Wow, so green even in summers ! I exclaimed as I peeped from the window of the aircraft. A short 2 hour ride from Mumbai and we were at Kochi airport, in the state of Kerala. Kochi indeed is amongst one of the top places to see in Kerala. Even though Trivandrum is the capital city, Kochi is the cultural capital with maximum flight connections and serves as the entry and exit city for most Kerala itineraries. Monsoons were desperately awaited throughout the country and coming from the dry Mumbai in early June, Kerala was surely a treat for the eyes. As we collected our baggage and came out of the airport, we admired the traditional architecture of the airport that made us feel welcome in God’s own country – Kerala..
Our chauffeur was waiting to drive us to our hotel. We crossed hotel Le Meridien that was approx. 6 kms. before our hotel on the same straight road. Le Merdien was our first choice but unfortunately it was sold out as we made a sudden trip. After a 45 mins. drive from the airport, we reached our hotel Holiday Inn located at Vennala. It is a fairly big property with over 200 rooms. Reception staff was cordial and ensured a smooth check-in. Rooms were clean and spacious. We stayed on the eighth floor which gave a good unobstructed view of the city. Flooring was tiled majorly and only half carpeted so it was fine. I mostly prefer non-carpeted rooms to avoid any carpet stench, especially in monsoons. Many of my guests prefer non-carpeted rooms too but some like a carpeted flooring.
We chose to dine at our hotel itself. We couldn’t wait to try out the South Indian delicacies. We opted for the buffet dinner at their ‘Masala’ restaurant, which offered a mix of North Indian and South Indian food. We tried the fried chicken made in South Indian spices but liked their north Indian dish better. My craving for fried fish still remained and I saved it to savor the next day. The hotel has a 24 hour coffee shop named ‘Deli KC’ & an Italian specialty restaurant called ‘Roma’, with live Pizzeria. They also have a sports bar – ‘Stadia’. Their health club offers facilities of Jacuzzi, Steam, Sauna and a nice swimming pool. Overall it is a good hotel suitable for travelers who do not like staying in the crowded market place areas. Spending 3 days at the hotel, I was confident that our guests put up here would be taken care of well enough. I personally believe that if I cannot stay at a hotel or find it inconvenient, I can never use it for my guests either.
Next morning we set out for a 18 kms. drive to the Fort Kochi area. It took us half an hour in the traffic conditions on a weekday. Unlike many other places to see in Kerala, Kochi is a more populated city and not as scenic as Munnar or Periyar or Alleppey and Kumarakom. However, it does have its own beautiful monuments and a special charm. We passed the crossroads that leads to Wellington island where 2 famous hotels are located – Vivanta by Taj Malabar and Trident. As we came towards the Fort area, we saw the Santacruz Cathedral Basilica. With a Portuguese style construction, the interiors are mostly in a Gothic style. This is one of the 8 famous basilicas in India. At the entrance, are four pillars in blue and off white connected by carved metallic frames. Interiors of the basilica are adorned with paintings on the walls and ceiling, which narrates various stories from the life of Jesus. The famous painting of ‘The Last Supper’ based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting is beautiful along with several frescoes and murals on the columns. The painted glass windows and fans hanging from the high ceilings by long rods reminded me of my ancestral house in Varanasi. It is amazing to see some common aspects in architecture across the country, right from the Northern parts of India to the eastern, western and southern states. At a time when means of commuting and communication were inadequate, it is interesting to note the widespread influence of Portuguese designs and architecture.
Our next stop was the Dutch Palace also known as Mattencherry Palace, built in traditional Kerala style. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the exteriors after visiting grand palaces in Northern India. As compared to the vast palatial architectures in Rajasthan, this would be somewhat like a bungalow or a ‘Haveli’. Apparently this was built to be gifted by the Portuguese to the king of Kochi in 1555. The story goes that the Portuguese did this to pacify the King as they had plundered a nearby Hindu temple. Hence, the interiors of the temple are full of murals depicting mythological characters from Hinduism. The wall paintings are detailed and intense. After almost a 100 years of its construction, renovations were carried out by the Dutch and thereafter it became famous as the Dutch Palace. I liked the ceiling of the dining hall area in particular, which is decorated with wooden and brass art. There are also pictures from the old Royal families and it is quite interesting to see the lifestyle of the emperors.
As we took the back exit of the Dutch Palace, we walked out into a street market full of small touristic shops selling everything from artifacts to stone jewellery to silk and Kashmiri work apparels. Hailing from Varanasi, I was brought up among silks and brocades and hence it took me a second to recognize the quality of the silk scarves. Shops have mixed quality of stuff from the economical ones to higher quality. Not being a good bargainer, I just picked up a few scarves for gifts. After a short walk in the market, we arrived at the Jewish Synagogue. It is a place for prayers for the Jews. We removed our footwear outside before entering. It is the only functional synagogue out of seven in Kochi. We were delighted to see some beautiful antique objects and artifacts. The flooring is made of blue painted tiles that were brought from China in the 18th century. The glass chandeliers were imported from Belgium in the 19th century. There are some beautiful glass lamps and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling by long chains. In the centre of the hall, a wooden raised platform is placed. It is basically a pulpit with brass railings and painted design. There was also a teak ark that has the four scrolls of Torah(the first five books of Old Testament). Prayer services are conducted here when the quorum of a minimum 10 male Jew members is available. The synagogue is closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
After a short visit to the synagogue, we proceeded to explore the current conditions of a few old hotels and a couple of new ones in Fort Kochi area. These are ancient style properties offering an experience of the bygone era. We did a silent inspection of the properties and moved ahead to see the much awaited Chinese fishing nets. These are fixed fishing mechanism installed at the shores for catching fish. It is widely used in Southern China and are different from Indian fishing equipments, hence the name Chinese Fishing Nets. These are majorly found in cities of Kochi, Alleppey and Kollam in the state of Kerala. Stories say that these were introduced in Kochi by a Chinese explorer. At the Fort Kochi area, there are several such nets and fishermen keep inviting the tourists to see the fish catching process and they make it more exciting by offering the fresh catch to be cooked and served to the tourists at nearby food stalls. As much as we were craving for that fresh fried fish, we were rather put off by the hygiene condition all around. If only the place could be kept more clean, I am sure many tourists would be tempted to eat there. However, all said, Kochi would still be on my not-to-miss list of places to see in Kerala.
Holding our craving, we asked our chauffeur to take us to a restaurant nearby which has still not been tried by us. He guided us to a small restaurant at the ground floor of a 3 star hotel. It was a weekday afternoon and very few people were there. We were a bit tired and hungry with our craving for fried fish reaching the peak. Hence, we decided not to contemplate on the ambience and just order the food, trusting our chauffeur’s recommendation. We ordered a platter of 2 different varieties of fish and prawns. Service was quick and there arrived our platter with the fried fish nicely wrapped in a banana leaf, fish curry, prawns and rice. And we were delighted! It sure was worth the try and now our Kochi exploration seemed complete with delectable local cuisine.
After a sumptuous lunch to our heart’s content, we took a ferry ride with our car to shorten our road travel by half an hour.
Please feel free to write to me for any questions or any information needed about Kochi or other places to see in Kerala and I will be happy to help…
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