Cochin is a port city situated at the South-Western corner of India, at 17 degrees North Latitude and 76 degrees East Longitude.
Cochin has a sobriquet “The Queen of the Arabian Sea”. Since time immemorial the Jews, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English have all landed on her shores, tempted by her charm and beauty. All of them have left their inedible imprint on the culture and landscape of the region that accounts for the popularity contemporary Cochin enjoys.
Cochin is a cluster of Islands Willingdon, Bolghatty, Vallarpadom and
Vypeen, with the Mattancherry peninsula on the West and the Ernakulam mainland on the East.
This geographical layout took its shape during the great flood of 1341 CE, caused by a tsunami. That year the river Periyar flooded like never before (or after), and changed its course. The hitherto flourishing port of Cranganore, 20 miles north of Cochin, seat of the ancient Chera Empire and from where St Thomas introduced Christianity and Malik ibn Dinar introduced Islam to India silted up. In its place formed the Cochin bay, where the international port exists today.
Traders from the court of Kubla Khan in China arrived shortly after this great flood. They named this new port “Cochin”, after their native “Cochin-China”. They also brought along with them the Chinese Fishing Nets, which dot the backwaters until this date. However, another theory is that “Cochin” is a corrupted version of “Kochi”, derived from “Kaci” meaning “deep harbor”. This is the official stance, and since 1991, the name of “Cochin” is officially “Kochi”. The international airport still spots “Cochin”, and buses and trains spot “Ernakulam”, after the city center.
This newly formed port rapidly attracted the trade from the now defunct
Cranganore harbour. Cochin soon became a center of trade and commerce, making the 15th century Italian traveler Nicolo Conti remark “China is a good place to make money, and Cochin to spend it at.” Cochin is still a commercial beehive, and home to many industries and a bustling port.
The growing prominence of Cochin soon attracted colonial powers. The Portuguese landed first in 1498 CE and gained the favor of the local
raja. They succeeded in establishing Fort Manual, the first European settlement in India, and this has since then evolved into modern day Fort Cochin. Many landmarks like the St. Francis Church, the first European church in India and Santa Cruz Basilica survive from this period. The Jew Town, including the now famous synagogue took shape during this period, under the patronage of the local raja.
One noteworthy event during this period was the “Oath of Connen Cross” (1653 CE), wherein the Syrian Christians vowed never to have anything to do with the Latins or their bishops again. This schism, and the church where this occurred, with a bend cross, still exists at
In 1653 CE the Dutch eyed Cochin supported one fraction in a civil war. This fraction won, and with the help of the new raja the Dutch displaced Portuguese from Fort Cochin. The take over was however marred by pillage and plunder, epitomized by the razing to ground of the gigantic Jesuit College and library. The Dutch then went about on a rebuilding spree. Manuel Cotta became Fort Williams with a reduced size. The present day tourist attractions like the Dutch Palace at
Mattancherry and the Bolghatty Palaces date to this period.
Almost a century later, the British chased away the Dutch and took control over all Cochin. They were instrumental in dredging up the modern day Willingdon Island, and establishing a modern port there. The Cochin raja was at this time based in his royal palace at Tripunithura, 10 miles east of Ernakulam, which is today a must-see Hill Palace Museum cum deer park.
Major Places of Tourist Interest
Fort Cochin: Beach, Chinese Fishing Nets, St Francis Church, Santa Cruz Cathedral, Maritime Museum
Mattancherry: Dutch Palace, Synagogue
Ernakulam: Shiva Temple and Durbar Hall Ground, Museum of Kerala
History (Edapally), Hill Palace Museum and Deer Park (Tripunithura)
Bolghatty Island: Bolghatty Palace (now a KTDC hotel)
Vypeen Island: Cherai Beach, Palliport Fort
One popular tourist activity is a cruise in the backwaters. In Cochin city, short trips are available from the Ernakulam Marine Drive. The Kumbalanghi Tourist Village near Mattancherry is the most famous backwater resort in the city. However a much wider option is available in nearby Alleppey district, where backwater hot spots like Kumarakom,
Thaneermukam and Kuttanad are famous world over. A journey through the backwaters that stretch between Cochin and Alleppey, in a houseboat, amidst the lush green countryside and village farms is an enchanting experience.
Kathakali is a traditional folk-dance of the region, and there are some Kathakali theaters in the city. Cochin is also the home to many
ayurvedic spas and resort.
Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (www.ktdc.com) and some private players provide detailed information and offer conducted tours by bus and boat to all places of tourist interest in and around Cochin. Apart from the KTDC, The Government of India has its tourism office at Willingdon Island (www.incredibleindia.org).
How to reach:
Cochin has an international airport with flights to Singapore and most Middle East destinations including Dubai. There are also domestic flights to Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Goa and Delhi.
Cochin is directly connected by train from all parts of India. Ernakulam Junction is the terminus of many long distance trains. All trains to Trivandrum also pass through either Ernakulam
Junction or Ernakulam Town Railway Station. There are many overnight buses from Ernakulam to Bangalore, Madras, Coimbatore and Madurai, besides all places in Kerala state.
The following are some useful travel links Indian Railways: www.indianrailways.gov.in
Kerala State Road Transport Corporation: www.keralartc.com Cochin International Airport: www.cochin-airport.com
Travel within the city
City buses are a fast and inexpensive way to travel within the city, but would be crowded. Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, two popular tourist destinations are terminus of the city bus network. However, there are no bus numbers and the signboards are in the local language, Malayalam. There are no call-taxis except at the railway stations and airports. Instead of call-taxis, there are by three wheeled auto-rickshaws that can seat three passengers. However, a good number of travel and tour operators operate taxis. Details of such operators exist in the local yellow pages or at the hotel reception desk.
The major five star hotels are
Taj Malabar, Willingdon Island
Taj Residency, Ernakulam Marine Drive Le Meridian, Maradu
There is other star accommodation available at Fort Cochin, Willingdon Island and Ernakulam. Most of the budget accommodation is near the two railway stations at Ernakulam. The Youth Hostel is at Kakkanad, 15 kms east of
Ernakulam city center.
There are also many backwater resorts in the Vembanad Lake that covers Cochin and nearby Alleppey.
A comprehensive listing of all accommodation options is available at the website of Kerala Tourism www.keralatourism.org, and www.ktdc.com