Kochi was earlier known as ‘Cochin’ and even today many people use the name ‘Cochin’ instead of ‘Kochi’. It has earned its reputation as one of the most important cities in the state of Kerala, so much so that it is regarded as the commercial capital of Kerala, even though the capital city is Trivandrum. Kochi’s significance on one hand is primarily because of the presence of a major port, container trans-shipment terminal, harbor terminal and an international air terminal, while on the other it is famous for its Portuguese architecture, colonial buildings, beautiful views of Arabian sea and the Chinese fishing nets.
It wouldn’t be wrong to term Kochi as perhaps the second most important city on the west coast of India, after Mumbai.Kerala’s only stock exchange i.e. the Cochin Stock Exchange is in Kochi. Kochi ranks on top in terms of the total number of international and domestic tourist arrivals in Kerala and has been awarded the sixth best tourist destination in India in a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company on behalf of the Outlook Traveler magazine. Also referred to as the ‘Queen of Arabian Sea’, Kochi has been an important spice trading centre on the Arabian Sea coast.
It was the first of the European colonies in India and was occupied by the Portuguese until 1530, when Goa was chosen by them. Kochi was later occupied by the Dutch and the British and became a princely state. Due to several migrations that occurred over the course of several centuries, the population of the city is a mix of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds from all over India. Thus, it has a diverse and multicultural community consisting of Malayalis, Konkanis, Gujaratis, Bengalis, Marathis, Punjabis, Tamilians, Biharis and Jews.
Apart from being the commercial and cultural capital, Kochi is also a major shopping destination in Kerala offering a wide variety of items right from spices to textiles to handicrafts etc. The main market areas are Jew Town area and Broadway. For buying spices, clothes and other local items, Broadway in Ernakulam is a good option. Handicraft items are available at the government emporium called Kairali, on the MG Road.
What to See
The Chinese Fishing Nets have gained popularity as one of the major tourist attractions of not only Kochi but in the entire state of Kerala. It is a preserved ancient technique of fishing from the 14th century. While the Fort Kochi area may not be as pleasant a sight on the shores of the sea as it would resemble more of a fish market area, the attraction lies mainly in the interesting mechanism of the instrument and how the locals still have put it in use after centuries. The best place to watch the nets being lowered and pulled out of the sea is the Vasco Da Gama Square. The fishing nets are erected on teak wood and bamboo poles that function primarily on the principle of balance.
The Jewish Synagogue at Kochi has proclaimed its significance being the oldest existing Synagogue among all the commonwealth countries. The Synagogue is primarily the Jewish place of worship but it is also used to study or even as a community centre. The history of the Jewish Synagogue of Kochi can be traced to nearly 2000 years ago. The synagogue has rolls of Old Testament, records of the privileges bestowed upon the Kings of Kochi, ancient relics and old copper plates that have souvenirs. These souvenirs include beautifully carved silver and golden crowns that were gifted to the Jews. Though it was built in 1568, it had to be reconstructed after a Portuguese bombardment in the war in 1962.
Unlike the grand palaces of Northern India, the humble Dutch Palace in the Fort Kochi area has a very distinct style of architecture. Also known as the ‘Mattancherry Palace’, it was built by the Portuguese and presented to the then Rajah of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma. Thereafter the kings of Kerala made several renovations in the palace, giving it a Hindu texture and gradually it became a good testimony of the Hindu Temple Art. The Palace is built around a central courtyard and this traditional style of architecture in Kerala is known as 'Nalukettus'.However, the rounded doors and windows and the masonry walls gives it a European look.
The St. Francis Church of Kochi has enormous historical significance. It is the first European church that was built in India. It is also believed that the great Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama breathed his last here on his third visit to India and his remains were kept in this church for a few years before being shifted to Portugal. After 14 years of his death, the remains were taken away to Lisbon inPortugal. In the year 1663, the Dutch captured Kochi and converted St. Francis Church into a protestant church from a Catholic Church, which was under their rule till 1795. In 1804, the Dutch voluntarily handed over the church to the Anglican Communion of the British. They demolished all the churches except this which they and converted into a government church. Today, the St. Francis Church is a part of the Protestant Church of South India.
Best Time to visit
The best time to visit Kochi is during the winters between December and February. Being a coastal region, it remains quite warm during other months of the year. However, one may also explore this town during monsoons towards the end of August and early September once rains start receding.