted for its masonry and two laterite Theyyam sculptures. Nearby is Bekal Beach, one of the finest white sand beaches in India. Kappil Beach is another fine beach about six kilometers away. At this beach-backwater spot are thick groves of casuarinas trees, lciff-top sunset views and long stretches of coconut palms,
Ananthapura Lake Temple (30 kilometers from Bekal) is strikingly beautiful 9th century temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu situated in the middle of a lake. Devotees need to cross a bridge to reach the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The temple is also noted for being home to a 150-year-old crocodile, who is called Babia/ Babiya, and is considered to be the guardian of the temple. Visitors to the temple make sure to get a glimpse of the crocodile.
Ullal (30 kilometers north of Bekal) is a quaint town near the border with Karnataka. The main attraction is the Somanatheshwara Temple, situated by the Arabian Sea. Constructed under the reign of Abbakka Devi, first Tuluva queen of Ullal, in the 16th century, it attracts visitors for its unique South Indian architecture and peaceful surroundings. Another attraction is the Sayyed Madani Dargah that houses the tomb of sufi saint Sayyed Madani, who had come to Ullal from Madina over 400 years ago and helped the poor attain spirituality. The dargah is visited by pilgrims in droves during the Urs festival, which is celebrated once every five years with great fervour.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020