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Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction are connected to Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai (by Netravathi and Mangla Lakshadweep Expresses), to Bengaluru (by Kanyakumari and Ernakulam Expresses), to Chennai (by Guruvayur and Alleppey Expresses) and to Delhi by the Trivandrum Rajdhani

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about cochin

Surrounded by the Western Ghats and the Arabian sea, Kochi or Cochin was formed as an ancient port city after the Great Floods of the Periyar River. Historically rich in culture, the city has witnessed settlements ranging from the Portuguese to the Chinese. Besides being a fast developing commercial and industrial hub, the city also possesses an undeniable vigour. A perfect starting point before exploring the vast diversity of Kerala.

Before you start exploring, pick up a map of Kochi and the Ernakulam–Fort Kochi pamphlet from a KTDC office. The latter has a walking tour map of Fort Kochi and island cruise schedules. Fort Kochi has preserved its history well and presents a vivid panorama of a time when traders and warriors landed on her shores. All the places in the fort area are close to each other, on the seafront. The Portuguese traveller and merchant, Pedro Alvarez Cabral, dropped anchor at Kochi in 1500, accompanied by Franciscan and Dominican friars and Jesuit missionaries. Vasco da Gama followed in 1502. He died in 1524 and was interred in St Francis’ Church, the oldest European church in India.

Conflicting claims assign the church variously to St Francis of Assisi and to St Francis Xavier, who visited Kochi in 1542. Now under the Church of South India, it shelters the grave of Vasco da Gama. His remains, though, were exhumed and removed to Lisbon. Look for the 16th-century palm leaf deeds of the Thampuran, granting Portuguese nadhuvazhi (middle-rung feudal lords) status and rights, and the Doop Book, a register of baptisms and marriages. As you emerge from the church, to the left is the Parade Ground, where European soldiers conducted drills. Past the ground and down the road is the Dutch Cemetery, where the first grave was laid in 1724.

The tombstones here, located on the shores of the Arabian Sea, provide glimpses of Kochi’s Dutch past. A little beyond the cemetery is the only surviving fortification of the Portuguese — Fort Immanuel, around which the town once grew. The British dynamited the fort in 1806. Kochi is filled with colonial-style houses, charming despite their age and groaning staircases. One mansion to gape at is the Thakur House, a private property made famous as the home of the protagonists of producer Ismail Merchant’s film Cotton Mary. Built by the Dutch as a club, the house — once known as Kunal Bungalow — overlooks the sea and is said to have underground passages.

Built in 1667 to guard the harbour, it commands a panoramic view of the sea. Believed to have tunnels, it is now the sub-collector’s residence. It stands on the old fort’s Stomberg Bastion, which once supported cannons. Malabar House, at the corner of the crescent to your right, has a Dutch colonial façade worth admiring. It was the residence of the Grindlays Bank manager during the British era. The building has been converted into a heritage hotel. From here, turn right and come to the waterfront on Pathalam Road.

Built in 1506, the Dutch Governor Van Goens occupied it in 1663. The Diocese of Kochi eventually acquired it for Bishop Dom Jos Ferriera, whose control extended over Sri Lanka, Burma and Malay. Within its premises is the Indo-Portuguese Museum. The Dutch force, considerably smaller than the Portuguese, found it impossible to service the fort and reduced it to a third, taking care, however, to retain the main buildings. VOC, the emblem of the Dutch East India Company, is carved on a large wooden gate called the VOC Gate, built in 1740. The gate, on the far crescent of the Parade Ground, watches over the entrance to Studer Hall, which once housed Dutch offices.

Walk past the VOC Gate and venture behind St Francis’ Church. Diagonally opposite to the right, you’ll see Vasco House, one of the oldest surviving Portuguese bungalows, believed to have been the home of Vasco da Gama. If you look from the road, the typical Portuguese staircase will be evident through the windows and balconies. On the right side of Bastion Street stands Santa Cruz Basilica. Built as a church by the Portuguese, Pope Paul IV elevated it to a cathedral in 1558. The British demolished it in 1795 when they seized Fort Kochi. In 1887, a new church was built on the vacant site.

Beautiful paintings on the ceiling recall the Sistine Chapel. In 1984, Pope John Paul II proclaimed it a basilica. Backtrack and take the first right turn. Turn right again and you come to Delta Study, built in 1808, once the property of the Swiss Volkart Company. Turn and head towards the lagoon. On the left you’ll find a house with a red façade, inconspicuously tucked away. The red house was a Portuguese mansion bought by Samuel Koder, the ancestor of several old Jewish families of Kochi. It was constructed in 1808 and exemplifies the way various European architectural designs were assimilated to create a style truly unique to Kochi. 

Walk down Rose Lane to get an idea of its architecture. A wooden bridge spanning the lane connects two sections of the house. You’ll also see the Old Courtyard, once a part of Koder House, now a heritage hotel. Next to it is the Old Harbour House. Built over the ruins of a Portuguese hospice in 1808, Old Harbour House was once a bungalow owned by Carrit Moran (a tea brokerage company). It too is now a heritage hotel. The only proof of Chinese influence in Kerala is the huge cantilevered cheenavalas or Chinese fishing nets, hung from teakwood and bamboo poles.

These can be seen off Vasco da Gama Square. It was Kublai Khan’s traders who introduced these nets to the local fisherfolk sometime between 1350 and 1450. Ma Huan, a diplomat accompanying Chinese admiral Cheng Ho (1371–1433), provided the first reference to Kochi. He wrote, “The fishermen are tourist-friendly and will happily let you join them. Stalls serve delicious seafood and tender coconuts.” Standing between a synagogue and a church, the Calvathy Jamaath Mosque on Calvathy Road blends effortlessly with the landscape.

Built by Arab traders, it favours the Kerala style of architecture and it’s worth going there for the view from the outside. Visitors are not welcome inside. Another must-see is the Mattancherry Palace (1555), gifted by the Portuguese to the Thamburan as a gesture to make up for their governor looting the Pallurithi Temple in 1542. The palace was later renovated in the Burgher style. Visit it for the intricate and beautiful murals that adorn the walls. The themes have been picked up from the epics and the murals have been executed in vegetable and mineral dyes. The temple of the tutelary devi of the Kochi rajas stands in the courtyard. The Jews, who arrived as traders during Solomon’s reign, preserved their uniqueness, unlike the Arabs who adopted Indian traditions or the Chinese who left these shores.

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Hari Sankar
Hari Sankar
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Jun 20 2017
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Supriya Sehgal
Supriya Sehgal
Try the Shanties
Oct 30 2014
With fresh catch close at hand at the Chinese fishing nets, many travellers wonder where they can have their own spoils cooked in a way that they like. The search is not too difficult. You can take fresh catch to the shanties, near the Chinese fishin ...... read more
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