Kochi: A royal treat
The Queen of the Arabian Sea. That's what Kochi is often called. And, why not? With the finest natural harbour in the world, man-made islands surrounding the main city, history at every step and giant Chinese fishing nets silhouetted against the setting sun, can a tourist ask for more?
Though Cochin or Kochi was the oldest European settlement in India, it has seen a long line of visitors who came and were so moved by the place that they stayed on for centuries. There were the Chinese, the Arabs, the Jews, the British, the French and the Portuguese. Each left behind a part of its culture. Today, as a result, Kochi is perhaps the most cosmopolitan cities of the country. Kochi also has one of the biggest ports in the country which handles spices, rubber, coir and fish products for the world.
A visit to Kochi is never complete without a trip to Jew Town. The 2000-year-old settlement built in 1568, houses one the oldest functioning synagogues in the world and is living testimony to the presence of the Jews of Malabar.
The other important historical destination is the Mattancherry Palace. Built by the Portuguese in 1557 and presented to Raja Veera Kerala Varma of Kochi, the palace has murals with scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata Rajas in the first floor. Built in oriental style, the Mattancherry Palace also has a portrait gallery of the kings of Cochin. In the centre of the building, is the Coronation Hall where the Cochin Rajas held their coronations. The palace is a veritable treasure house of memorabilia with dresses, turbans, weapons and palanquins used by the Cochin royalty. Just 10 km away from Kochi is the Hill Palace, the official residence of the Kochi royal family. Built in 1865, it houses the largest archaeological museum in Kerala. A magnificent 16th century fort, Pallipuram Fort, is on Gundu Island, the smallest of the cluster of islands around Kochi. In addition to the fort, there is a coir factory where visitors can see how coir is extracted from coconut fibre
Kochi's best hotels are located on the man-made Willingdon Island, named after Lord Willingdon, one of the British Viceroys to India. The island alos houses customs and trading centres, the port trust and the headquarters of the Southern Naval Command. Bolgatty Island with the Dutch-built Bolgatty Palace is one of the places that you must see while in Kochi. Constructed in 1744, the Palace was taken over by the British to be used as a residence for its Governors. Today, the place has been transformed by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) into a hotel. There is also a fine golf course and a picnic spot on the island. The ferry ride from Ernakulam to the island is an experience worth taking.
There is also the Santa Cruz Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church close to the historical St. Francis Church built by the Portuguese.
Of course, Kochi's major attraction on the waterfront is the Chinese fishing nets or the Cheena Vala, as they are called in Malayalam. It is believed that traders brought these huge fishing nets to Kochi from the court of Kublai Khan. The fishermen in Fort Cochin still use these large nets.
Reaching Kochi: Cochin International Airport is 20 km from the city centre. The city is well connected with most major cities of the country by air. Kochi has three railway stations, Ernakulam Junction, Ernakulam Town and Cochin Harbour Terminus on Willingdon Island and can be reached from most cities in India.
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