Exploring Fort Kochi
Updated: Jul 31
Home sweet home!
Kochi is my hometown. I was born & raised here, and I love coming back whether it is to visit my family, or to explore the parts of town that I realised I had never been to. It is true that one never really explores their own backyard. In all my years in Kochi, I never bothered to find out why tourists from all around the world flock to my little city. It is only over the past few years that I started making an effort to explore Kochi, and the more I did I realise there is so much more to see!
Most tourists head straight to the Fort Kochi-Mattancherry area, as soon as they land. So let’s start the tour from there.
How to get to Fort Kochi from the city
Ferry to Fort Kochi
This is my most favourite way to travel to Fort Kochi! I take the ferry because it is the faster, scenic route to Fort Kochi.
-From Ernakulam boat jetty there are regular ferries to Fort Kochi & Mattancherry
-Local buses ply at regular intervals from the city, or hire a cab from the airport.
1. Hunt for street art & more in the alleys of Fort Kochi & Mattancherry
The streets of Fort Kochi & Mattancherry are absolutely fascinating to someone who doesn’t live there-which includes me. I once met a taxi driver from Fort Kochi who was absolutely oblivious to the charms of his neighbourhood. I love walking around the narrow streets of Fort Kochi, wandering into the by lanes, and into the residential parts of town. Every time I get lost in Fort Kochi & Mattancherry, I find something new-a new mural, an old one updated with some additions, art galleries squeezed in between colourful homes, quirky art shops selling souvenirs, and so much more! So walk everywhere!
2. Chinese Fishing nets
The Chinese Fishing Nets at Fort Kochi are the focal point of most tourists when they visit Fort Kochi- and why wouldn’t it be. They are absolutely gorgeous around sunset, creating the perfect frame for photographs, and a fun activity to do with your family when you are in the area. If you want to see the fishermen bring in their catch, you have to be there early in the morning, but they do oblige all tourists by dunking the fishing net in for a few minutes and then pulling them back up at any time of day-for a fee of course! They will also let you pull the ropes to bring up the nets if you ask!
3. Head to Fort Kochi Beach
Though crowded, it is a nice place to be in the evenings, if you like to people watch. On some weekdays, if you are lucky, you will find that the beach is fairly empty, else, get here early in the morning to watch the fishermen in action, and watch localise unfold without the crowds.
4. Shop for spices at Bazaar Road
Bazaar Road is a wholesale market for spices, pulses, and other things. The bazaar is usually bustling with activity, and the best place to immerse yourself in the local culture.
5. Explore Jew Town
Kochi once had a thriving jewish community, now there are only 30 jews who live in and around Jew town. They attend service at the Paradesi Synagogue which was constructed in 1568.
The tall, imposing building at the end of Jew Street is hard to miss. For someone who has never been to a synagogue, it will be a pleasant surprise. My first visit to a synagogue was the Paradesi Synagogue. Photography is prohibited inside. There is a small museum adjoining the synagogue describing the history of Jews in Kochi. The synagogue has beautiful colourful lanterns hung in a line across the doorway, and large crystal chandeliers in the middle of the room, becoming the focal point as you enter. The floors are of hand painted tiles, some of which are of intricate Chinese designs.
Visitors are not allowed during service, the timings of which are mentioned outside the building.
6. Shop at Jew street
-Jew street has a lot of antique stores, all of which sell beautiful artefacts from Kerala and around the country. Most of the shops are fairly expensive, considering it is an area highly frequented by international tourists, but it is possible to get a slightly better rate if you buy a few items-though bargaining is not entertained in most stores.
-Sarah’s Hand Embroidery
Buy hand embroidered kids clothing, bedding, and more, at Sarah aunty’s embroidery shop. Sarah aunty, one of the last surviving Jews of Kochi, passed away in August 2019. Her shop still functions, looked after by the caretaker she had appointed years ago.
Her shop sells embroidered cloth accessories needed for Jewish ceremonies. It is the only shop in Kochi where you can get these things.
7. Walk through the Jew cemetery
The Jewish cemetery near the synagogue has centuries old tombstones with Hebrew script. It is worth a quick visit if you have the time. In September 2019, the last rites of Kochi’s oldest Jew, Sarah Cohen, was held at the cemetery. Sarah aunty, as she was known, was aged 96, and was designer at Sarah’s Hand Embroidery shop in Jew Street. Sarah aunty’s sisters son flew in from Israel to attend the service. Kochi’s jewish community date back to the 12th century, but the numbers have dwindled since the formation of Israel, leaving just under 30 members in Kochi.
It may not always be open to public, you will have to try your luck.
8. Head to the Dutch cemetery
Visit to see the tombstones of the Dutch & British traders and administrators dating back centuries. The cemetery runs parallel to the beach and is a short walk from the St. Francis Church. The last person to have been buried there was Captain Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913.
9. Marvel at the Dutch Palace/Mattancherry Palace
The palace was built by the Dutch and gifted to the Maharaja of Cochin (King Veera Kerala Varma) in 1545. It is now open to public, and boasts of beautiful murals and portraits. The murals depict scenes from the Ramayana & Mahabharata.
10. Check out the Indo-Portuguese Museum
Make a quick visit to the Indo-Portuguese museum if you have time, to see centuries old Christian artefacts. The notable artefacts are a piece of a 16th century wooden altar from the Church of Our Lady of Hope in Vypeen, a 19th century chasuble, a 17th century wood & silver processional cross from Santa Cruz Cathedral in Fort Kochi, and a 18-19th century Monstrance from the Church of Our Lady of Hope, Vypeen.
Entry is free on the 1st Thursday of every month!
11. Head to Santa Cruz Basilica
Originally built as a cathedral in 1558 during the time of the Portuguese, it was demolished in 1795 by the British. In 1887, Bishop Fereira commissioned a new building to be built on the same site, and Pope John Paul II declared it a basilica in 1984.
12. Make a quick stop at Pierce Leslie Bungalow
This beautiful seaside bungalow was built in 1892, and displays a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, & Kerala architecture.
13. Stop at the VOC Gate at parade Ground
Near St. Francis Church & Cochin club, the parade ground was where the Portugueses, Dutch, & British conducted their military drills. The entrance has the Dutch East India Company’s monogram VOC on it, (from 1749) due to which it gets the name.
14. Make a quick stop at St. Francis Church
It is one of the oldest European churches in India. It was originally built in 1503. In 1524, when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died, he was buried in this church. His remains were later moved to Lisbon.
15. Head to Fort Emmanuel
The ruins of Fort Emmanuel are located on Fort Kochi Beach. The Fort which was built in 1503, is the reason for the 'Fort' in Fort Kochi!