Kochi formerly known as Cochin is a city in the Indian state of Kerala. The city is one of the principal seaports of the country and is located in the district of Ernakulam, about 220 km north of the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram. It has an estimated population of 600,000, with an extended metropolitan population of about 1.5 million, making it the largest urban agglomeration and the second largest city in Kerala after the capital.
Since 1102 AD, Kochi was the seat of the Kingdom of Cochin, a princely state which traces its lineage to the Kulasekhara empire. Heralded as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi was an important spice trading center on the Arabian Sea coast from the 14th century onwards. Ancient travellers and tradesmen referred to Kochi in their writings, variously alluding to it as Cocym, Cochym, Cochin, and Cochi. Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Kochi was the site of the first European colonial settlement in India. It remained the capital of Portuguese India until 1530, when Goa became the capital. The city was later occupied by the Dutch, the Mysore and the British. Kochi was the first princely state to willingly join the Indian Union, when India gained independence in 1947.
Kochi experienced decades of economic stagnation from independence until 2003, when it entered a period of economic growth, leading to a spurt in the city's development. A growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade, Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala, and one of the fastest growing second-tier metros in India. Like other large cities in the developing world, Kochi continues to struggle with urbanization problems such as traffic congestion and environmental degradation.
Successive waves of migration over the course of several millennia have made Kochi a cultural melting pot. Despite the risk of overdevelopment, the city retains its distinct colonial heritage and a blend of tradition and modernity.
Theories regarding the etymology of the name "Kochi" are disputed. One suggests that the city's modern name is derived from the Malayalam word koch azhi, meaning 'small lagoon'. Another version mentions the name as derivative of the Sanskrit word Go shree which means 'prosperous with cows'. Certain ancient texts refer to the city Balapuri (Sanskrit for 'small town'), which became Cochin in course of time. According to some accounts, traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Khubilai Khan gave Cochin the name of their homeland. Yet another theory is that Kochi is derived from the word Kaci meaning 'harbor'. Certain scholars claim that Cochin is derived from the term Cocha, which is a transfiguration of the Biblical term Cohen. Accounts by Italian explorers Nicolo Conti (15th century), and Fra Paoline in the 17th century say that it was called Kochchi, named after the river connecting the backwaters to the sea.
After the arrival of the Portuguese, and later the British, the name Cochin stuck as the official appellation. The city reverted to a closer anglicization of its original Malayalam name, Kochi, in 1996. However, it is still widely referred to as Cochin.
Kochi was the centre of Indian spice trade for many centuries, and was known to the Yavanas (Greeks) as well as Romans, Jews, Arabs, and Chinese since ancient times. Kochi rose to significance as a trading centre after the port at Kodungallur (Cranganore) was destroyed by massive flooding of the river Periyar in 1341. The earliest documented references to Kochi occur in books written by Chinese voyager Ma Huan during his visit to Kochi in the 15th century as part of Admiral Zheng He's treasure fleet. There are also references to Kochi in accounts written by Italian traveller Niccolò Da Conti, who visited Kochi in 1440.
Feast your eyes on the wonderful architecture in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. A visit to these places should figure prominently in your itinerary. It is an eclectic blend of the Arab, British, Portuguese and Dutch legacy. To get a taste of the Portuguese architecture, you can head towards the Santa Cruz Basilica. This five hundred year old church survived the Dutch invasion. These followers of John Calvin, the traders of Holland were probably, enamored by the beautiful stained glass embellishments.
The St. Francis Church, another specimen from the Portuguese era, boasts of having being the burial site of the famous Vasco da Gama. The ‘Doop Book’,that is a storehouse of records of married and baptized individuals, is a top draw.
The Chinese fishing nets, a remnant from the rule of the majestic Kublai Khan, is another major tourist attraction. After a day of wander lust, you can unwind at the Fort Kochi beach, which also houses a pretty lighthouse.
The Pardesi Synagogue, a relic of the Jews also claims huge footfalls. This glorious specimen of Jew architecture is four hundred years old and is adorned with etched brass pillars and floor art. There are a couple of copper discs that have the etchings of the benefits awarded by king Bhaskara Ravi Varman. It also showcases a 45 feet clock that boasts of Arabic, Latin, Malayalam and Hebrew.
If you want to soak in the feel of the Maharajadom, trudge along to the Mattancherry palace that is a treasure trove of royal memorabilia.
The Jew Street, the Dutch Cemetery and the Princess Street are some of other coveted tourist hot spots.
Ernakulam, situated at a stone’s throw distance, from Kochi, exudes generation next verve and enthusiasm with a plethora of theatres, dining joints and shopping havens. Broadway is a shopper’s paradise, fragrant with an old world charisma. Amble down the 75 feet Marine Drive or lean back to feast your eyes on the Ernakulam–Vypeen boat sail at a distance.
If you are interested to bolster your knowledge about the nomenclature of Ernakulam, a visit to the Shiva temple is a must. Rishinaga-kulam, the name of the temple’s pool of water gives Ernakulam its name. The legend has it that, a mystic gained freedom from the shackles of a curse. January is an ideal month to visit as the temple gears up to revel in the eight day celebrations. The Pakalpooram, a blend of panchavadyam, and pandimelan, is an unique experience. The new-year festivities of Onam sees Ernakulam all decked to host the Indira Gandhi Boat Race, that generates a lot of thrill and anticipation.
Take a stroll down the various islands that characterize Kochi. The lush Bolgatty island, Vypeen island and the Willingdon island are coveted tourist destinations. They are the ideal romantic getaways for the honeymooners.
The Kanjiramattom mosque, St. George’s Forane Church in Edapally, The Bhagavathy temple in Chottanikkara are some of other frequented attractions.
The history freaks can troop to The Museum of Kerala History in Edapally.
Kochi being an important port city is strategically located, well connected by aerial routes, railways and bus. Travelers who want to avail the aerial route can alight at Cochin International Airport at Nedumbessary. If rail journeys fascinate you then you can enquire at Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction. Kanyakumari and Netravati Expresses from Mumbai, Mangla Lakshadweep and Trivandrum Rajdhani from Delhi, Ernakulam express from Bangalore, Trivandrum Mail from Chennai and Howrah-Trivandrum Express from Kolkata are some of the major trains plying to Kochi. If you want to hit the road to reach Kochi, then you can either enquire at the KSRTC bus junction at Ernakulam or cross the bridges to Willingdon Island and avail NH 47A.
Sree Rajeswari Temple: 15 km from Kochi lies the Sree Rajeshwari
temple. Its specialty being that the Goddess is worshipped as Sarawati in the
morning, Bhadrakali at noon and Durga in the evening. Devotees throng this
temple for a 9 day annual festival.
Bhagawathy Temple, Puthiyakavu: Located 11 km from Ernakulam,
this temple is famous for a seven-day annual festival.
St. Thomas Shrine, Malalayattur: 52 km from Ernakulam, this church
is believed to be one of the seven churches built by St. Thomas, apostle of
Adi Sankara Janma Bhoomi, Kalady: This is the birthplace of
the great philosopher-saint Adi Sankara.
Kanjiramattam Mosque: 25 km from Ernakulam, this mosque
houses the mortal remains of the revered Muslim saint Sheik Faridudeen.
The Portuguese built Basilica’s 500th anniversary was very recently. With gracious and admiring interiors, Gothic façade with soaring and dazzling spires the Basilica is a charming prayer home. the interiors are decorated with colorful Indo-Romano style of decoration.The Dutch catch of Kochi in 1663 resulted in booming of warehouses in places of worships. The irresistible beauty garnered by stained glass and the imposing Caryatids over the confessional boxes might have persuaded the Dutch to spare it. Founded soon after the arrival of the first Portuguese visitors to India.
Located on Rampart Street
Open: 9-1 and 3-5 with Masses at 7 am and 6 pm. Mass on Saturday at 6pm is in English
Princess Street in Fort Cochin
Flower-pot laden windowsills, bronze stucco walls and peeling pastel are the peculiarities of colonial style buildings. See them in Princess Street. Princess Street, a segment of Fort Kochi, revels in moody pastimes.
In the morning there is a lovely smell of fresh bread and dont forget to load on Loafer Corner where you can see and be seen.
St Francis Church in Fort Cochin
Built in timber by Portuguese in 1503, it was overlaid with stone masonry later. Vasco da Gama was cremated here in 1524. His remains were later removed to Lisbon. His tomb, however, still exists. The church was built on the land gifted by the local Raja, and the title deeds written on pam leaf are still kept inside. It became an Anglican church with the advent of the British in 1795 and one hangover from British days is the continued use of manually operated punkahs, the large swinging cloth fans on frames suspended above the congregation.
The grave stones were tossed into the walls of the church in 1886. The ‘Doop Book’, that is, old baptism and the marriage register, from 1751 to 1804, kept in the vestry, are the delights of history seekers. A photo copy of the Doop Book is kept outside the vestry to enable interested visitors to glance through.
Location: Church Road
Open: 6am - 7pm
Mass at 7.15 am
Dutch Cemetary in Fort Cochin
Old cemetary for the Dutch settlers and colonists from the 17th to 18th century. Interesting and quiet site for exploring the Fort Cochin history.
Location: short walk from the lighthouse
The last 10 days of December white rules Kochi. All avenues, establishments and houses in Kochi wear white paper buntings. All available space in the streets host impromptu competitions and multi-faceted celebrations. All these are conducted with self-imposed discipline. No trace of unruliness.
Kalam Vara (floor drawing), tug-of-war, bicycle races, swimming in sea, beach volleyball are some of the items packed in the competition basket. The festivities and revelries continue till midnight of December 31st. Fireworks mark the finale.
All the days of Carnival large number of people gather to enjoy the events.
Jew Street in Fort Cochin Kerala
Once one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, but now many of the inhabitants have moved to Israel and the once bustling jewish community has now largely shut up shop and the street is quiet.
The nearby Market Road still bustles with spice market and tourist curio shops dominated by Kashmiri shopkeepers selling mostly wood carvings, oil lamps, spice box, snake boats and some tempting coffee table books. In the heart of Jew Town stands the Kochi International Pepper Exchange, which has switched to online trading recently.
Pardesi Synagogue at Mattanchery
At one end of Jew Street is Jewish Cemetery Road with its Malayalam and Hebrew tombstones. A short walk brings you to Pardesi Synagogue. Once there were 7 synagogues in Fort Cochin in this street, only Pardesi is still open
The synagogue is 400 years old and its interior holds curved brass columns, an intricately carved teak ark, Belgian crystal chandeliers and Torah crowns of solid gold set with gems.
The floor has hand-painted porcelain tiles from Canton, each tile different, depicting a love affair between a mandarin's daughter and a commoner.The 19th century, oil burning glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling were imported from Belgium.
An exclusive gallery for females supported by gilt columns is seen above the main entrance. An elaboirately carved Ark that houses four scrolls of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament)encased in silver and gold on which sit gold crowns presented by the maharajas of Travancore and Kochi.
The most interesting object are the two copper plates dating back to 4th century with details of privileges granted to the Jewish community during the reign of Bhaskara Ravi Varman in the 10th century.
The 4 dials of the 45 ft clock tower have numerals in Hebrew, Latin, Malayalam and Arabic.
Entry Fee: Rs 2
Open: 10-noon, 3-5pm, closed on Fridays, saturdays and Jewish Holidays