Day Trip to Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi, about 12 km from Kakkanad, is the northern part of an island off the coast of Kochi City (Ernakulam, Kerala, India) accessible via a few bridges. To skirt city traffic, use NH 49 after Maradu - (past NH 47 bypass) – Thevara – Wellington Island Bridge – with a sharp left turn to the Mattancherry Bridge. There is a tollbooth upon entering the island from the Aroor-Edakochi Bridge (NH47A). Take the immediate right and drive north to reach the general area where the Jewish Synagogue, the Police Museum, Dutch Palace and the Cemetery are located (inquire about the Jews Street if lost). The island is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west; Vembanad Lake to the east separates it from mainland Kochi. Prior to the colonial era (early 16th century), Fort Kochi was a major spice trading post. The Chinese arrived in the 14th century, and the name Cochin (co-chin – like China) is argued to have originated as its consequence. Testimony to their influence is the famous Chinese Fishing Nets that still serves as a landmark. Fort Kochi is a tourist hub because of its varied culture and architecture influenced by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British.

Jews Street is a popular tourist location and the touristy feel is further promoted by the array of antique shops and restaurants on either side of the road. There is a designated parking area to the left as well. Handicrafts are authentic but somewhat pricey – depending on the merchant (road-side vs actual shop), the quoted price is slightly negotiable. Jewelry, handicrafts (close to Rs. 1000/- for a small but exquisitely hand embroidered table cloth is typical), spices, miniature autos (tuk-tuk - Rs 150 and up), and small collections of old coins (Rs 300 and up) seemed to be the most popular items on display. Jews Street is equipped with excellent direction boards and they guide you to the end of the alleyway where the Jewish Synagogue (aka Mattancherry Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue) is located. The Cochin Jewish Community built the synagogue in 1568. Entrance fee is Rs 5/- and most possessions including cameras and handbags are not allowed inside the building. A unique local influence is the need to remove sandals or shoes. From the outside, it looks like any other old building - an 18th century clock tower and police presence are the only visible clues as a place of great historic prominence. The articles of interest inside the building include hundreds of Chinese hand-painted porcelain tiles, an oriental rug which was a gift from the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, many Belgian glass chandeliers, scrolls of the law, gold crowns received as gift, and a brass-railed pulpit.

The Mattancherry Palace Temple and the Dutch (Mattancherry) Palace are located adjacent to the Synagogue and easily accessed by following the direction boards. Entrance fee to the palace was Rs 5/- and tickets are purchased upstairs. The palace is a treasure-trove for history buffs with a huge amount of information presented in various frames. Murals and materials used in the palace (pallaks, jewelry, combs, etc) are on display as well. Visitors interested in the history of the place should allow upwards of two hours in the palace. The cemetery in one of the side roads off Jews Street seemed permanently closed with a bolted lock sealing the main gates. The Police Museum while small earns full credit for the presentation and material – it depicts the history of the police department through authentic presentation of equipment and uniforms from the colonial era onwards – entry free.

The northern tip of the island is five more kilometers further up which is where the main tourist area of Vasco Da Gama Square is located. In that general vicinity, there are a number of attractions including the Chinese Fishing Nets, St. Francis Church, Santa Cruz Basilica, Children’s Park, Parade Ground, Cochin Club, Cemetery, etc. The view across from Vasco Da Gama Square features the Ernakulam skyline along with Bolgaty Island and Vallarpadam Container Terminal. There are also a few functional Chinese fishing nets in close proximity to the shore near the square. A short walking distance on Princess Street gets you to Santa Cruz Basilica (open daily 7AM-8PM – free), the first European Church built in Asia by the Portuguese in 1502. It has several paintings and other decors. The church serves as the primary seat of the Latin church of Kerala and was declared a Basilica during the Pope John Paul II’s visit of 1984. Princess Street has several western cafes, souvenir shops, etc and is a good leisurely hangout area. Bastion Bungalow featuring Dutch architecture can be seen along the way – it is the official residence of the Cochin sub-collector and hence entry is restricted. Further down the road (River Road) on Napier Street is Parade Ground and en-route is the beautifully landscaped Cochin Club – a British colonial club established early 19th century with 250 members currently – the security at the entrance do not frown at the camera. VOC Gate, the only remnant of the office of Dutch East India Company is a large wooden gate with the VOC inscription located across from the Parade Ground. Further down and off Napier Street (0.5KM) is the St. Francis church (open Mon-Sat 9:30 AM to 5PM), the burial site of Vasco da Gama – the remains were transferred to Lisbon fourteen years later. Gama’s gravestone and a cenotaph in memory of the people of Kochi who fell in WWI are also at this site.

It is difficult to squeeze everything Fort Kochi has to offer to a day. On our part, we missed out on the Indo-Portuguese museum (9AM to 6PM except Mondays), the Pierce Leslie Bungalow (now a boutique hotel on Beach Road, Indian Naval Maritime Museum (INS Dronarcharya), etc. Established by the late Dr. Joseph Kureethra (Bishop of Kochi) to protect the rich Portuguese heritage, the Indo-Portuguese museum is located near Parade Ground in the Bishop’s House compound.

There are a few good eateries on Princess Street and a few other spots around Fort Kochi. Another option is to dine in Ernakulam MG Road (via Thoppumpady Bridge - Willington Island - NH47A) where plenty of excellent mid-priced options abound – Dwaraka (vegetarian) and Cochin Bake House located before Jose Junction on MG Road standout in terms of access, service, and price.

There are many places to enjoy local performing arts when in Fort Kochi: Kerala Kathakali Center (near Santa Cruz Basilica, K.B.Jacob Road – Rs 150 to Rs 200 for an hour long show), Greenix Tourist Theater, and Kerala Folklore Theater, to name a few. Also, the village of Kumbalangi which promotes eco-tourism (Mastyafed Milky-way Aqua-Tourist Village: located in Vypin, South of Cherai Beach) is a very good day-trip option.

Last Updated: 08/2011.

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