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Kochi (Cochin) Travel Guide

Chinese Fishing Net - Kochi (Cochin), Kochi Tourism, Cochin Tourism

Kochi is well connected by an efficient network of bus services. The government-run Kerala State Road Transport terminus located next to Ernakulam Rail Junction makes it easy for people to get here and to other parts of Southern India. You can get buses to all cities in Kerala from here. Private buses and long-distance luxury buses to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa and other cities in India operate out of Kaloor Bus Station.

One of the things to watch out for while travelling to town is that there’s no station by the name Kochi. Although Kochi has three stations. Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction serve passengers while the Harbour terminus is meant for containers. Kochi (Ernakulam) is well connected to all major cities like Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar among others.

The Kochi International Airport at Nedumbassery is the busiest in the region. Located 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the city (the earlier airport was in Wellingdon Island); it has daily flights to the Middle East and Singapore. Destinations within India such as Bangalore, Chennai, Calicut, Trivandrum, New Delhi and Mumbai are connected by regular flights as well. One of the standout features of the new airport is its architecture. Built in traditional temple architecture of Kerala with slanting roofs, it has strong sense of place.

Cruise ships to Singapore operate out of Kochi. Ships to Lakshadweep sail out of the port twice a week.

Fort Kochi
The defining images of Kochi are primarily from this historic island. The Chinese fishing nets, the medieval churches, the colonial bungalows, Jew town, Mattancherry Palace…et al. are all in this island. Most history and heritage lovers make a beeline for Fort Kochi. Its quiet, tree lined roads are tailor made for walking and cycling. And most of the attractions are within short distance of each other.

Bolghatty Island
One of the smaller islands in Kochi, Bolghatty’s romantic appeal draws many honeymooners. At the heart of Bolghatty is the palace built by the Dutch in 1744. This is the oldest Dutch Palace outside of Netherlands. Its high ceiling interiors, slanting tile roof and sprawling greens all around lend the place a unique charm.

Maritime Museum
The key to understanding Kochi's pre-eminent position in India is to unravel its naval legacy. Kochi played home to some of the leading naval powers of the past, and that experience has helped shape India's contemporary naval prowess, presently rated among the top ten naval powers in the world. This museum showcases India's journey to its pre-eminent position. The Maritime Museum, located at INS Dronacharya in Fort Kochi, is about a kilometer (half a mile) south of the Chinese Nets.

The Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace)
Mattancherry Palace enjoys a rather unique position in the architectural and cultural landscape of Kochi. One of the oldest Portuguese constructions, its Indian influence is unmistakable. The palace was built around 1545 CE for the Raja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma, by the Portuguese. A temple had been plundered in the vicinity, and this was done as a corrective measure by the Portuguese to appease the king. It was later renovated in 1663 by the Dutch, once they took over from the Portuguese.

Pardesi Synagogue
Pardesi Synagogue is a symbol of Kochi’s religious diversity. Located at the end of Jew Street, this synagogue gets its name from the fact that it was the place of worship of ‘white Jews’ (hence Pardesi or foreign). Once upon a time as many as seven synagogues were housed on this street, but Pardesi is the only one standing today. Over a period of time many Jews moved to Israel, and many others converted to Christianity.

St Francis Church
This is the oldest church built by the Europeans in India, the St Francis Church was constructed by the Portuguese in 1503. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese trader who came to India looking for spices and Christians, was buried here upon his death in 1524. His remains were later taken to Lisbon, Portugal. However, the original tombstone still remains, and draws many history buffs.

The Hill Palace Museum
This sprawling 52-acre estate was once the official residence of the Raja of Kochi. Now, it is avatar, it is one of the largest archaeological museums in India. And has the distinction of being the first museum in Kerala to achieve heritage status. Originally built in 1865, the complex comprises 49 buildings, all designed in Kerala’s traditional architectural style. There is substantial variety within the style.

Cherai Beach
Cherai is Kochi’s finest beach. Located on the northern end of Vypeen Island, its picturesque setting makes it a runaway hit with locals and tourists alike. The narrow stretch of land has the sea on one side, and the backwaters on the other. Coconut palms and paddy fields add to the picture postcard effect. Often referred to as ‘The Princess of the Arabian Sea’, the beach has seen quite a few resorts come up in recent times. About 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the mainland Ernakulam.

For the cultural traveler Kalady (also spelt as Kaladi) holds special significance. Located 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) from Kochi via Aluva, this small town is the birthplace of the famous Hindu philosopher, Sri Adi Sankaracharya. In 8th century CE Sri Adi Sankaracharya played a pivotal role in the revival of Hinduism across India. Buddhism then held sway over large parts of India. Traveling across India, he had many a debate with scholars of the time and spread his Vedanta philosophy called ‘Advaita’ (Non-dualism of the self and the divine self). He founded four mathas as seats of learning and faith in each of India’s four zones - Sringeri in Karnataka (south), Dwaraka in Gujarat (west), Puri in Orissa (east), and Joshimath in Uttarakhand (north). The heads of these four mathas are bestowed the title of Shankaracharya (‘the learned one’).

Situated in the backwaters of Ernakulam district, Kumbalanghi village is part of the ‘Explore Rural India’ initiative by the department of tourism, India. Good connectivity, home stay options and a picturesque setting make it an ideal choice for travelers interested in getting close up glimpse of Kerala’s rural life. This innovative initiative has now made it possible to enjoy an offbeat community experience without facing any logistical constraints.

Kochi’s appeal spans history, geography and commerce in equal measure. A heady concoction that has drawn travelers of all ilk! It is Kerala’s genuine melting pot. Travelers with a yen for history and heritage will find Fort Kochi and Mattancherry engrossing. The city’s physical geography encompassing islands, lakes, lagoons, canals, estuaries, the sea and the mainland, makes for a seamless fusion between land and water. And its strategic and natural harbor has attracted seafaring visitors from Admiral Zheng He and Vasco Da Gama to other European maritime powers of the time. A major trading post in the legendary ‘Spice Route’, Kochi today, is the commercial capital of the state. For many, it is a microcosm of diversity that is Kerala.

History stares you in the face at Kochi. Tangible signs of the city’s past can be seen everywhere in the form of heritage structures, community settlements and town planning, especially in the Fort Kochi area. But to come to grips with Kochi’s past one should start from a nearby place called Kodungallur, barely 40 odd kilometers north of present-day Kochi. The region was known to the Greeks and Romans even two millennia back. St. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, is believed to have arrived at Kodungallur port in 52 CE. An important port on the ‘Spice Route’, it was a thriving trading post for Mediterranean and Arab traders on the one hand and Chinese and South East Asian traders on the other. The port however came unstuck due to colossal flood on River Periyar in 1341 CE. This cataclysmic natural disaster though had a silver lining. It threw open the estuary at Kochi creating many waterways in the process, inadvertently creating ideal conditions for a fine natural harbor.

Some of the early references to Kochi can be found in the writings Chinese voyager Ma Huan. He came to Kochi in the 15th century as part of Admiral Zheng He’s fleet. Kochi also finds a mention in Italian traveler Niccolò Da Conti’s notes in 1440 CE. In the subsequent 60 years the Portuguese made their first attempts to find a footing in India. The Portuguese had been pushed back by the Zamorin king of Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1498. The King of Kochi, a rival of the Zamorin, was more forthcoming and welcomed his European guests and a treaty of friendship was signed. It became the first European settlement in India in 1500. Admiral Pedro Álvares Cabral soon convinced the local king to allow the construction of a factory at Kochi. And in due course a fort came up on the pretext of security. Under the guise of help, Kochi was virtually ruled by the Portuguese from 1503 to 1663. This Portuguese period was particularly tough on local Jews as the Inquisition was on in Portugal and had its bearing on settlements in Kochi.

By 1663, the Dutch had found their way to Quilon. Soon they were at the doorsteps of Portuguese Kochi. The new power (Protestants) went about dismantling most Portuguese (Catholic) landmarks. The only structure that escaped their wrath was the Santa Cruz Basilica. Many others such as the Mattancherry Palace were originally built by the Portuguese, but the Dutch rechristened it as the ‘Dutch Palace’ after some renovation. Among the original Dutch constructions in Kochi is the Bolgatty Palace. Built in 1744, it is now a heritage hotel and is one of the oldest Dutch palaces outside of Netherlands in the world.

1814 saw the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty. Kochi was ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange of Banca Island in Indonesia. With the British moving in, the port was given a facelift under Lord Willingdon’s leadership, then the Governor of Madras. Post Independence, Kochi became part of Travancore-Cochin state. It was later merged with the Madras State. The States Reorganization Act of November 1, 1956 redrew state boundaries on linguistic lines. Kochi finally became part of the newly formed state of Kerala.

Getting Around
One of the most charming ways of moving around Kochi is by ferry. The interconnected backwaters of the region make ferry rides a delight. Besides giving a peek into the local way of life, it is a good way of hopping on to a neighboring island. All the important islands such as Fort Kochi, Wellingdon, Bolghatty et al. have jetties. Ernakulam, the mainland, has two jetties – main jetty and high court jetty. Often taking a ferry ride from Ernakulam to Mattancherry, Fort Kochi, Vypeen and Willingdon Island works out cheaper than buses. Bus, auto rickshaw or taxi conveyance may entail longer rides through crowded routes. Having said that, Kochi has an efficient local bus service system as well! The red town buses are easily identifiable and connect most important points in and around town such as Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Willingdon Island, Thevara, Kaloor, Palarivattom, Kakkanad, Kalamassery, Edapalli, North Paravur, Aluva, Tripunithura, Thoppumpady, Edakochi, and Vytilla Junction among others.

Auto rickshaws and taxis are the other transport options in Kochi. In case of auto rickshaws, very often, the meter reading machines don’t work. In such a case settle the fare before boarding. Pre-paid auto rickshaws are available from the railway station. They are a good bet for those coming into town by rail. Taxis in Kochi are very convenient and comfortable. As a thumb rule the rates are almost double that of auto rickshaws. Mostly unmetered, average half day charges are to the tune of Rs 400 for 4 hours and 40 kilometers. It is better to book taxis in advance, as the possibility of flagging one down on a road is fairly low.

Tourist Traps in the City
As in many Indian cities auto rickshaw drivers can be a little annoying at times. They might lead you to shops that give them a commission. Post card sellers and sundry hawkers too can be a little irritating at places like Princess Street in Fort Kochi, but by and large it is a tourist friendly city.

Local Custom
One of the unique features of Kochi ( and Kerala as a whole) is that Onam is celebrated by people of all religions. It is a great time to experience local culture. One custom that stands out is the design patterns done on the ground - entrance and courtyards - in honors of Mahabali, Kerala's beloved mythical king.

One of the must dos in Kochi is to shop for spices in the city’s famous Spice Market. Located in Ernakulam, once you reach in the vicinity the strong smell wafting from shops will automatically lead you there. Big strips of cinnamon, black pepper seeds, big red chillis, saffron and cardamom are some of the things to look out for. Also check out a local exotica called kodampoli. It acts as a souring agent in local cuisine. One can substitute it for vinegar or tamarind. Even if you aren’t a shopping enthusiast, we recommend you step out to soak in the market’s atmosphere.

If you are an antique lover, head for Jew Town in Fort Kochi. Kochi’s Jews are one of the oldest communities in the city, and the local market there has many interesting things, albeit a bit expensive. M.G. Road in Ernakulam is Kochi’s shopping hub. An important raw material in the production of local handicrafts is coir. From attractively designed floor spreads and mattresses to coasters the variety is immense. Wood, sea shell, brass, ivory and sandalwood items are also worth a look in Kochi.

Phones: The prominent GSM service providers include BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea among others. CDMA service providers are Reliance Communications and Tata Indicom.

Internet: There are ample cyber cafes across the city from where you can browse the net, send emails and upload your travel photographs.


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