Weekend Planner: Walk into the past in Fort Kochi, Kerala

Mattancherry Palace is a trove of wonderful artwork
Photographer: Primrose Monteiro D’Souza

Words & Photographs: PRIMROSE MONTEIRO D’SOUZA

Out of Trivandrum (215 Km)
In Kochi, if you’re looking to step into a time capsule, Fort Kochi is it. It provides a sharp contrast to modern Ernakulam, and the changes are never so starkly rung in than when you drive off the roll-on, roll-off ferry into an era gone by.

Start your day at the atmospheric Teapot Café. Sip on hot chai or an iced tea, try the blueberry cheesecake or a main; everything tastes wonderful when you sit amid teapots and tea-related miscellanea. Then set off for St Francis Church, believed to be the oldest European built church in India. Constructed in 1503 by Portuguese Franciscan friars, the current edifice has replaced the original wooden chapel, with alterations by the Dutch and British. You can still see the tombstone of explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Cochin in 1524. His body lay buried here for 14 years before his remains were moved to Lisbon, Portugal. Nearby you will also find the larger Santa Cruz Basilica, dating back to the 16th century; the current structure was consecrated in 1905. The white-washed exterior with twin spires cocoons an impressive altar designed by renowned Italian painter Fr Antonio Moscheni and his disciple De Gama of Mangalore, and their frescoes and murals are well preserved on the columns.

Then on to the Indo-Portuguese Museum, set in the garden of Bishop’s House. Filled with religious artefacts – vestments, altarpieces, 19th-century sketches of Santa Cruz Basilica and silver processional crosses – it showcases the heritage of one of India’s earliest Catholic communities. The basement hosts remnants of the 16th-century Portugueuse Fort Immanuel.

Take a break; the heat in Kerala between showers can be formidable, and you will find the popular Kashi Art Café an oasis. The watermelon and feta salad and the Thai beef with jasmine rice make for great picks; you’ll eat in a courtyard dotted with contemporary art works, all great for the ‘gram.

Then on to Mattancherry Palace, whose nondescript exterior belies the gems within – in particular, the well-preserved murals from the 17th to 19th centuries in the royal bedchambers depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Maharabharata and puranic legends, some of them more risque than others. Other artefacts include portraits of kings, coins and stamps. The palace was presented as a gesture of goodwill to the Raja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma, in 1555 by the Portuguese, and renovated by the Dutch in 1663, which gives it its other name, the Dutch Palace.

Dotted with antiques shops and souvenir sellers, Jew Town awaits nearby, and within it the Pardeshi Synagogue, built originally in 1568, destroyed in 1662 by the Portuguese, and rebuilt in 1664, when the Dutch took the area. Within, you will find an ornate bimah (platform from which the holy Torah is read) in brass, wooden benches, Belgian chandeliers, and hand-painted floor tiles from Canton in China, added in 1762. The clock tower dates back to 1760. As you walk down the road, admire the wooden doors and the windows with Star-of-David grills. Walk down to Ginger House on the waterfront. Here, the Mallu food is particularly good, but the real privilege is in sitting by the river amid antiques from the attached heritage arts showroom. History and good food are, unmistakably, signature experiences in Fort Kochi.

To know more about the history of Fort Kochi, Kerala NOW, check out LPMI’s August 2019 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.