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With its wealth of historical associations and its beautiful setting on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, the interesting city of Kochi perfectly reflects the eclecticism of Kerala. Here, you can see the oldest church in India, winding streets crammed with 500-year-old Portuguese houses, cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, a Jewish community whose roots go back to the Diaspora, a 16th century synagogue, and a palace built by the Portuguese and given to the Raja of Cochin. The palace, which was later renovated by the Dutch, contains some of India’s most beautiful murals. Another must-see is a performance of the world-famous Kathakali dance-drama.
The older parts of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry are an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English country village grafted onto the tropical Malabar coast- a radical contrast to the bright lights, bustle and big hotels of mainland Ernakulam. The dense population of brightly painted billboards proclaiming the launch of yet another luxury apartments building (some with swimming pools!) confirms what a prosperous town this is.
Kochi is one of India’s largest ports and a major naval base. The misty silhouettes of huge merchant ships can be seen anchored off the point of Fort Cochin, waiting for a berth in the docks of Ernakulam or Willingdon Island. This artificial island, created with deepened, also provides a site for the airport. All day, ferries scuttle back and forth between the various parts of Kochi.
Dolphins can be seen in the harbour.

St Francis Church India’s oldest European-built church was constructed in 1503 by Portuguese Franciscan friars who accompanied the expedition led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral. The original structure was wood, but the church was rebuilt in stone around the mid-16th century-the earliest Portuguese inscription found in the church is dated 1562. The Protestant Dutch captured Kochi in 1663 and restored the church in 1779. After the occupation of Kochi by the British in 1795, it became an Anglican church and its presently used by the church of South India.
Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sailing around Africa, died in Cochin in 1524 and was buried here for 14 years before his remains were transferred to Lisbon in Portugal. His tombstone can be seen inside the church. 

Santa Cruz Basilica:  
This large, impressive church dates from 1902, and has a fantastical pastel-coloured interior.

 Chinese Fishing Nets: 
Strung out along the tip of Fort Cochin, opposite Vypeen Island, these cantilevered fishing nets were introduced by traders from the court of Kublai Khan. You can also see them along the backwaters between Kochi and Kottayam, and between Alappuzha and Kollam (Quilon). They’re mainly used at high tide, when the system of counterbalancing stones is quiet a sight.


Mattancherry Palace
Built by the Portuguese in 1557, this palace was presented to the Raja of Cochin, Veera Kerala Varma (1537-61), as a gesture of goodwill (and probably as a means of securing trading privileges). The palace’, resulted from substantial two-storey, quadrangular building surrounds a courtyard containing a Hindu temple. The central hall on the 1st floor was the Coronation Hall of the rajas. Their dresses, turbans and palanquins are now on display.

The most important feature, however, in the astonishing murals, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends connected with Siva, Vishnu, Krishna, Kumara and Durga. These beautiful and extensive murals rarely seem to be mentioned, although they are one of the wonders of India. The Siva temple in Ettumanur (a few km north of Kottayam) has similar murals. The staff like to keep the odd gallery closed- such as the ladies’ bedchamber downstairs- and quietly charge extra to see it. The bedchamber is worth seeing because it features a cheerful Krishna using his six hands and two feet to engage in foreplay with eight happy milkmaids.
The palace is open Saturday to Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm; entry free, but photography is not permitted and there are no postcards or reproductions of the murals on sale.

Jewish Synagogue
Constructed in 1568, this is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. The original building was destroyed by shelling during a Portuguese raid in 1662 and was rebuilt two years later when the Dutch took over Kochi. It’s an interesting little place, with hand-painted, willow-pattern floor tiles brought from Canton in China in the mid-18th century by one Ezekial Rahabi. He was also responsible for the erection of the clock tower which tops the building.

A synagogue built at Kochangadi in 1344 has since disappeared, although a stone slab from this building, inscribed in Hebrew, can be found on the inner surface of the wall which surrounds the Mattancherry synagogue.
The synagogue is open Sunday to Friday, from 10am to noon and from 3 to 5pm.
This unexpected and isolated Jewish community dates back to the time of St Thomas the Apostle’s voyage to India in AD 52. The first Jewish settlement was at Kodungallur (Cranganore), north of Kochi. Like the Syrian Orthodox Christians, the Jews became involved in the trade and commerce of the Malabar Coast. Preserved in the synagogue are a number of copper plates inscribed, in an ancient script, with the grant of the village of Anjuvannam (near Kodungallur) and its revenue to a Jewish merchant, Joseph Rabban, by king Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962-1020). You may view these plates with the permission of the synagogue guardian.
The concessions given by Ravi Varman I included permission to use a palanquin and parasol- in those days the prerogative of rulers-and so, in effect, sanctioned the creation of a tiny Jewish kingdom. On Rabban’s death, his son fought each other for control of the ‘kingdom ‘ and this rivalry led to its break-up and the move to Mattancherry.
The community has been the subject of much research. An interesting study by an American professor of ethnomusicology found that the music of the Cochin Jews contained strong Babylonian influences, and that their version of the Ten Commandments was almost identical to a Kurdish version housed in the Berlin Museum Archives. Of course, there has also been much local influence, and many of the hymns are similar to ragas.
The area around the synagogue is known as Jew town and is one of the centers of the Kochi spice trade. Scores of small firms huddle together in old, dilapidated building and the air is filled with the pungent aromas of ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves. Many Jewish names are visible on business premises and houses, but the community has diminished rapidly since Indian independence and now numbers about 20. There has been no rabbi within living memory, so all the elders are qualified to perform religious ceremonies and marriages. They are many interesting curio shops on the street leading up to the synagogue.

TAJ RESIDENCY, (Government Approved) 5 Star
CASINO HOTEL, (Government Approved) 5 Star
QUALITY INN PRESIDENCY, (Government Approved) 4 Star
THE AVENUE REGENT, (Government Approved) 4 Star
THE RENAISSANCE COCHIN, (Government Approved) 4 Star
BOLGATTY PALACE HOTLE, (Government Approved) Heritage
THE MALABAR HOUSE RESIDENCY, (Government Approved) Heritage
GRAND HOTEL, (Government Approved) 3 Star
HILLTOP RESORT, (Government Approved) 3 Star
HOTEL ABAD, (Government Approved) 3 Star
HOTEL ABAD PLAZA, (Government Approved) 3 Star
HOTEL COCHIN TOWER, (Government Approved) 3 Star
SEALORD HOTEL, (Government Approved) 3 Star
HOTEL YUVARANI RESIDENCY, (Government Approved) 3 Star
MERMAID DAYS INN, (Government Approved) 3 Star
THE BRUNTON BOATYARD, (Government Approved) 3 Star
THE INTERNATIONAL HOTEL, COCHIN, (Government Approved) 3 Star
THE METROPOLITAN, (Government Approved) 3 Star
THE TRIDENT, (Government Approved) 3 Star


Kathakali Dancing  
The origins of India’s most spectacular dance-drama go back 500 years to a time when open – air performances were held in temple courtyards or in villages. There are over 100 different arrangements, all of them based on stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. They are designed to continue well into the early hours of the morning. Since most visitors don’t have the inclination to stay up all night, the centers which put on the dance in Ernakulam offer shortened versions lasting about 11/2 hours.
Kathakali isn’t simply another form of dancing –it incorporates elements of yoga and ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. All the props are fashioned from natural materials- powdered and the sap of certain trees for the bright facial make-up; the beaten bark of certain trees, dyed with fruits and spices for wigs; coconut oil for mixing up the colours; burnt coconut oil for the black paint around the eyes; and eggplant flowers tucked under the eyelids to turn the whites of the eyes deep red. The make-up process before the dance is quiet a show in its own right. The dancers are usually accompanied by drummers and a harmonium player. A government-run school, near Palakkad in northern Kerala, teaches Kathakali dancing.
The evening starts with an explanation of the symbolism of the facial expressions, the symbolism of the facial expressions, hand movements and ritualistic gestures. This is followed by an actual dance-drama lasting about one hour. At all three Kathakali centres, make-up starts at 6 pm, and the performance at about 7 pm.

 Parishath Thampuram Museum  
This museum contains 19th –century oil paintings, old coins, sculptures and Mughal paintings, but apart from some interesting temple housed in an enormous, traditional-style Keralan building (previously Durbar Hall) on Durbar Hall Rd.

 Vypeen & Gundu Islands
Ferries shuttle across the narrow strait from Fort Cochin to Vypeen Island. The island boasts a lighthouse at Ochanthuruth (open from 3 to 5 pm daily), good beaches, and the early 16th –century Palliport Fort (open Thursdays). Gundu, the smallest island in the harbour, is close to Vypeen. It has a coir factory where attractive doormats are made out of coconut fibre. Fishers will take you to Gundu from Vypeen.

Hill Palace Museum is at Tripunithura, 12 km south –east of Ernakulam, en route to Chottanikkara. The hilltop museum houses the collections of the Cochin and Travancore royal families. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 12:30 pm and from 2 to 4:30pm.

The Museum of Kerala History is at Edapally, 10km north-east of Ernakulam en route to Aluva (Alwaye). It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to noon and from 2 to 4 pm.

THE SURYA, (Government Approved) 3 Star

This is the main form of transport between the various parts of Kochi. Nearly all the ferry stops are named, which helps to identify them on the timetable at Main Jetty in Ernakulam. The stop on the east side of Willingdon Island is called Embarkation; the one on the west side, opposite Mattancherry, is Terminus. The main Fort Cochin is known as Customs; the other one (for Vypeen Island) is unnamed. 

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