Cochin (or Kochi) is an idyllic Arabian Sea port city on the southwest coast of India in the beautiful state of Kerala. After Mumbai, Cochin is often considered the second most important city on the west coast of the country, with the highest number of tourists in the state.
Cochin has a long, illustrious history. The area became the seat of the Kingdom of Cochin, tracing its lineage to the Kulasekhara Empire, in 1102 AD. Cochin became the centre of the Indian spice trade for centuries and was known to the Greeks, Romans, Jews, Arabs, and Chinese since ancient times. In 1503 Cochin became the first of the European colonies in India when the Portuguese Empire occupied the region. The city was also later occupied by the Dutch and the British until finally, in 1947, the princely state of the Kingdom of Cochin joined the Indian Union.
Though not the political capital of Kerala, Cochin is often referred to as the commercial capital of the state, being home to the Cochin Stock Exchange–the only stock exchange in Kerala. Tourism is a major industry in the city, as well as real estate. The pan-Indian nature of the city is apparent in the presence of a variety of ethnic communities from different parts of India. The result is a diverse, multicultural community co-existing peacefully with one another, making for an interesting port to visit.
Cochin is a cosmopolitan region, highly influenced by its historical trading partners and colonial rulers. As such, one can see evidence of Portuguese, Dutch, Arab, Chinese, and Japanese influences, including 16th century Portuguese-built churches and the iconic Chinese fishing nets dotting the shoreline. The city is also home to an amazing variety of Indian communities, with residents from all over the country. Cochin celebrates a variety of festivals from the Kerala festivals of Onam and Vishu, to the North Indian Hindu festival Holi, to the Christian and Islamic festivals of Christmas, Easter, Eid ul-Fitr, and Milad-e-sherif.
Actually a blending of several small villages, Cochin is divided into two halves—Mattancherry and Fort Cochin. The fort area is a popular tourist spot, and the gateway to the Kerala Backwaters, a beautiful network of canals, rivers and lakes that twist and turn for around 1150 kilometres. Many cruise lines will offer excursions to explore the backwaters, but they are usually full-day tours so one has to pick excursions thoughtfully.
Sports are very popular in Cochin. Two of India’s major professional football teams, FC Kochin and Chirag United Kerala, call Cochin home. The country’s fourth largest stadium (and third largest cricket stadium), the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, is located in the Kaloor region of the city. As Cochin is surrounded by bodies of water, yachting is also a popular pastime, with multiple yacht clubs and organizations headquartered in Cochin.
- Getting around
Getting around Cochin can be quite the experience. Most tourists opt for either tuk-tuks or taxis. Tuk-tuks (also known as auto-rickshaws) are small, three-wheeled vehicles with enough room for the driver and up to two passengers. This can be a cheap and fun option if you are adventurous and don’t mind haggling. Don’t forget to tip your driver, as well.
Taxis cost a bit more than tuk-tuks, although they can still be an inexpensive option if you are prepared to negotiate. These are easier to catch outside the Port than the tuk-tuks. The primary form of public transportation within the city is bus–both privately and state-run networks. Many of these buses are air-conditioned, but they don’t go everywhere in the city and may not necessarily stop near a location of interest. Boats are another fun option–ferries and other tourist boats provide another view of the city.
The Kochi Metro is expected to be completed in 2016, and should go a long ways towards easing the unpleasant traffic congestion. This rapid transit system will ultimately have 23 stations and will connect the suburban towns of Aluya and Thripunithura to downtown Cochin.
Cochin is not known for being pedestrian friendly (with its humid tropical climate, poor pedestrian walkways and erratic traffic), but bicycling is a fun option at Fort Kochi. There are several tourist organizations offering bikes on an hourly basis, and there are dedicated tracks and paths.
- Beyond Cochin
Just 14km outside of Cochin lies Wonderla (formerly Veega Land), South India’s largest amusement park. A great day trip from Cochin, this park has won many awards for its safety and environmentally friendly policies. Wonderla is quite large at 30 acres, and consists of a water theme park (India’s first!), rides, mini castles, slides, shows, and fountains. Great for kids and adults alike, there are four categories of rides: family rides, water rides, kiddie rides, and hair-raising rides. The park also features many imported hi-fi rides that won’t be found anywhere else in Kerala.
The entire park is built on a large hill, affording beautiful views of the surrounding area. The park itself is filled with greenery, is adjacent to the peaceful Kadambra River, and is a favourite of eco-tourists. With an extensive locker facility, a baby feeding area, a prayer hall, changing rooms, and six multi-cuisine restaurants (including one that is pure vegetarian) one has no reason to ever leave the park.
Visitors can reach Wonderla by train (the Ernakulam Town Railway Station is closest to the park) and then taking a taxi or bus directly to the park.
- Local activities
St. Francis Church
The St. Francis Church at Fort Kochi is the oldest church built by Europeans in India. Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese trader and explorer, died while visiting Kerala and was actually buried in this church for a time. With a colourful history, this church is now a protected monument and has services on Sundays and is open to visitors on weekdays.
Kerala Folklore Theatre and Museum
The Kerala Folklore Museum arguably has the best traditional theatres in India. These two beautiful theatres offer unforgettable stage experiences with classical dances and martial arts. The museum also features the largest antique costume collection in India, mural paintings, and hand carved wood. This site is a must-see for art lovers of all kinds. Performances are at 6:30pm, but it is recommend you arrive an hour early for the full experience.
Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary
The Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary, referred to as the “green lung” to the city, is located in the heart of Cochin. Home to a variety of exotic migratory and resident birds, this patch of natural greenery is comprised of a protected mangrove and wetland area. This green sanctuary is a welcome haven from the hustle and bustle of Cochin’s city life and great for anyone interested in wildlife.
- Local cuisine and drinks
The local cuisine in Cochin is generally characterised by a wealth of coconut, spices, and bananas. Famous for its fresh seafood, Cochin offers a fantastic service (highly recommended for visitors) known as “you buy, we cook” at the waterfront of Fort Kochi. One can purchase fresh seafood directly from the nets of fishermen, and it is then cooked to the customer’s specifications at a neighbouring food stall. This is a great way to try local, fresh seafood in Cochin–but watch out for the hungry local cats!
- Where you are docked
Cochin Port is one of the largest ports in India. The port actually lies on two islands in the Lake of Kochi–Willingdon Island and Vallarpadam. International cruise ships dock at the port on Willingdon Island. Make sure to get a good view for the sail-in to see the many colourful local boats transporting from one side of the city to another. There aren’t any interesting facilities or amenities in the immediate port area, so plan on departing immediately upon arrival.
- Regional weather
Cochin experiences a hot and humid climate nearly all year round due to its geographical location close to the equator. Heavy downpours often accompanied by lightning prevail throughout the monsoon season (June – September).