Still stuck in time, this erstwhile trading port, has seen a lot over the years, from the Portuguese to the Dutch and then the British before India’s independence. It’s colonial past, however, haunts it till this day. As you walk down, the buildings, the doorways, the streets and shops bring alive its history. Fort Kochi is a small settlement on the coast and you can walk the entire length and breadth of it. Popular with western tourists, the town is very friendly to English speakers, and everything from the cafes and shops to hotels and roadside stalls are tailored (or rather preserved) for Continental tastes. Fort Kochi is a great short holiday to experience history, relax and have a cup of tea on the verandah. It’s also a great first stop to ease into before you venture into the rest of Kerala.
When to go:
The weather at Fort Kochi is tropical – hot and humid. The scorching summers from March to June and the torrential rains from June to September are best avoided. The most pleasant time to go is between October and February, where the climate is a bit cooler with sporadic rainfall. December can get crowded with the 10 day Cochin Carnival.
Fort Kochi is a little over an hour’s drive from Cochin International Airport. Prepaid taxis are available at the airport and an air-conditioned one cost us 1025/-
In and around the area, are auto-rickshaws or tuk tuks, to help you navigate the small lanes rather quickly. They usually decide on a fare before you hop in. A 10 minute ride from Church Street to Jew Town cost us Rs. 50/- Most attractions are, however, usually a short walk away from each other.
Things to do:
- Walk around Jew Town, where trade looks like it carries on exactly the way it did 500 years ago. Stroll past the spice and tea merchants, peep through the old wooden doorways that open into tinier streets, avoid the newer shops selling souvenirs and clothes but do gawk at the antique stores.
- Discover the ancient architecture and step into religious landmarks like the Santa Cruz Basilica, the Paradesi Synagogue and the St. Francis Church where Vasco da Gama was first buried. Do remember to dress modestly when visiting places of worship.
- A huge attraction in Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets believed to have been installed by either Chinese traders or the Portuguese who came from Macau in the 14th century. Today you see fishermen sitting along their wooden poles, waving out to you as you walk past on the promenade. The best time to go is early in the morning or at sunset.
- Discover the performing arts of Kerala with a Kalaripayattu or Kathakali show at the Kerala Kathakali Centre. Visit the link for show timings and tickets.
- Visit the Indo Portuguese Museum inside the Bishop’s house to delve further into the area’s history through Portuguese artifacts. Open 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
- Visit the 287 year old Dutch Cemetery at the end of the beach walkway that has the tombs of hundreds of prominent Europeans from before 1913. While the cemetery remains shut most of the time, it is opened to visitors on request.
- Visit the Mattancherry Palace a.k.a the Dutch Palace which was a gift to the Rajah of Cochin from the Portuguese. Today it stands as a brilliant example of traditional Kerala architecture, housing portraits of the rajahs, murals of Hindu mythology and other artifacts from the time.
The Cochin Thirumala Devasworn temple, the Shree Gopalakrishna Devasworn Temple and the Southern Naval Command Maritime Museum are also noteworthy.
Where to stay:
Blowout: Easily one of the oldest structures in the area, the 500-year-old Le Colonial was a Dutch Governor’s private residence where he hosted guests like Vasco Da Gama, St. Francis Xavier and Tipu Sultan, among others. Neemrana Hotels have turned this into an upmarket hotel, replete with all the old world heritage charm without scrimping on modern luxury. Doubles from Rs. 11,500. Read about our experience at Le Colonial here.
Mid-Range: Most of the heritage homes turned boutique hotels around Vasco da Gama Square right across the beach promenade are in the mid-range. Take your pick from the ever popular Malabar House, Koder House, Old Harbour Hotel, Brunton Boatyard and more. Doubles from Rs. 7,000/-
Budget: For the budget traveller, Fort Kochi offers something unique. A chance to live with locals, eat home cooked meals, but enjoy as much privacy as a hotel when they need it. Homestays can be found down every street in Fort Kochi. Silverweed Homestay appears to be one such remarkable example. Doubles from 1238/-
Where to eat:
For people who love going local, Fort Kochi was a bit of a challenge. Since most of the visitors to this area are Westerners, authentic Kerala cuisine is hard to come by. While you will get the freshest seafood, most of it is cooked tempered down, or in continental styles.
- Most of the boutique hotels in the area (mentioned above) have great restaurants, but they tend to be expensive.
- Le Colonial offers you a complete set menu for Rs. 800 per head. (Read about it here)
- The Fort Cochin Restaurant where we sampled delicious fish curry rice with fried prawns cost us Rs. 650 for a meal for two.
- The most interesting meal option at Fort Kochi however, is “You Buy We Cook.” A concept where you can walk right up to the fishermen at the Chinese fishing nets and pick your own seafood, fresh, by the kilo, and then follow their boys up to the hole in the wall shacks where you can have it cooked as per your taste. A kilo of prawns cost us Rs. 300 to buy and Rs. 100 to cook.
- Fort Kochi has a mosquito population to rival the human population of India. So cover your arms and legs whenever outdoors, and bring the repellant along.
- The whole of Kochi is extremely unfriendly to smokers and it’s next to impossible to find a cigarette shop or a restaurant, bar, hotel or even road where you can smoke. So come prepared.
Since you’re checking out Fort Kochi, you may also be interested in Kumarakom, a backwater escape that’s an hour’s drive away.