The Queen of the Arabian : Kochi
Nicknamed the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’; Kochi is renowned as one of the world’s finest natural harbours. Kerala’s financial capital, the name Kochi is derived from the Malayalam word Kochazhi that translates to ‘small lagoon’; and comprises of a cluster of islands scattered along the Vembanad Lake.
These Islands include the Wellington Island, Mattancherry, and Fort Kochi.
A part of the Ernakulam district, this ‘Gateway to Kerala’ is the state’s second largest city and was also noted as an important spice trading centre in the 14th century, attracting several visitors such as Romans, Jews, Arabs, Chinese etc in the past. Kochi was home to the first European settlement in India.
A destination known for its backwaters, beautiful churches, synagogues, Chinese fishing nets and more, Kochi is any traveller’s dream destination. Apart from some wonderful short cruises tourists can enjoy on its backwaters, some noteworthy attractions here include:
Home to some of India’s most scenic beaches, the Cherai Beach towards the North end of the Vypeen Island is known for its coconut groves and paddy fields, while the Fort Kochi beach provides tourists with some of the most mesmerizing sunsets. A mention must be made of the Chinese Fishing nets here, the numerous beach restaurants serving some scrumptious seafood delicacies, and the Kathakali shows tourists can enjoy at these outlets.
Once home to Jews, Dutch, European etc, today Kochi is home to many structures that remind us of these past settlers. Some such structures include the Jewish Synagogue or the Paradesi Synagogue that dates back to 1568, built by the Malabar Yehudan People or the Cochin Jewish Community. Located in Jew Town, the synagogue is known for its striking Belgain chandeliers and Chinese tiles, the Mattancherry Palace standing adjacent to it.
Also known as Dutch Palace, the Mattanchery Palace was constructed on a piece of land the Raja of Kochi gifted the Cochin Jewish community. Built by the Portuguese in typical Nalukettu style (Kerala architectural style), the palace is noted for its many portraits of the Rajas of Kochi, as well as murals that depict Hindu mythology. The palace is also home to three small temples, one dedicated to Pazhayannur Bhagavati the goddess revered by the former royal family, one to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Krishna.
The residence of the erstwhile rulers, the 19th century palace has today been converted into the Hill Palace or Kerala’s largest archaeological museum. Of the 49 buildings within the palace complex, apart from the Archaeological Museum that houses several artifacts used by the former royals, also seen here is a Heritage Museum, a prehistoric park, deer park etc.
Of religious importance here is the Santa Cruz Basilica and the St. Francis Church that is famous as India’s oldest European church. The Church was also the resting place of the great Portuguese explorer Vasco-da-Gama after his death in 1524; his remains were later shifted to Lisbon. One of the most impressive churches in India known for its gothic architectural style, its original structure dates back to 1505, however the same was destroyed by the British. The structure that stands today was commissioned by Bishop Dom Gomez Vereira and proclaimed a Basilica by the late Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Another interesting structure standing here is the Vasco House, a 16th century house that is believed to be the residence of the late Portuguese explorer; the impressive structure stands out for its European glass paned windows and many balconies.
The Bolghatty Island just a short distance away from the mainland is home to the Bolghatty Palace or the Dutch Palace that has today been converted into a heritage hotel. Dating back to 1744, this palatial mansion once home to the Commander of the Dutch Malabar and later to several British governors; is known for its well manicured lawns, 9 course golf course and ayurvedic centre.
The Pallipuram Fort built by the Portuguese in 1503 and credited to being the oldest existing European fort in India also makes an interesting visit. Other attractions here include the Wellington Islands, the Museum of Kerala that houses several sculptures portraying the state’s rich history, Parikshith Thampuran Museum, Veega Land, Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary, Bastion Bungalow, and the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium that is host to several football, cricket matches as well as political rallies.
Kochi is also the gateway to some wonderful excursions, including the Athirappilly Falls, Bhoothathankettu for its dam and Salim Bird Sanctuary, Paliam Palace, Malayattoor, etc.
A shopaholic’s delight too, the place is known for its wonderful handicrafts that range from Kathakali masks to coir products, items made of shell, brass, coconut shells, spices, etc.
From enjoying long strolls down its picturesque promenade, the Marine drive to cruising through its several lagoons, and enjoying some enticing seafoods on its sandy shores, this heritage destination is a perfect blend of cosmopolitan and old age charm attracting many not just from India but across the globe!