This nicely chilled city in southern India has seen the light. Grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast in Kerala, Kochi has become a shining example in renewable energy in recent years, launching the world’s first fully solar-powered airport, which snagged it a UN Champions of the Earth award. But that’s just tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. With boho cafes, intimate homestays hidden away in lazy, colonial-era backstreets, and a raft of forward-thinking galleries, this city keeps a tight grip on its heritage while wholeheartedly embracing its newfound cool. In 2020, street art comes to the fore at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, putting India firmly on the contemporary arts festival map.
How to get there: Kochi International Airport, the main point of arrival, is 30km north of mainland Ernakulam. Alternatively, you can reach Kochi by train from Trivandrum (4½ hours), Kerala’s capital. Regular ferries connect Ernakulam and historic Fort Kochi.
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WHAT TO DO
Make the best use of your three days in Kochi so you do not miss out the following activities:
1-Make a pilgrimage to India’s oldest European church, St Francis, built in 1503, where intrepid Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was originally buried.
2-Get the perfect shot of the giant Chinese fishing nets in action, then buy the day’s catch at the fishmongers behind them (restaurants on Tower Rd will cook it for you).
3-Jump in an auto rickshaw to Jew Town for a nose around 16th-century Pardesi Synagogue. India’s oldest synagogue is ornately clad in hand-painted floor tiles, Belgian chandeliers and coloured lanterns.
4-Catch a spine-tingling Kathakali theatre dance performance at Kerala Kathakali Centre, a beautiful wood-lined theatre. Arrive before the show to see the elaborate makeup being applied to the performers.
-Watch teams of grizzled fishers operate Fort Kochi’s giant cantilevered Chinese fishing nets to reel in the day’s catch. These spider-like, bamboo-and-teak contraptions recall the legacy of traders from the AD 1400 court of Kublai Khan. Come at dusk to see and photograph them silhouetted against a peach-gold sky.
-Gawp at opulent Mattancherry Palace, a Portuguese gift to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, which was restored to its glory by the Dutch in 1663. The palace’s pride and joy are its outstandingly preserved Hindu murals, recounting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends in intricate, colourful detail.
TIME YOUR VISIT
December to March is peak season, with warm days, cool nights, room rates at a premium and crowd-pulling events such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and costumed parades and elephants at Kochi Carnival. July to November brings monsoon rains and the occasional cyclone. Homestays are bargainous from April to June, when temperatures soar.