Get set to explore a rich mix of cultural influences in this eclectic, energetic environment.
It’s impossible to visit Port Cochin (also often referred to as Fort Kochi), India, without broadening your worldview. Kochi (known as the “Gateway to Kerala”) sits on India’s southwest coast and has been subject to British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese influence over its storied history. Everywhere you go the city still bears reminders of the influence of each of these cultures — from its architecture to its local customs and cuisine.
Kochi is a treasure trove for visitors and those who wish to explore on foot will especially love it. An especially traveler-friendly (but still authentic and untouched) area, it’s easy to cover on foot or via bike — and features plenty of activities for all different personalities, likes, and tastes. Here are just a few of the most well known.
Located in Cherai, on the northern side of Vypin Island (and 15 miles from downtown Kochi) lies Cherai Beach, one of Kerala’s most-visited beaches. Spectacularly golden-hued sand is a main draw, and low tide and gentle waves make it great for swimming. The beach is around 6 miles long and is ideal for swimming as the tide is mostly low and the waves are gentle. It’s also known for its lazy, scenic backwaters, breathtakingly close to the seafront. And you very well might spot a dolphin; sightings of them abound here.
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Unquestionably the area’s most iconic sight, this sprawling arrangement of nets has been an integral part of the Port Cochin seascape since the 14th century. The nets are way more than just a nostalgic reflection of the past as they are actually still in use today. For a small fee, local fishermen will show you how the nets are operated, and you can give them a go yourself.
Beyond that, the nets provide another major attraction: the chance to enjoy some of the freshest, most delicious fish you’ve ever eaten. Local fishmongers set up shop right at the waterfront where the nets line the shore; you can buy fresh seafood there, then have it cooked at a nearby grill and enjoy a simple-yet-memorable oceanfront meal.
Lined with stately old colonial buildings — each with generations of stories to tell — Mattancherry is a particularly charming, evocative neighborhood in Fort Kochi. Its most popular attraction is the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built for the Raja of Kochi in 1555 (and renovated by the Dutch a little more than a century later). Its unassuming exterior doesn’t exactly scream “palace,” but a small-yet-stunning museum inside features rare art, from paintings of the area’s past kings to intricate murals from the Hindu epics.
In the 16th century, a group of Sephardic Jewish people, fleeing persecution on the Iberian peninsula, came to this area, and were granted sanctuary by the Hindu Rajah, Keshava Rama Varma. Located in the “Old Cochin” area of Fort Kochi, the Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 on land granted by Varma — and a small, close-knit Cochin Jewish community developed around it.
The oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, it houses a number of important objects of antiquity, including the 10th-century copper plates of privileges given to Joseph Rabban, the earliest known Cochin Jewish settler. Very few Cochin Jewish people still live in the area, but the synagogue is still regularly open to visitors as a historic attraction. It’s a testament to the religious tolerance and freedom in the area, and a tribute to the many people who settled here over the centuries in search of a better life.
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