Things to Do in Kochi
Mattancherry Palace was built as a gesture of goodwill by the Portuguese in 1555, and presented to the Raja of Kochi to ensure ongoing trading privileges. Later alterations were made by the Dutch in 1663, giving the building its alternative name, the Dutch Palace. A visit to the two-storied whitewashed palace takes you into the royal bedchamber with its traditional floor of burnished coconut shells that gleams like black marble. Try not to blush when you take in the bedroom’s unique mythological murals from the Ramayana, with their erotic portrayals of Hindu deities at play. Other don’t miss highlights of Mattancherry Palace include more lovely murals upstairs, the regal Coronation and Dining halls with their decorated ceilings, various portraits of rajas and Hindu deities, and the central courtyard with its private royal temple. The laneways surrounding the Dutch Palace wind south to Jew Town, lined with fascinating curio shops and spice stores.
Fort Cochin’s Chinese Fishing Nets have been a beach installation for centuries, well before the coming of the Portuguese colonizers. It’s thought that the nets were introduced to this coastal area by the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He, way back in the early 15th century.
The nets are permanent horizontal structures, lowered and raised by a network of cantilevered ropes, bamboo poles, and balancing weights and pulleys. Teams of up to six fishermen operate the nets, but the catch is usually quite modest. For the best views, come at dusk with your camera to capture that quintessential shot of Kerala’s fishing nets and calm seas backlit by the setting sun. If you’re feeling hungry, you can buy freshly netted fish and crabs, and have them cooked up for your dinner at a roadside stall.
One of the world’s oldest active synagogues, and the oldest in the Commonwealth, can be found in the center of the port’s spice district, Jew Town. The district is a particularly historic reminder of Fort Cochin’s multicultural heritage. The synagogue sits at the center of the district once inhabited by Fort Cochin’s prosperous spice trading community of Malabari Jews, who traveled here from Holland and Spain. Today, apart from the synagogue and faded street signs, reminders of the district’s once-thriving Jewish community are few. There were once seven synagogues in this quarter of Old Cochin, but Paradesi Synagogue (also called Pardesi) is the sole survivor. It sometimes also known as the Mattancherry Synagogue, as it shares a temple wall with the neighboring Mattancherry Palace. The word ‘paradesi’ is an Indian term for foreigner.
The languid Kerala Backwaters typify the relaxing pace of this laid-back part of the world. The backwaters meandering throughout Kerala link a network of canals, lagoons, lakes and rivers, watering rice paddies and dotted with an enviable armada of live-aboard houseboats. Whether you set sail for an hour or a week, you’ll take in palm-fringed lakes, boat-filled canals loaded with coconuts and cashews, and backwater villages washed by the waters that provide villagers with their main form of transport. The heady mix of fresh and salt water provides a haven for a varied array of wildlife, from frogs and water birds to otters and turtles. Navigating the backwaters in a traditional houseboat is the ideal way to experience life in Kerala, complete with onboard chef, crew and entertainment. The boats are modern-day versions of the traditional kettuvalam haulage vessels, crafted from woven coconut-fiber coir without the use of a single nail.
The Dutch Cemetery in Kochi is believed to be the oldest in the country, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. It houses the tombs of Dutch soldiers and traders who left their homeland in order to expand their colonial empires – and as a result changed the entire course of history in India.
The cemetery is distinctly Dutch in its architecture and is surrounded by concrete walls. The year 1724 is engraved on a pillar towering over the cemetery’s entrance. Many of the tombs are made of granite and the epitaphs on each show the authentic records of those of both Dutch and British origin etched out in old Dutch script. According to T W Venn, who published a book on the subject, the last person laid to rest in the Dutch Cemetery in Kochi was Captain Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913.
The Indo-Portuguese Museum was set up by the late Bishop of Kochi to preserve and showcase the significant influence of the Portuguese Catholic community in Fort Kochi and its surrounding areas. It depicts the art, architecture, and culture of this community and is a popular attraction for visitors to Kochi. The museum is divided into five main sections, each relating to the particular type of artefacts on display. These sections are: Altar, Treasure, Procession, Civil Life and Cathedral. It’s home to some well-known collections of artistic and architectural merit, all of which bear the mark of Portuguese influence. Some of the most famous and interesting pieces include part of a teak-wood church altar from the 16th century, a 19th-century chasuble, a processional cross made from silver and wood, and the notable Coat of Arms of the Franciscans.
Surrounded by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, Mattancherry is an old port area of Kochi, not far from Ernakulam Town. The area was once the main trade port for spices such as pepper and turmeric, as well as tea. It was a time when many different nationalities and religious communities were welcomed to Mattancherry to trade and make it their home. Slowly the traders moved on to Ernakulam, but Mattancherry remains a bustling and cosmopolitan community that welcomes people from all walks of life.
Churches, mosques, and a synagogue happily coexist in Mattancherry, alongside buildings of the colonial era – another nod to the area’s fascinating past. Mattancherry Palace is one of the top attractions here. It was presented by the Portuguese as a gift to the Raja of Kochi in the mid-1500s as a gesture of goodwill (or more likely as a bribe to secure trading privileges). The Dutch then renovated it in the 1600s, hence its alternative name – the Dutch Palace.
The Kerala Folklore Museum opened to the public in 2009 as a space to showcase the cultural and artistic heritage of the southern Indian state. The 4,000-item collection spans three floors, each exhibiting a different architectural style, Malabar, Kochi and Travancore. The various items on display throughout center on art and dance and include masks, costumes, musical instruments, jewelry, sculptures, Stone Age artifacts and ancient astrological manuscripts. In the evenings, a theater on the top floor hosts various cultural performances ranging from traditional dance to Kerala-style martial arts.
More Things to Do in Kochi
The Hill Palace Museum of Tripunithura, a 49-building complex where the Maharaja of Kochi once lived, is today the largest archaeological museum in Kerala. The palace was built in 1865 on 52 acres (21 hectares) of landscaped grounds. In 1980 the Kochi royal family handed over the estate to the Kerala government, and in 1986 it opened as a museum.
The museum’s ethno-archaeological collection includes murals, sculptures, oil paintings, coins, manuscripts, furniture and other items that once belonged to the local royal family. Particularly notable is the collection of some 200 pieces of pottery from Japan and China. The surrounding gardens, recognizable from many Malayalam films, include a deer park and horse riding facilities.
The historic district of Fort Cochin (also known as Fort Kochi) is a relaxing blend of Portuguese architecture, rural English ambiance and Dutch heritage in a tropical coastal location. Visitors come here for laidback harbor promenade strolls and island-hopping boat rides through the Kochi Backwaters. Atmospheric laneways wind inland from the boat jetties to the town’s historic European buildings, parade ground and lively spice markets.
Kochi’s mixed heritage is most evident in photogenic Fort Cochin, which traces its history back to 1341 when it was established as a port. The royal family moved here in 1405, and the spice trading Portuguese, Dutch and British arrived from the 1500s onward. A stroll around the town reveals the Portuguese wooden church of St Francis, old Dutch houses, English colonial shop fronts, the 16th-century synagogue, several mosques, and the Chinese-style fishing nets lining the harbor.
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