Kochi

Located along an old spice route, Kochi’s old shop houses and abandoned colonial mansions have been converted into cool cafes and boutique hotels.

Kochi echoes with voices from the past.This was once a great staging post on the spice routes between Europe and the Far East, a place to tickle the taste-buds and fire the imagination. Traders and chancers from every corner of the globe came here searching for fortunes, and today their legacy is writ large in the streetscapes of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. This is a place where churches, temples, mosques and synagogues stand cheek by jowl amongst the crumbling warehouses of long-forgotten trading companies.

Today all this living history makes for the perfect shabby-chic destination. Old shophouses have been converted into cool cafés, and abandoned colonial mansions are now beautiful boutique hotels. The pace is slow in the old part of town on the seaward side of the harbour, and it’s a place to linger over coffee or admire the sunset behind a phalanx of Chinese fishing nets.

This is not a city stuck entirely in the past, however. Ernakulam, the landward half of Kochi, is a bustling modern town with malls, cinemas and plenty of shopping opportunities. And when you’re done with the city, Kochi is also the gateway to everything else that Kerala has to offer, from soft-sand beaches to misty tea gardens, old river ports, and an otherworldly network of backwaters.

 

When to go

Kerala is hot year round, with high humidity. Most people visit during the driest months (Oct-Mar), when the temperature is a little lower. There are torrential monsoon downpours in the middle of the year, but some people enjoy the rains, when the landscape is at its lushest.

Visa requirements

Singaporean citizens can obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at Kochi airport for US$60. Visitors from most other countries need to apply for a visa in advance from an Indian consulate.

Money

The Indian currency is the rupee (divided into 100 paise). There are ATMs and exchange counters at the airport. In the city Ernakulam has ATMs at every turn and there are a few across the water in Fort Kochi.

Transport

There are prepaid taxis from the airport to town, as well as regular air-conditioned buses that run all the way to Fort Kochi. Within town there are plenty of taxis and auto-rickshaws, though you'll need to bargain for the fare. Passenger ferries criss-cross the harbour linking Ernakulam with Fort Kochi and the nearby islands.

Health and safety tips

Kochi is one of India's safest cities, and the biggest threat you'll face is the traffic in downtown Ernakulam. Taxi and rickshaw drivers may try to steer you towards certain souvenir shops, but the hassle is low-key compared to other Indian destinations. The one major issue in Kochi is the mosquitoes, which thrive in the humid climate. Cover up and use repellent unless you want to be covered in bites.

Emergency details

The nearest Singaporean consulate is in Chennai (tel: (91) 44 2815 8207). In an out-of-hours emergency call the consular helpline (tel: (91) 984 003 3136).
 

Kochi has its own tourist police with branches in Ernakulam (tel: (91) 484 235 3234) and Fort Kochi (tel: (91) 484 221 5055).

Basic greetings
English Malayalam
Hello Namaskaram
How are you? Cukmano?
Goodbye Namaskaram
Please Deyavu Cheytu
Thank you Nanni
Yes Untu
No Illa
OK Sari
What's your name? Ninte peru entanu?
My name is… Enthe peru aanu…
I am from… Nan…ninnu
I would like… Nan venam
How much? Enta villa?
Where is…? Evide anna…?
Where's the toilet? Tailet evide?
Right Vallate
Left Edade
I don't understand Mancilla illa

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Chinese fishing nets

Kalvathi Road, Fort Kochi

The ultimate Kochi icon, the spindly Chinese fishing nets that line the entrance to the harbour resemble a ceremonial guard of praying mantises. According to legend the technique of fishing with huge cantilevered nets was brought to Kochi by a 15th-century Chinese treasure fleet. You’ll spot them in use throughout the backwaters, but they are at their most accessible and photogenic here, silhouetted against the sunset. Teams of fishermen still work the nets at high tide, though for increasingly meagre returns. They’re usually happy for travellers to lend a hand at the ropes, and they’ll sell you the catch of the day to be grilled up at the nearby stalls.

Vypin Island

Little passenger ferries will take you across the harbour mouth from Fort Kochi to the southern tip of Vypin Island. It’s pleasant to wander away from the crowds, and you’ll find a bustling fish market near the ferry landing. However, the real attractions lie to the north. Take an auto-rickshaw for the hour-long ride to the lovely Cherai Beach. There are a few low-key resorts and homestays here; the water is clean, and on weekdays it’s a quiet spot to kick back and enjoy the views.

The Backwaters

The sea gives way uneasily to the land in Kerala, and the narrow entrance to Kochi’s harbour is a portal between two different kinds of water-world. Inland from here a vast network of lakes, rivers and canals makes a watery web stretching some 900km across the state. The Backwaters are a magical realm of drooping palms, drifting water hyacinth and gliding boats. You can take daytrips from Kochi into the nearby channels, hire a traditional houseboat and plot a course for forgotten corners of this watery kingdom, or head south towards the old river towns of Kollam and Alleppey.

Mattancherry Palace

Jew Town Road, Mattancherry

In the mid 16th century the Portuguese built the Matancherry Palace as a gift for the local raja. In return they got trading rights and a lucrative chunk of Kerala’s spice trade. From the outside the palace looks every inch the colonial relic, with flaking walls, mildewed red roofs, and shuttered windows. Inside things get much more colourful. The buildings are ranged around a temple courtyard, and the royal bedchamber is wildly decorated with intricate scenes from the Ramayana. In the downstairs women’s quarters, meanwhile, some of the murals are decidedly X-rated.

Pardesi Synagogue

Jew Town Road, Mattancherry

Nowhere speaks more clearly of Kochi’s past as a melting pot of trade and immigration than the alleys of Jew Town, with their old spice warehouses and shuttered windows. This area was once home to dozens of Jewish families, though in recent years immigration to Israel has seen the community shrink to a handful of old-timers. Centrepiece of the area is the Pardesi Synagogue. Built in the 16th century, from the outside it looks a little like a Dutch church, with a bell tower and clock. The cool interior features a shining expanse of blue Chinese tiling and dangling chandeliers.

Shop

Cinnamon

1/658, Ridsdale Road, Fort Kochi

An effortlessly cool boutique, Cinnamon stocks fashions from some of India’s hippest designers, along with some stylish accessories and high-quality jewellery. There is also a striking selection of home-ware, including some modernist twists on traditional crafts. Everything is displayed is a stark white space, perfect for top-end browsing, and there's a café attached.

Budget $$$

Crafters

VI/141, Jew Town

There are dozens of antique shops in the lanes of Jew Town and Fort Kochi, but Crafters is a cut above the rest, with an enormous collection of scrupulously curated artefacts. There are plenty of Keralan offerings in wood and cloth, as well as antiques from across India and beyond. You’ll find everything here you need to kit out your home like a maharaja’s palace, from small trinkets to palace-sized furnishings.

Budget $$$

Kairali

M.G. Road, Ernakulam

A government emporium of fixed-price handicrafts in Ernakulam, Kairali is a good place to browse for local souvenirs. You’ll find all the same items usually on offer at the various private shops in Fort Kochi without the stress of bargaining, and the quality of the offerings here is excellent. There’s another, smaller branch across the water on River Road in Fort Kochi itself.

Budget $

LuLu International Shopping Mall

N.H. 47, Edapally

Over on the Kochi mainland, LuLu is the city’s flashiest shopping mall. There is an enormous range of branded fashion and technology outlets, a top-end supermarket, a cinema and a huge food court, as well as all sorts of other entertainment venues and an attached hotel.


Seemati

M.G. Road, Ernakulam

The hub of a century-old, family-owned fashion empire, the huge Seemati emporium in Ernakulam offers a vast array of clothing items for men, women, teens and children. Above all, this is the place to come for the very finest silk saris, and it’s a favoured destination of brides-to-be from across Kerala and beyond.

Budget $$

Dine

Dal Roti

1/293 Lilly Street, Fort Kochi

A simple little eatery that punches well above its weight, Dal Roti attracts a steady stream of devotees. The menu focuses on north Indian cuisine, with excellent parathas and kati rolls, along with a mix of authentic vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries. The decor is simple, with wooden tables and minimalist artwork on the walls, and the service is usually as good as the food.

Budget $

Kashi Art Café

Burgher Street, Fort Kochi

Inside the Kashi Art Gallery, this cool little café serves excellent light meals. The breakfasts are generous and there are some great cakes to go along with the top-notch coffee. The relaxed, trendy style of the place, with art on all sides, makes it a fine spot to while away a steamy Kochi afternoon.

Budget $$

Sri Krishna Café

Palace Road, Mattancherry

A no-frills spot south of Fort Kochi, the Sri Krishna Café serves delicious vegetarian thalis, masala dosas, and other south Indian specialities, along with refreshing cups of chai to round things off. It attracts a solid crowd of local regulars along with a smattering of inquisitive tourists, and you can fill your belly with wholesome fare at minimal cost.

Budget $

The Fort House

Fort House Hotel, 2/6 A Kalvathi Road, Fort Kochi

In a garden overlooking the busy waters of Fort Kochi, The Fort House is a fantastic spot for an evening feast of fresh seafood. There are succulent tiger prawns, tender squid, and whatever else the local fishermen have landed on the day. There are some good meat dishes too, including pork curries, and at night the atmosphere is thoroughly romantic with candles and the soft lights of passing boats for illumination.

Budget $$

The Rice Boat

Vivanta by Taj Malabar, Willingdon Island

Inside the luxurious Vivanta by Taj Malabar hotel, The Rice Boat seafood restaurant is designed to look like a traditional Keralan rice boat. The menu focusses on fish from the surrounding seas, with seafood platters, soft-shell crab, seared scallops and all sorts of delicately prepared fish curries.

Budget $$$

Stay

Brunton Boatyard

1/498 Kalvathi Road, Fort Kochi

In a grand old waterfront building, the Brunton Boatyard is full of the echoes of Dutch and Portuguese colonialism. White masonry, dark woodwork, terracotta tiling and a mix of light and shade combine to form a rich old-world atmosphere. The rooms are airy and comfortable and some come with fine views, and the restaurant serves heritage cuisine inspired by Kochi’s melting pot past.

Budget $$$

Delight Homestay

Parade Ground, Ridsdale Road, Fort Kochi

In a whitewashed colonial-era house in a quiet corner of Fort Kochi, the family-run Delight Homestay is peaceful, welcoming and atmospheric. The rooms are spotless, with comfy beds and fine balconies on the upper floor, and there’s a neat, flower-filled garden. There are tasty breakfasts and the management can organise backwater trips and other tours.

Budget $$

Good Karma Inn

1154 A Ridsdale Branch Road, Njali Parambu Junction, Fort Kochi

A spick and span little homestay, the Good Karma Inn has small but spotless rooms with comfortable beds and sparkling bathrooms. The more expensive rooms have air-conditioning; cheaper options come with fan only. The staff are very friendly, there is good local food on offer, and the place draws an interesting crowd of international travellers.

Budget $

Malabar House

1/269 Parade Road, Fort Kochi

Set in an old Dutch trading house, the small but beautiful Malabar House strikes a unique pose amongst the local competition. Striking splashes of modernist colour liven up the colonial architecture, and the rooms come with four-poster beds and local artwork. There’s a small pool and an excellent restaurant.

Budget $$$

Old Harbour Hotel

1/328 Tower Road, Fort Kochi

A beautifully restored boutique hotel at the heart of Fort Kochi, the Old Harbour Hotel is still richly redolent of its colonial past. Built in the sturdy style of Dutch traders, the rooms and interiors still boast their original columns and cool masonry, though the beds are comfortable and the bathrooms spotless. There is a lovely garden with a swimming pool, and the whole place is thoroughly atmospheric.

Budget $$

Imlek

February

Particularly significant to the Chinese-Indonesian community, the whole city rocks with parades, lion dances, special foods, and fun for all. Although most of the activity takes place in Chinatown, look for special celebrations in shopping malls and neighborhoods throughout Jakarta.


Inacraft (Jakarta International Handicraft Trade Fair)

April

The largest exhibition of its kind in Southeast Asia, Inacraft has been drawing artisans, exporters and importers together to celebrate Indonesian handicrafts for over 15 years. Nearly 2,000 vendors demonstrate and display gifts, housewares, home and garden, textiles and other handicrafts.


Independence Day

17 August

A nationwide commemoration of the declaration of Indonesian independence, this national holiday is celebrated with parades, competitions, and a mass of red-and-white flags.


Jakarta Fair

June/July

During this six-week festival to celebrate Jakarta’s anniversary, stores host Great Sales, trade exhibitions introduce everything from cars to handicrafts, and a food festival is ongoing. Fireworks open the festival and concerts by some of Indonesia’s leading artists are held nightly.


Jakarta Fashion Week

November

Held at various venues throughout the city, this is the largest fashion event in Southeast Asia, and is intended to introduce Indonesian creativity to the world. Seven days and nights see models sporting designs created both locally and abroad. See www.jakartafashionweek.co.id for more information.


Java Jazz Festival

February/March

An event that attracts international artists such as Natalie Cole, George Benson, Santana and Fourplay, working together with local faves. For three days concerts are held at various venues throughout the city from early afternoon until very late. See www.javajazzfestival.com for more info.


Foodie

Kochi is a great place to get your teeth into spicy Keralan cuisine. This is the place where the ubiquitous chilli first reached Asia, in the ships of Portuguese traders who had brought it from its native South America. The locals never looked back, and cooking in Kerala makes abundant use of fiery spice.

 

Ernakulam is the best place to hunt out authentic street food, served from pavement stalls known here as thattukada. M.G. Road, the roaring thoroughfare that spans the modern side of the city, is the best place to hunt out fried meat and fish dishes. One place that’s always busy is 36 Pai Brothers Fast Food, just off M.G. Road. This is the spot for dosas, and as the name suggests there are 36 different dosa varieties on offer.

 

Once you’ve had your fill of street food, cross the harbour to the more sedate quarters of Mattancherry for a hearty lunch of Kerala biryani from Kayees Biryani on Durbar Hall Road. Afterwards take a wander through the alleys of Fort Kochi, and stop for coffee in any of the trendy little cafés that have taken up residence in the old shop-houses here. By the time the sun is setting you’ll hopefully have worked up an appetite once more. If so, head for the iconic Chinese fishing nets that line the entrance to the harbour. The fishermen here will sell you fresh fish and there are little barbecue joints nearby that will season it up, cook it over charcoal, and serve it to you there and then with plenty of fresh lime.