Ernakulam, also known as Kochi, is one of the most happening cities in the tiny state of Kerala. Brimming with art and history it is a paradise for those who are explorers of the city culture. You may find your style, your connection, your purpose and your relation with this city in any of the settings of this place, be it the sun drop sunset, or the coffee shop chronicles with a newbie, be it your love for descriptive or the performing art or be it simply the fishing point, the air here is enriching.
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It was the 5th day and the 3rd destination on our list. We started the day early and hit the road before breakfast. In Deepu’s car we drifted on the National Highway 66, leading us to the port city of Cochin. It is a single lane highway and takes about two hours from Alleppey. On our way, we pulled over for the classic South Indian breakfast at the Indian Coffee House. The specialty of this age old chain of south Indian restaurant is the beetroot Masala Dosa, which is not at all easy to find in other parts of the country. It also has a particular style of making coffee distinctive from the western, whipped style coffee.
One of the many perks of traveling far and wide is greeting and spending the time with friends that you had not seen in a long time. I happened to meet one such friend in Cochin. Alyce, my close friend from the UK, also spent the day with us traversing through the streets of once famed Jew Town in India. We came across the remnants of the Dutch and Portuguese exploitations reminding us of the era when the Dutch and Portuguese had entered India through the sea centuries ago in search of spices.
Fort Kochi still beholds some of the stories from the colonial rules that existed in this part of India. From the Portuguese setting up the base, to the Dutch defeating Portuguese and the British conquering over the Dutch, the colonial history of Kochi is an interesting narration through its monuments that have stood against the test of time and in fact are a testimony to the strength of the human skills of those eras.
All of us on the hot Friday afternoon decided to dedicate the day to the significant history of Fort Kochi and the art culture that continues to add more colors to its cultural palette. Here are listed a few “must visits” and “must dos” in the Fort Kochi area that we took upon ourselves before the sun set for that day.
- The St Francis Church, built in the colonial era of the Portuguese, it is also known as the Vasco De Gama Square for Vasco De Gama was once buried in this church. At present, it is undergoing a major restoration process but visitors are allowed during the weekdays.
- The Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi – visit for grabbing a bite with the backdrop of contemporary artwork. The café is a cozy hangout and the gallery too boasts of a new and fresh collection every day.
- The Mattancherry Palace, is actually a Portuguese palace but popularly known as the Dutch Palace, located near the Jewish Synagogue. A monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, this palace showcases some of the archaic Mural art in the form of paintings of the Hindu folklore. A peek into the history, this palace would easily hold interest of those who are aware of the Rajahs of Kerala. The art flourished in there reign and fortunately preserved till now.
- The Jewish Synagogue is perhaps one of the major attractions in this area for one simple reason. A handful of the descendants of the Jew Community reside here. There are no more than 2 or 3 Jew families living in India now. It is astounding how they have been able to maintain their true identity amidst many other large communities that have equally contributed in shaping up the history of Kerala. In that sense, the heterogeneity of Kerala is worth admiring. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the synagogue because of the Passover Festival, due to which the monument was not open to the public. This 10 days festival usually takes place in the month of April.
- The Jew Town Street, right behind the synagogue, is a street buzzing with people selling artifacts and souvenirs to take back home. All the walls here are painted with bold colors that are brightened even more under the sun. A vivid collection of art pieces, metallic as well as beaded jewelry, coffee table books, picture postcards, and a lot of muffins to munch on, make you stay a little longer than you would anticipate. An ideal spot for street photography, Nikita quenched her thirst for photography here.
- The Tourist Police Museum is also situated on the Jew Town Street. We had no awareness about it, until we actually decided to go inside and check it. Turns out, it was actually one of the funniest museums I have come across till now. Of course, it had a superb collection displayed of the weapons used by the police and its evolution with time. What were disturbingly funny were the effigies of humans that displayed injuries while on duty. Also the fact that there was no one to elaborate on the museum did not leave an everlasting impression on us. Nevertheless, all of us had our five minutes of entertainment inside the museum.
- Onyx Art Gallery, also located on the same street, very close to the Police Museum, is actually an art studio that belongs to a local artist Sara Hussein. She is ‘Oil on Canvas’ painter who strongly believes in the power of her imagination before she strokes her brush on the canvas. A streak of confidence runs all through her work, there is also awareness and an ounce of her surroundings in her work. It was only by chance that we happened to visit this gallery and sensing our interest in her art, she unveiled her actual art gallery for us. It was a reservoir of her work which exclusively opens up for buyers. She also owns an art corridor in Le Meridian in Bangalore where she regularly exhibits her work. It was by far the most awe-inspiring place that I had visited in Kochi. I guess, some of the best things in life always knock as a surprise. And here stood we, not only surprised but also inspired and stunned.
- We retired for a while in Café Qissa, on Jacob Road, to have some coolers and contemplated on the overwhelming day. It is a great place to experiment with food, the music and the setup is classy and sophisticated. But they are a bit slow in their service which naturally leaves a lot of room for storytelling. I believe the inherent unhurriedness just grows into everybody and everything here.
- There wouldn’t have been a better way to bring a closure to our stupendous time in Kochi than catching one last glimpse of the Vembanad backwaters from the Fort Kochi Beach. They submissively merge into the Arabian Sea like the child fondly hugging her mother. The sun sent for us its last rays of warmth, making us slightly sad about our departure from the city. The Chinese Fishing Nets leaned onto the water flirting with the fishes once in a while. The breeze and the waves seemed to be in perfect harmony with each other which the crows seemed to enjoy the most with their little playful acts. All we wanted to do there was to observe the world around us and be immersed in its happiness.
It was hard to bid the final Goodbye to Alyce, one last hug is difficult yet mandatory. In reality, we were bidding farewell not only to her but also to Kerala. Kochi was our last stint in God’s own Country, until next time. Kerala has never failed to grow on me and my connection with it only becomes stronger each time. No matter how many times you are here, there are always more reasons to return. With great hope in my heart I promised myself to return soon and moved on to my next destination in Karnataka.