One of the finest natural harbours on the Arabian sea coast, Kochi likes to show itself off in the evenings. That is when the lights around the harbour and the seafront start twinkling and transport you to an almost fairytale-like atmosphere. The fairytale milieu suits Kochi admirably since it is one the most laid-back of Kerala’s cities. This, despite the fact that it is the state’s commercial hub handling spices, rubber, coir and fish products for the world.
For the uninitiated, Kochi comprises of mainland Ernakulam, the islands of Willingdon, Bolgatty and Gundu in the harbour, Fort Cochin and Matancherry in the south and Vypeen Island in the north. It is these islands and the smell of sea air that lends Kochi its unique charm. While it has the busy harbour on one end, on the other is M G Road, where modern designer boutiques and expensive gold shops exist almost cheek-by-jowl with places selling spices, dry fish and coconut products.
Kochi’s claim to posterity and fame is its distinctive title as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. As an ancient port of call for the Chinese, the Arabs, the Jews, the British, the French and the Portuguese, the city absorbed the cultures of each nationality and gave Kochi its cosmopolitan character. This is reflected in the buildings and structures all around the older sections. Naturally, there is history at every step in the city.
So, there is the 2,000-year-old Jew Town built in 1568 with one the oldest functioning synagogues in the world, the Mattancherry Palace built by the Portuguese in 1557, the Pallipuram Fort on Gundu Island and the Chinese fishing nets.
Built in 1503 by Portuguese Franciscan Friars, this is India’s oldest European church. The original structure made of wood, was rebuilt in stone in the mid-16th century by the Protestant Dutch. The church was converted to an Anglican Church by the British in 1795, and is presently used by the Church of South India. Vasco da Gama’s remains were buried here in 1524 and later moved to Lisbon, Portugal. His tombstone is a major tourist attraction.