"Cochin: A Fusion of Cultures" Top 5 Page for this destination Kochi by suvanki

Kochi Travel Guide: 461 reviews and 1,120 photos

A Masala of cultures, religion and architecture!

Cochin (or Kochi) is the main city in Central Kerala. Its location on the coast of the Arabian Sea, has been a major factor in the development of a city that has become a fusion of cultures, religions, architectural styles and cuisine.

Early in its history, The area around Cochin was under the control of 3 dynasties (The Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras) which seperately invaded the area, though they also introduced literature, dance and music. The Chera were renowned for their fighting, whether in acquiring land or in vanquishing piracy on the sea.

Trade also gained importance during this era, spices, gems, timber and ivory were among the goods exported to Southern Europe and the Middle East. Arab and Jewish spice traders, possibly fleeing religious persecution had settled in this area around the 1st century.

In the 1340's, a heavy storm, with torrential rainfall caused the banks of the Periyar river to burst, and the water flooded down to the Arabian Sea, forming a protected harbour. Around this time, the nearby ancient port of Cranganore was disabled by heavy deposits of silt, so Cochin became the main destination of seafarers from around the globe.

In the early 1500s Portuguese seafarers arrived in Cochin: Vasco Da Gama (1502) and Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who were looking to secure sea trade routes for Portugal. Both left their mark in attempting to convert the citizens to Catholicism. (Causing conflict with the Syrian Christians) 1502 saw the construction of St Francis Church, by Franciscian friars from Cabrels expedition. Other Portuguese building projects were Pallipuram Fort (1503) and Mattancherry Palace (1555)

Despite these new developments and bringing new crops and farming methods to Kerala, their influence, here and at home was waneing
Dutch interest in Kerala was centred around the pepper and cardamom market, and after a few skirmishes with the Portuguese, displaced them in 1663. Again, increased trade, new farming methods and expansion in the coconut industry occured.

As well as renovation of many Portuguese buildings, including Mattancherry Palace which is also known as The Dutch Palace.
The late 18th century saw Kerala under attack by the Muslim Sultan of Mysore, Hyder Ali , later suceeded by his son Tipu Sultan.The Dutch, keen to protect their businesses, sided with Mysore.

In Cochin, rulers had left much to be desired, until in 1769, Dharma Raja took control. A generous and tolerant ruler,he transformed the old feudal system into a fairer central administrative organisation. Tipu Sultan had also implemented changes in the feudal and hindu caste systems. This had resulted in conflict between Hindu and Muslim Keralans. British settlers had been keen to overthrow the sultan, and had the support of local rulers. Dharma Raja had considered an alliance with Tipu Sultan to outdo the British, but eventually formed a settlement with The English East India Company, allowing him to continue cultural interest until his death. Tipu Sultan relinquished to the British in 1792, although they didn't take full control until 1800. Legal, economic and transport improvements were part of the British legacy, although mismanagement led to near bancruptcy for Cochin, rescued by Colonel Munro in 1812.
Following Independence, the Travancore-Cochin state was founded, then in 1956 merged with Malabar to become Kerala.

Cochin, The Old and New.

Today, Cochin remains a busy port and city.

It is home to a population of over 602,000 people, and attracts increasing numbers of visitors each year, keen to visit its many historical sights, each a legacy to the past inhabitants, who left their mark not just in the architecture, but in establishing Cochins trade, literacy and education, transport systems and the Arts.

Cochin is set on a peninsula and a cluster of islands, linked by ferries, and/or bridges.

Mainland Ernakulam is the commercial area, with shops and offices of airline companies etc. The main railway stations and bus stand are here. The international and domestic Nedumbassery airport is about 30km NE of Cochin.

Accomodation is available for all budgets. Although, prior booking may be necessary from 24 December to 3rd January, as this is the holiday period and Tourism week.

Linked by the Venduruthy bridge is Willingdon Island, constructed in the 1920s and 30's by a Mr Bristow, from waste material after deepening the surrounding harbour. It is named after Viceroy, Lord Willingdon.
A couple of high range hotels, and ferry stations may be the only reasons for visitors to this area.

Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, are found on the peninsular that is sandwiched between the harbour and the Arabian sea, and contain most of the older buildings and sights of interest. Influences from Portuguese, Dutch, English, Chinese and Jewish settlers can be seen here.

Across the harbour are the islands of Vypeen (Pallipuram Fort, a lighthouse and beaches are worth visiting) Gundu(reached by private boat, and owned by the Taj group of hotels.) Vallarpadam and Bolghatty (where the unique Bolgatty Palace Hotel offers luxury accom. A former Dutch Palace, even if you don't stay here, you can catch a ferry to admire the surroundings and have a drink or meal)

Spice Route Day 4/5 Cochin

Arriving in Cochin after our 130km journey from Munnar, was a bit of a culture shock- the heat / humidity and busy city life, although viewed from our minibus, was something we hadn't experienced since passing through Trivandrum at the start of our tour!

Crossing the Venduruthy Bridge from Ernakulam to Willingdan Island, we could see huge tankers and boats, from all corners of the world, a reminder that Cochin still remains an important trading port, centuries after its first traders arrived.

We checked into the pleasant Casino hotel. Our afternoon was free, so 2 of our party set off to check out the places they'd visited previously, and 3 of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch, and relaxed by the pool.

That evening we attended a Kathakali performance, at an Arts Centre in Ernakulam.(Something I'd been looking forward to before I'd even booked my holiday)
We arrived in plenty of time to get good seats and witness the make up/dressing , prior to the main performance.
Unlike in Kovalam , (where I'd already seen Kathakali) this performance had live musicians and 4 performers.

After our evening meal, we retired to our rooms for an early night, in preparation for our final days sightseeing. I was really looking forward to seeing the Chinese Fishing Nets and Jew Town.

During the early hours,however, I woke feeling very unwell, (I was the last of our party to succumb to a bug!) so I probably didn't enjoy Cochin as much as I should have done. This is reflected in the fact that I didn't take so many photos!

We set off to catch a ferry to Fort Cochin, under an overcast sky, which was probably a mixed blessing the way I felt! ( Although my photos could have done with a bluer sky!)

As we set sail, a dolphin emerged at the side of our boat for a split second. (For months I'd been dreaming of floating into Fort Cochin, under blue skies accompanied by an escort of dolphins!- ah well! )

We disembarked at Fort Cochin and after a short walk arrived at the Chinese Fishing nets. We spent quite a while admiring the way that these nets operated, as they had done for centuries, before heading to the fish market, accompanied by assorted vendors of postcards, silk prints, trinkets etc.

I was dreading the fish market, in case its odours made me feel worse, but luckily due to the weather and it being outdoors I survived!

Our next port of call was to St Francis church, reputed to be the oldest European church in India.

As it was Sunday, the church was open, and a service was in progress. I was quite moved to see and hear the sari clad women singing hymns, which sounded familiar, although none of us could name them.

Near the church, we encountered a snake charmer, who entertained us for a while with 2 cobras.

Returning to our boat, we headed for Mattancherry, and disembarked for the short walk through Jew Town, and its antique shops, before arriving at the Jewish Synagogue. We took off our shoes and joined the mass of tourists walking on the willow patterned floor tiles, admiring the interior.

Our final destination was Mattancherry Palace aka The Dutch Palace. Squeezing through the gate, we entered the palace, to see examples of costumes of the Rajas , and murals depicting scenes from ancient legends featuring Shiva and Vishnu amongst other mythological icons.

Some are considered to be quite controversial as they represent the gods in a variety of sexual acts!

We then boarded our mini bus for the journey to Kovalam, and the end of our tour.

A time I'll never forget. Hopefully one day I'll return to Cochin, and will have chance to explore more of this fascinating city, hopefully feeling a lot better!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:History, Architecture, Culture, Atmosphere.
  • Cons:Didn't spend long enough here to find any!
  • In a nutshell:A Fascinating place, A melting pot of cultures!
  • Last visit to Kochi: Jan 2004
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (15)

Comments (8)

  • wise23girl's Profile Photo
    Mar 30, 2012 at 2:08 AM

    Sorry that you got a 'bug' in Cochin...we did not see any where as much as you did as we had a tour from our ship QM2...in a tuk yuk

  • windcity's Profile Photo
    Sep 29, 2009 at 5:31 PM

    Thanks for the memory, We got married here in 1986...in those days there were just 36 jews left , and they gave us something we will never forget...Thanks Su

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Feb 26, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    Cochin- what a wonderfully interesting history it has. Next visit to India will definitely go there. (great tips and info- thanks). I would love to see that old Synagogue.

  • nora_south_africa's Profile Photo
    Apr 20, 2008 at 5:58 AM

    would still like to visit Kochi, thanx for the tips

  • Luchonda's Profile Photo
    May 9, 2006 at 4:34 PM

    Fascinating report. hx for sharing

  • stevezero's Profile Photo
    Apr 15, 2005 at 2:42 PM

    Ah, Kochi = Cohin, a place I always intended to visit, but never quite made it. Glad you enjoyed it, SteveBx

  • kyoub's Profile Photo
    Jul 15, 2004 at 2:09 PM

    Interesting tips on Kochi. I hope to visit there soon.

  • Jun 27, 2004 at 6:38 AM

    Great tip about the queen of Arabian see expected...i will come back later.


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