20: Kochi

by - January 29, 2014

Chinese Fishing Nets

Our hotel outside Munnar
I got up early to watch the sun rise, and as it rose was able to fully appreciate what a beautiful location our hotel was in.  With its back to the mountains, our little lodge looked out south across undulating hills of tea plantations.  Unfortunately, our packed itinerary prevented us from lingering and after a quick breakfast we left at 8.30 (relatively late by the standards of the last few days), our driver took us back west to Kochi on the Arabian Sea coast.  The journey was not particularly pleasant – the air condition strained to counter the temperature that rose sharply as we left the mountains and as we approached the city we found ourselves in a reasonably solid gridlock.  We arrived at our hotel, the ‘Pepper Route’ in the mid-afternoon and after some lunch set about exploring Kochi. 

Jew Town - with the synagogue in the distance
Our driver of the last day had offered to stay on with us – ferrying us around the city for the rest of the day and taking us to the airport early the following morning, and with time tight we decided it made some sense.  Unfortunately, hiring a taxi driver outside of his native town turned out to not be such a great plan and we spent a slightly irritating amount of time asking for directions and making wrong turns.  The city itself was very pleasant.  Depending on who you speak to, the city is known as Cochin or Cochi (with a C or a K) and is located on a handful of spits, divided by a network of rivers.  We started our tour by heading for the so-called ‘Jew Town’ – a rather abrupt sounding term for the Jewish Quarter.  The city came to prominence as a major trading centre, ruled firstly by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then inevitably by the British - with its golden age occurring under the first two of these.  Our first stop was the so-called ‘Dutch Palace’, which was originally built by the Portuguese but was renovated so completely by the Dutch that they got their name attached to it.  Not much to look at from the outside, the interior is extremely grand and is now a museum displaying various artefacts from Kochi’s history.

St Francis Church
Jew Town itself was full of small shops selling everything from standard tourist fare (scarfs and fridge magnets) through to stuff for the more hardcore home decorators - such as giant statues of lions and elephants.  Myself and Sergei settled for a range of traditional Indian trousers, what with our relatively limited carrying capacity.  Aside from the Dutch Palace and the shops, the main attraction of the area was the synagogue, but unfortunately this was shut for the day - the interior is supposedly very beautiful.  Our driver next took us back towards our hotel and the coast of Kochi where we visited the St Francis Church.  This church is the oldest European church in India, having been built in 1503 and was the resting place of the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama (who died in Kochi) for 14 years before his body was moved to Lisbon - his memorial stone remains inside.  We set goodbye to our driver at this stage (until the morning) and explored the rest of the town on foot - heading to the coast to see the famous Chinese fishing nets.  These nets are a bit of a throwback to a bygone era as modern methods of fishing have made these grand (and fixed) structures outdated and cumbersome - however they remain as a tourist draw.  After watching the sun set over the Arabian Sea (once again) while sitting on Kochi’s unfortunately litter-strewn beach, we made our way to one of a wide range of nice looking restaurants.  While we would be spending less than a full day in Kochi, I was really impressed by what I saw and liked the calm and touristy vibe.  As the gateway to anybody wanting to fly to India to see Kerala, I would really recommend a few days in the city centre itself.

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