Fort Kochi & ​Mattancherry: A Local’s Guide

 

Introducing the Locale

Watch closely and you can see the centuries spin past in these very unique fishing islands that boast an enchanting burst of old-world Europe reminiscent of the days of Portuguese rule only a stone’s throw away from the city of Cochin. Find here the famous Jewish Synagogue from the days of the spice trade, numerous charming home stays to choose from and bazaars that leave you spoilt for choice with their endless selections of menorahs, gemstones, spices and antiques stocked in quaint old stores across the island.

Market in Kerala selling spices
Market in Kerala selling spices

A far cry from the city of Cochin that greets you when you step off the airplane, these nearby islands are your best bet if you’re looking for some unique cultural tourism apart from the traditional  fare that Kerala has on offer.

Located a short distance and an island away from the City of Cochin, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry offer unique and rich cultural experiences to travelers of all kinds. Owing to their occupation by a number of European powers down the centuries, a mosaic of influences can be seen in the water-bound locales that are Fort Kochi and Mattancherry.

Read about more places to visit in Kerala here, as suggested by Thushara.

Getting There: Once you arrive in Cochin, a taxi, bus, auto-rickshaw can take you to the island that’s home to Fort Kochi & Mattancherry in about an hour. You could also try the ferry to cover part of the journey.

 

Houseboat at Alleppey
Houseboat at Alleppey

A Fascinating History

Portuguese Rule

Fort Kochi gains the first part of its name from Fort Immanuel which was built on its waterfront by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Read More

Dutch Possession

Moving on, the Dutch captured Fort Kochi in 1683 and destroyed much of its Portuguese architectural legacy – including Fort Immanuel… Read More

Jew Town & The Jewish Synagogue

It is told that the Jewish settlement in Kerala dates back to over 2500 years when Jewish sailors and exiles found refuge on the Arabian coast of India. Read More

Chinese Fishing Nets

Undoubtedly one of the most photographed sights in the region, the Chinese Fishing Nets or Cheena Vala silhouetted against the evening sky make for a beautiful and serene eyeful and leaves you with a sense that all is well with the world. The charming Vasco da Gama square offers the best view of these signature structures that represent Fort Kochi on postcards and paintings. Introduced in the 14th century by Chinese explorer Zheng He, these nets are used for modest fishing in the morning and early evening and are operated by a team of six men. The net is lowered into the water for a short while and then raised delicately by pulling on the ropes. The slow rhythm and balancing of the net are spellbinding for the first-time viewer.

Chinese Fishing Nets, Kerala
Chinese Fishing Nets, Kerala

Spice Route

The land that provided the setting for Rushdie’s grand novel about the history of spice trade in the region, Kochi is a city that thrived on its spices for centuries together. To this day, sellers can be seen on Bazaar Road, Fort Kochi which offers the olfactory senses a spicy treat of the finest pepper, ginger,  cardamom, cloves and turmeric. Tea is also widely sold and is the beverage of choice in this part of the country.

Read about the splendid history of Fort Kochi here.

Graffiti Par Excellence: A New Phenomenon

The island was suddenly filled with gripping, provocative graffiti. A mashup of Western pop culture icons and local fare, these made an appearance in the locality during the celebrated art biennale held there in 2014 and are a joy to behold.

Local Tip: Owing to the influence of Hindu culture, one is required to leaves one’s shoes at the entrance. The Synagogue also calls for a strict dress code – trousers and full-sleeved shirts for men and skirts below knee length for women – and remains open from 5:00 am till 1:00 pm and then it opens again by 5:00 pm in the evening till 7:00 pm

Food & Board: A Cultural Treat

Thanks to centuries of European occupation, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry offer the traveler plenty of respite from Malayali food while also offering local fare. Filled with joints such as Kashi (a popular Art Cafe on Bulgher Road, Fort Kochi, that displays a changing collection of art often accompanied by some soulful writing on its themes), Dal Roti (a popular North Indian restaurant) and many more. We recommend Brunton Boatyard by CGH Earth for an excellent luxury dining experience in an ambience that’s bursting with the flavour of local history.

Local Tip: Also pay a visit to Kayees, a long-serving institution in the locale, for its mouth-watering mutton biryani. Miss this and you’ll be missing a legendary eat-out in Kochi!

A typical Kerala meal spread
A typical Kerala meal spread

A plethora of home and heritage stays and bed & breakfast arrangements can be found on the island. Make sure you check on the availability of facilities ranging from hot water and food to wifi before you check-in though, for they come in a staggering variety – ranging from the most frugal to the absolutely luxurious. We recommend these over hotels as they allow a closer look at the culture and traditions of the region and what it means to be a family living in tourist-heavy Fort  Kochi.

Now that you’re privy to all the required information, what are you waiting for? Pack up, head out and explore these unique localities the first chance you get!

 

 

This blog is written by Thushara, a traveller and  writer who believes that the ability to express oneself lucidly is among the greatest pleasures available to mankind. She seeks to find and make her voice heard, and maybe even find some kindred souls along the way!

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