The OH and I have had the opportunity to explore Ernakulam a few years ago, but we could make only a flying visit to Fort Kochi then. We were captivated by what little of Fort Kochi that we saw then, and wanted to come back and explore more. So, when we were planning the itinerary for our Kerala trip this year, we ensured that we stayed a couple of days in Fort Kochi. It was definitely worth the stay!
I would say Fort Kochi has two distinct sides to it – the steeped-in-history side and the quirky, contemporary side – just like Pondicherry. I felt the same vibes here that I felt in Pondicherry. Like Pondicherry, Fort Kochi is best explored on foot too, so that you can turn into any enticing lane or enter any exciting cafe, as the mood takes you.
Wikipedia tells me that Fort Kochi was given to the Portuguese by the then king of Kochi in the year 1503. The Dutch held Fort Kochi for over 100 years, till 1795, after which the Britishers took control of it. Fort Kochi was released of foreign control in the year 1947, with the independence of India. Consequently, both Portuguese and British influences are very much evident in Fort Kochi, particularly in the architectural styles here.
There are a number of heritage homes in Fort Kochi that have been converted into homestays and inns, giving the place its steeped-in-history feel. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful old houses, which have great character. The next time I visit Fort Kochi, I am going to make sure I stay in one such house.
Just walking through the streets of Fort Kochi is a treat in itself, thanks to the quirky decorations of the cafes and the beautiful buildings. Opportunities for photography are many.
Fort Kochi today is home to a number of cafes, most of them contemporary and eccentric. For instance, the popular Kashi Art Cafe which serves some of the best cakes and pies I have ever had, at the same time providing artists with a place to exhibit their wares. Do not miss Kashi Cafe whenever you are in Fort Kochi, I beg you. If they have date and walnut cake on the day you visit, grab a slice without hesitation. And you already know how much I love their chocolate cake – that delectable, sinful confection.
Also worth a mention here is Upstairs Restaurant, where we had lunch twice. We loved the fresh, fresh, fresh home-made pizza and pasta that they served us. It is a bit pricey, but the food is totally worth it.
Fort Kochi is also home to the famous Teapot Cafe, a tranquil place to introspect, read, write, have a conversation or take photographs as you sip on a cup of tea. I was desperate to visit it but, unfortunately, could not. The cafe was closed because it was off season, and there were absolutely no tourists. Well, there is always a next time!
Fort Kochi is a place that takes art seriously, and believes in respecting its artists. You see art everywhere, in cafes and B&Bs as well as on the streets.
Then, there is the beach at Fort Kochi. The beach lover that I am, I loved wandering through this part of Fort Kochi. There is something immensely calming about sitting on a lonely bench by the beach side, watching the water change colour as the sun’s rays reflect on and off it. The beach here is not very neat, but I loved being by the water, nevertheless.
The Chinese fishing nets here are a popular tourist attraction, apparently one of the most photographed sights in Kerala. Why shouldn’t they be? They are a sight to watch, indeed. These nets, earlier believed to have been introduced by a Chinese explorer, work on a cantilever system. We did not get to see these nets actually being used for fishing, though.
It is oh-so-wonderful a feeling to watch the ships go by in the sea at Fort Kochi. It takes you long, long, long back in time, and makes you think of explorers, voyages, discovering lost lands, pirates and hidden treasures.
Fort Kochi has some of the oldest and most beautiful churches I have ever seen. We were not able to explore them, due to shortage of time. We were able to visit only one church – the Santa Cruz Basilica, a lovely old church that I instantly fell in love with.
Adjacent to Fort Kochi is Mattancherry, where we spent an afternoon, exploring Jew Town and the Dutch Palace and Museum.
There were a significant number of Jews in Kochi once, of which only a few remain now. They inhabit the part of Kochi called Jew Town, in Mattancherry, home to spice shops, antique shops, souvenir shops, cafes and the famous Jewish synagogue. Walking through this part of town is something I really love doing, peering into the antique shops and taking in the smells of fresh spices. I have never attempted buying anything from here, though – the prices are way too steep for me! However, it is a very interesting place to walk around, irrespective of whether you shop or not.
The Jewish synagogue, popularly called the Paradesi Synagogue, is gorgeous beyond words. It was constructed in 1568, and is one of the oldest synagogues to be still in use. Photography inside the synagogue is not permitted, so I have no pictures of it to show.
Near the synagogue is the Dutch Palace and Museum, which had me entranced for hours. It houses palanquins, coins, dresses, swords and utensils from the royal households of the several kings who have ruled Kerala. Again, photography is not allowed inside the palace.
There is a small Police Museum too in Jew Town, with statues depicting the uniforms and arms that have been used by the policemen of Kerala over time. We spent a pleasant half-hour here, gawping at the dresses.
Tourism brochures, websites and blogs tell you that a couple of days are enough to explore these parts of Kerala, but those instructions are clearly not for us. We still have a lot to do, see, feel, eat and explore in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry.