Fort Kochi is a heady mix of well-preserved colonial history, a lively art scene, boutique hotels, exceptional seafood and elements that are still reminiscent of Kerala’s indigenous culture. An influx of Western travellers over the years has moulded the harbour town into a haven of English-speaking, perfect-pasta-serving inhabitants, and antiques oozing from every shop. Equip yourself with comfortable walking shoes and discover the narrow streets.
Homestays have been often listed on ‘Things to do in Kerala’ lists. And for a reason! What better way to get to know a local family better. Fort Kochi, with its rich history, offers plenty of heritage homestays options. Do your research well before you book a homestay! Also, remember that a heritage home is different from a home in a heritage town, so always check that distinction while booking. If you fancy luxury, you are spoilt for choice as well. Old Harbour Hotel on Tower Road comes highly recommended.
Start your morning with appams for breakfast, followed by a stroll to the Chinese fishing nets. The nets are down, the fishermen hopeful, a new day bringing in the promise of a good catch.
After spending time watching the fishermen, you can walk down the Bazaar Road, all the way to Jew Town. Well, it is a long walk for sure, but it is worth the effort thanks to these lovely sights – the ruins of British warehouses, interesting graffiti on the walls, dilapidated, but still ornate wooden doors, sharp fragrant smells of spices and what not. The quaint Mattancherry Palace (also called Dutch Palace) should be your first pit stop, it houses fascinating portraits and possessions of the Cochin royalty.
Once in Jew Town market, fending off the persistent offers to purchase souvenirs, antiques and spices may be an effort unless you enjoy shopping. The Jews are long gone, but one still sees the vestiges; Star of David designs in the window grills for example. Don’t miss the pictorial cancellation of Magen David at Mattancherry Jetty post office.
Do visit the Pardesi Synagogue. First built in 1568 by the Jewish Community of Cochin, it was destroyed by the Portugese, and then recreated by the Dutch two years later. As you enter the main hall, the delicate glass chandeliers imported from Belgium seek attention. Don’t forget to notice the floor, the hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles were brought from China in the 18th century and are truly unique.
If you’re tired and hungry after a busy morning, head back to K B Jacob Road (near Santacruz Basilica) for an authentic and sumptuous Kerala Syrian Christian meal at Fusion Curry restaurant. Then, saunter to Burgar Street for a yummy glass of ginger honey lemonade at the eclectic Kashi Art Cafe. Head to St Francis Church, built in 1503, and the oldest European Church in India. Vasco Da Gama was originally buried in this church, before his remains were taken to Lisbon.
As the sun sets, wander back to the Chinese fishing nets to catch the twilight and silhouettes of raised nets against the skyline. The activity is now more frenzied, the nets up after the day’s business and the promenade lined up with baskets of fresh catch – fish, lobsters, crabs and all sorts of sea food.
It is an added bonus to be in Kerala during the Onam as the state, including Fort Kochi wears a festive look. Women dressed in traditional cream and gold saris are seen pacing up and about – busy preparing for the family get-togethers and traditional Onam Sadhya lunch. Open fields, roads and even home porches are bedecked with ‘pookalam’ floral carpets. There are numerous processions on the streets, accompanied by a loud thumping of drums. Onam celebrates the annual homecoming of King Mahabali; it is believed the king comes from the netherworld once a year to visit his people. The Onam procession is led by a man dressed as King Bali carrying an umbrella, followed by Pulikali dancers. The bodies of these dancers are painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black shades and they dance to the beats of instruments.