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Kochi, or Cochin, is certainly the most captivating of the not-quite-islands around the large Keralan coastal conurbation, and district, of Ernakulam.

While Ernakulum proper is largely residential with lots of traffic, Kochi and its Fort Kochi and Mattancherry neighbourhoods are more laidback. As a tourist, this is where you are likely to spend your time.

Murals-on-Fort-Kochi-walls-kochi

‘Boho-local’ is the expression I have in mind for Fort Kochi and it pretty much defines my experience here, tugging one simultaneously in two directions. At the risk of sounding clichéd, ‘Boho’ comes from the lazy, easy paced, harem-pant dotted landscape of the town, and ‘local’ comes from the ardent tenacity with which Fort Kochi sticks to its past and present, be it the well-preserved colonial history or in presenting the local dance forms with enthusiasm.

Stay here for a couple of days and you can get plenty done, just equip yourself with comfortable walking shoes and a map, move at your own pace – however slow that may be, it’s fine – and check out this list of ways to really optimise your time in Kerala’s most visited urban location.

 

Tuk-tuk tour

In Fort Kochi, a handful of tuk-tuk, (auto-rickshaw) drivers will take you for a speedy 2 to 3-hour sightseeing tour, the driver doubling up as a guide. A free water bottle and newspaper are the extra perks as you rumble down the streets and pass all the major attractions, a good opportunity to note those to which you may want to return and visit for longer. Phone: 09995205828 to organise a tour.

tuk-tuk-tour-kochi

Walking trail and the main sights

If not the above, then your own two feet should be good enough for a long-ish walk around and about near the central square where you can peek in at the key monuments. If you start early there is a lot one can do in just half a day.

The following places of interest can be reached via streets radiating off the main square, but don’t try to do these all in half a day. Instead, schedule a full day and cross them all off your list:

Indo-Portuguese Museum, Chinese Fishing Nets, St. Francis Church (Vasco Church), Dutch Cemetery and the Southern Naval Command Maritime Museum.

 

The Bishop’s House doubles as the Indo-Portuguese Museum, which houses artifacts from different churches of the Catholic Diocese in the region.

At the Chinese fishing nets one can buy fresh seafood, caught with the aid of these fascinating, massive contraptions which further research will reveal are not really Chinese in origin at all. Arrive here at 6.30am and lend a hand to the local fishermen heaving in their catch.

Chinese-Fishing-Nets-kochi

The highlight of the Vasco church (St. Francis Church) is the dusty tombstone of explorer Vasco da Gama near the entrance and the old hand-operated fans, which make a humungous effort to furnish the wooden pews with just a mild breeze.

vasco-church-kochi

The locked gates of the Dutch cemetery add a sense of intrigue to one of the oldest remnants of the mid-1600s Dutch invasion of Fort Kochi.

Dutch-Cemetery-kochi-1

Lastly, the Southern Naval Command Maritime Museum is well kept and has plenty of curios: ships’ wheels, maps and models.

 

Around Mattancherry

Add the Thirumala Devaswom Temple (Vishnu Temple), Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), OED Art Gallery and the Pardesi (Jewish) Synagogue to your sightseeing list in the adjacent district of Mattancherry.

It’s best to start walking from the Vishnu temple, along the Hindu dominated area of Gujarati Street, through the Dutch Palace and then out to the spice and antiques market, ending the walk at the synagogue.

On your way, stop at the OED Gallery to see the work of Kerala-based artists. The juxapositon of so many cultures together is heartwarming: the Hindu Vishnu temple, the wooden-floored Dutch Palace and the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. If you’re not much of a walker then a cycle is perfect (see below).

 

Cultural Shows

Arrive at 5.30pm at Greenix Village to see the Kathakali dancers painting their faces for the show. It’s no problem to get up close and take pictures. An hour later, get ushered into different theatres for a dance-martial art-music package, which lasts for an hour. Greenix also has a museum, café and a bookshop.
www.greenix.in – Kalvathy Road – 450 INR – 5.30-7.30pm
Ph.: 04842217000

Greenix-kochi

Café Trail

The cafés and restaurants of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry offer brilliant seafood specials, authentic Kerala breakfast platters and plentiful continental options.

Visit the foremost art gallery-cum-café, Kashi, and then make your way to the tea themed Tea Pot Café and Loafers’ Corner before trying options around Mattancherry (of which Ginger House Café is our top pick).

For a bigger feed, seafood especially, choose Oceanos, or for a more formal dinner check out Malabar House or Old Harbour Hotel.

 

Fort Kochi+

If you’ve done the above then that’s good enough to have struck many things off the typical touristy list. Now here are a few ideas for those who like to escape the usual tourist trail.

- Quality Bakery

Keeping years of culinary history alive, this humble bakery in the Pattalam area is the only place in India where one can taste Dutch bruder bread. The brown, sugar plum loaves come out of the oven regularly on Saturdays but have to be ordered in advance.

- Eat biryani at Kayees Hotel

Also known as Rahmatulla Hotel, this biryani paradise is tucked away in the Kutchi Memom area of Mattancherry. Get here before 12.30pm, as the supply of their renowned dish depletes swiftly. You may have to strain your eyes to find a little memento by MF Hussain, but when you locate it on the cluttered wall the classic horse theme is easily recognizable.

- Visit Dhobi Ghat (Vannar Sangham)

If you haven’t seen an active dhobi ghat (washerman’s pad), make a stop here for an insight into the ‘pre-washing machine’ era. Posters of Rajnikanth rather than the famous Malayalam actor Mohanlal are an instant giveaway that it’s the Tamil community here that manage the place. Wander around in the sea of white hotel sheets while the unwashed (linen not people) get slapped and slathered on the washing stones.

Dhobi-Ghat-kochi

– Bicycle trips

To add a countryside experience to your stay, hop onto the well-serviced cycles of Art of Bicycle Trips and explore the rural area and indigenous culture around Fort Kochi. You can opt for a day-long trip or a longer trail, and get acquainted with fishing techniques, coir making, crab cultivation, prawn farming and toddy tapping around the villages. Back-up vehicles are always by your side and you can customize your trip as per energy levels and time.
Shop no. 1/346, Vasco House, Rose Street, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001
Ph.: 081299 45707

For further info check out the Tripzuki guide to Cochin.