Things to Do in Kerala
St. Francis Church is the oldest church in India, built in 1516 by Portuguese settlers to replace an older wooden church constructed in 1503 on the same site. It was once the burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi, and though his gravestone is still in place here, his remains have since been moved to Lisbon.
Fort Cochin’s Chinese Fishing Nets have been a beach installation for centuries, well before the coming of the Portuguese colonizers.
It’s thought that the nets were introduced to this coastal area by the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He, way back in the early 15th century.
The nets are permanent horizontal structures, lowered and raised by a network of cantilevered ropes, bamboo poles, and balancing weights and pulleys. Teams of up to six fishermen operate the nets, but the catch is usually quite modest.
For the best views, come at dusk with your camera to capture that quintessential shot of Kerala’s fishing nets and calm seas backlit by the setting sun. If you’re feeling hungry, you can buy freshly netted fish and crabs, and have them cooked up for your dinner at a roadside stall.
One of the world’s oldest active synagogues, and the oldest in the Commonwealth, can be found in the center of the port’s spice district, Jew Town. The district is a particularly historic reminder of Fort Cochin’s multicultural heritage.
The synagogue sits at the center of the district once inhabited by Fort Cochin’s prosperous spice trading community of Malabari Jews, who traveled here from Holland and Spain. Today, apart from the synagogue and faded street signs, reminders of the district’s once-thriving Jewish community are few.
There were once seven synagogues in this quarter of Old Cochin, but Paradesi Synagogue (also called Pardesi) is the sole survivor. It sometimes also known as the Mattancherry Synagogue, as it shares a temple wall with the neighboring Mattancherry Palace. The word ‘paradesi’ is an Indian term for foreigner.
The original synagogue built in 1568 was destroyed by the Portuguese, and the current building with its distinctive clock tower was erected under the rule of the Dutch.
Notable features include the synagogue’s floor of blue-and-white tiles, individually hand-painted in Canton in a willow pattern. Colored glass lamps and glittering Belgian-glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the gold pulpit is richly decorated.
As is traditional, there is a separate upstairs balcony for female worshipers. There are also historic Torah scrolls and copper plates inscribed with the synagogue’s charter of privileges on display.
When you visit the synagogue, make sure to come modestly dressed (no shorts or sleeveless tops allowed).
The Portuguese built the 16th-century structure as a gift to the then king of the Kochi dynasty, though it underwent significant remodels under Dutch rule, earning it its current moniker: the Dutch Palace. It's celebrated for its stunning murals, many of which depict scenes from Hindu epics, notably the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is notable for its Gothic architecture, with a whitewashed façade and beautiful interiors, with intricate pastel frescoes and paintings, and large stained glass windows. While it’s a popular attraction, it’s also a working church and the Sunday mass services here provide a great insight into local Catholic culture.
Believed to be the oldest burial ground in the country, the Dutch Cemetery in Kochi dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. It houses the tombs of Dutch soldiers and traders who left their homeland in order to expand their country’s colonial empire—and as a result changed the entire course of history in India.
The Indo-Portuguese Museum was set up by the late bishop of Kochi to preserve and showcase the significant influence of the Portuguese Catholic community in Fort Kochi and its surroundings. A popular attraction, it depicts the art, architecture, and culture of this community and gives visitors a glimpse of the original fort’s foundations.
Kerala has given the world many great cultural treasures, two of which are showcased at the Kadathanadan Kalari & Navarasa Kathakali Centre. Visitors can watch live performances of Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest martial art forms on earth, as well as Kathakali, a classical Indian dance known for its intricate eye movements, often used to depict epic tales.
The Kerala backwaters refers to a large region spanning some 558 miles (900 kilometers) consisting of an interconnected network of brackish lagoons, lakes, and canals. The best way to truly experience this beautiful area is aboard a traditional houseboat; journeys last anywhere from a few hours up to a few nights.
Surrounded by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, Mattancherry is an old port area of Kochi, not far from Ernakulam Town. The area was once the main trade port for spices such as pepper and turmeric, as well as tea. Today, it’s a bustling and cosmopolitan community that welcomes people from all religious backgrounds and walks of life.
More Things to Do in Kerala
The Kerala Folklore Museum opened to the public in 2009 as a space to showcase the cultural and artistic heritage of the southern Indian state. The 4,000-item collection spans three floors, each exhibiting a different architectural style, Malabar, Kochi and Travancore. The various items on display throughout center on art and dance and include masks, costumes, musical instruments, jewelry, sculptures, Stone Age artifacts and ancient astrological manuscripts.
In the evenings, a theater on the top floor hosts various cultural performances ranging from traditional dance to Kerala-style martial arts.
The Hill Palace Museum of Tripunithura, a 49-building complex where the Maharaja of Kochi once lived, is today the largest archaeological museum in Kerala. The palace was built in 1865 on 52 acres (21 hectares) of landscaped grounds. In 1980 the Kochi royal family handed over the estate to the Kerala government, and in 1986 it opened as a museum.
The museum’s ethno-archaeological collection includes murals, sculptures, oil paintings, coins, manuscripts, furniture and other items that once belonged to the local royal family. Particularly notable is the collection of some 200 pieces of pottery from Japan and China. The surrounding gardens, recognizable from many Malayalam films, include a deer park and horse riding facilities.
The Kochi branch of South India’s Wonderla Amusement Park chain has state-of-the-art land and water rides for all ages, plus live shows daily. Highlights include two wave pools, a 120-foot-high (37-meter-high) vertical-drop ride, and India’s first reverse looping roller coaster. The water park is a popular way to cool off when the weather’s hot—which it often is in Kochi.
Located in the Kazhakuttom area of Thiruvananthapuram, the Magic Planet Theme Park is dedicated to magic in its many forms. It explores the historical, scientific, mathematical, and psychological aspects of magic through performances of street-style magic, comedy magic, illusions, puzzles, and more.
Fort Kochi (Fort Cochin) is an historic district and a main draw for tourists in Kochi (Cochin). It’s a charming neighborhood full of colonial-era homes (many of which have been converted into boutique hotels), lovely old houses of worship, charming shops and markets, and the city's famous Chinese fishing nets that flank the harbor.
One of India’s major seaports, Kochi’s harbour is up there with the world’s most scenic waterways, providing one of the few all-weather safe harbours on India’s west coast.
In the center of the harbour, between Fort Cochin’s promontory and the mainland, is man-made Wellington Island, the area’s main seaport and transport terminal.
The harbour’s channels and reclaimed developments were carried out in the early 20th century, establishing the infrastructure that makes it Kerala’s commercial capital and major port city today.
The massive container cranes, cargo docks, marinas, shipyards, cruise facilities and Indian Navy operations are in sharp contrast to the traditional fishing boats that dot the harbour, and Chinese fishing nets that trawl the waters.
Catching a ferry across the harbour is a must-do while in Kochi, sailing from Fort Kochi jetty to Wellington Island and Ernakulam. Another way to see the harbour is by taking a stroll along the waterfront promenade, Marine Drive, fringing the peninsula.
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