Serene Kochi has been drawing explorers and travellers to its shores for many years now. Nowhere else in India could you find such an intriguing mix: giant fishing nets from China, a 400-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese houses and the crumbling remains of the British Raj. Here are the top sights of the city.
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Originally built in 1568, this synagogue was partially destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662, and rebuilt two years later when the Dutch took Kochi. It features an ornate gold pulpit and elaborate hand-painted, willow-pattern floor tiles from Canton, China, which were added in 1762. It’s magnificently illuminated by Belgian chandeliers and coloured-glass lamps. The graceful clock tower was built in 1760. There’s an upstairs balcony for women, who worshipped separately according to Orthodox rites.
Mattancherry Palace was a generous gift presented to the Raja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma, as a gesture of goodwill by the Portuguese in 1555. The Dutch renovated the palace in 1663, hence its alternative name, the Dutch Palace. The star attractions here are the astonishingly preserved Hindu murals, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends in intricate detail.
Kashi Art Cafe
An institution in Fort Cochin, this natural-light-filled place has a Zen, casual vibe and solid wood tables that spread out into a semi-courtyard space. The coffee is strong and the daily Western breakfast and lunch specials are excellent. A small gallery shows off local artists.
Chinese fishing nets
The unofficial emblems of Kerala’s backwaters, and perhaps the most photographed, are the half dozen or so giant cantilevered Chinese fishing nets on Fort Cochin’s north-eastern shore. Modern fishing techniques are making these labour-intensive methods less and less profitable, but they supply much of the fresh lake fish you’ll see on display for sale.
Kerala Folklore Museum
Created in Keralan style from ancient temples and beautiful old houses collected by its owner, an antique dealer, this museum includes over 4000 artefacts and covers three architectural styles: Malabar on the ground floor, Kochi on the 1st and Travancore on the 2nd. There’s a beautiful wood-lined theatre, with a 17th-century wooden ceiling.
Kerala Kathakali Centre
In an intimate, wood-lined theatre, this recommended place provides a useful introduction to Kathakali, complete with handy translations of the night’s story. The centre also hosts performances of classical music from 8pm to 9pm Sunday to Friday and traditional dance on Saturday.
This museum in the garden of the Bishop’s House preserves the heritage of one of India’s earliest Catholic communities, including vestments, silver processional crosses and altarpieces from the Cochin diocese. The basement contains remnants of Fort Immanuel.
In a pair of former bomb shelters, this museum traces the history of the Indian navy, as well as maritime trade dating back to the Portuguese and Dutch, through a series of rather dry relief murals and information panels. There’s plenty of naval memorabilia, including a couple of model battleships outside in the garden.