Quick Guide: Kochi

Kochi’s ancient history as a trading hub and its modern cosmopolitan culture are evident in its Chinese fishing nets, the Jewish quarter, Portuguese churches, Dutch forts, and cultural calendar. Part of the larger Ernakulam district, Kochi is a wonderful mix of architecture, historical monuments, and scenic locations.

Need to Know

With its tropical monsoon climate, Kochi is beautiful during the rains (heaviest May through September) when temperatures are bearable. It is best avoided in the height of summer from mid-February to May – expect humidity all day.  

The most convenient way to get around while you’re here is by taxi (including Uber). Ferries connect Kochi to its various islands including Vypeen and Willingdon.

Kochi is paradise for pescetarians, so seafood lovers rejoice! The range of cuisines are representative of the various communities in the city.

Did You Know?

Vasco Da Gama, the explorer, visited Kochi three times and breathed his last on his visit in 1524. He was buried at the St Francis Church and, though 14 years later his remains were returned to Lisbon, his gravestone still stands.   

Things to Do

For History Buffs

Fort Kochi’s cosmopolitan history has been carefully preserved. The streets of Jew Town leading to the 400-year-old Paradesi Synagogue (Tel: 1800 425 4747) are colourful and picturesque. You can visit Mattancherry Palace (Tel: 0484 606 8716) gifted by the Portuguese to the Raja of Cochin and later renovated by the Dutch, the Santa Cruz Basilica (Tel: 095953 45925), the Dutch Cemetery, the St. Francis Church (Tel: 0484 221 7505).  The Chinese fishing nets were gifted to the city, by Kublai Khan over 500 years ago.

St Francis Church
St Francis Church, one of the oldest European churches in India.

Off the tourist path is a Jain temple with several domed structures and a deity made of black stone and white marble, adorned with silver and gold ornaments. Built in 1960, it is a tribute to the Jain community that has slowly integrated itself into Kochi since the 14th century. Pilgrims also visit the Chottanikkara temples that date back to the 10th century and are typical examples of Kerala architecture.

For Culture Vultures

Kochi has a whole host of cultural hubs that you can dive into. The Kerala Folklore Museum (Tel: 0484 266 5452/094460 76499) is a large, beautiful space housing antiquities and artefacts that also hosts performances. The Kerala Kathakali Centre (Tel: 0484 221 5827) has nightly performances where the audience is introduced to the dance’s subtle nuances and the dancers’ theatrical makeup.

Since 2016, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has put Kochi on the map of art lovers around the world. Chris Decorn, director of the Tate Modern, called the Biennale “a blueprint of museums of the future.” The Biennale, thronged by locals and visitors alike, is open between December and March, but some exhibitions remain on display year-round.

The Biennale is so named to connect Kochi with the ancient port, dating back to the 1st century BC of Muziris, which is estimated to have been around 18 km away and mentioned in several ancient texts as having preceded Kochi as the original international trading hub between Egypt, Greece, Rome and others. The port was ‘lost’ in a great storm that changed the course of the Periyar river and shut it inland, opening up Kochi to the ocean  .

For Nature Lovers

You can visit Kodanad Elephant Training College (yes, they train elephants here) and the Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary – the mangroves here draws several migratory birds. At the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, 55 km away from Kochi, you can spot larks, herons, and flycatchers while cruising the backwaters.

PS. The famous backwaters of Alappuzha are just an hour away.

What to Eat & Where

Begin your tour of Kerala’s myriad cultures with Syrian Christian fare at Fusion Bay (Tel: 099951 05110) or Fort House Hotel (Tel: 0484 221 7103) the prawn mango curry and appams are impeccable.

Local fare for all palates at The History Terrace & Grill (Tel: 0484 221 5461/ 0484 221 5462), the menu changes daily.

Hotel Seagull (Tel: 0484 221 8128), is a watering hole that is friendly for women, and serves a side of delicious seafood. The biryani at Kayees Rahmatullah Café (Tel: 0484 222 1234) comes highly recommended.

Kochi is also known for its beautiful cafés, the most popular of which are Teapot Café (Tel: 0484 221 8035) and Kashi Art Café (Tel: 0484 221 5769).

What to Buy

You can buy art and related items at the Pepper House (Tel: 0484 221 5667), gorgeous lace at Little Queen Embroidery (right next to the Synagogue), and home accessories from Cinnamon (Tel: 0484 221 7124) or Neemrana Shop (Tel: 0484 221 6960) at The Tower House.

For packed spices, head to Preethi Stores (Tel: 0484 221 6547). For food items, you can either visit local sweet stores like Royal Food Court (Tel: 098955 90607) or head to Lulu Mall, which has a variety of meat and seafood pickles, chips, typical Keralan snacks and sweets, export-quality dates, and other dry fruits at reasonable prices. Shops like Ethnic Passage (Tel: 0484 222 5601) and Crafters (Tel: 093886 05069) in Mattancherry have a range of antique furniture that they will ship to you.

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