Guidebook-Kochi

City guide

kochi

Située à environ 35 minutes en bateau à moteur, la première station balnéaire de luxe au Cambodge, Song Saa, est perchée sur des îles jumelles privées entourées de belles eaux au bleu saphir et de plages vierges.

Kochi it may be now, but its old name of ‘Cochin’ is still in parlance today. The very word is redolent of the aroma of the spices that helped make it the global, outward-looking city it is today. Yet don’t let that fool you into thinking Kochi’s past has sunk beneath the waves of the Arabian Sea. Far from it; the colonial-era quarter of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry is a charming, unperturbed district which begs to be explored on foot – Muslims, Jews, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British, all have set foot here in the search for spices and remained, their footsteps immortalised in the area’s graceful mix of architecture.
Observing Kochi on the map reminds one somewhat of New York – the islands and mainland around have been well-settled, so make sure to venture outside Fort Kochi for glimpses into modern commercial Kochi as well as its strong ties with the rural hinterland. Wherever you go, you’re sure to receive many smiles and greetings.

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Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

Symbolic of Kochi’s maritime history and global connectivity, these charming nets – introduced at the turn of the fifteenth century from China – seem misplaced amidst the backdrop of the modern port, with its hulking container ships, yet they still provide a livelihood for many. In exchange for a small tip, you can help haul in a fresh catch while you get your photo taken. With the coming of sunset, the nets become their most picturesque and romantic.

Jew Town

Jew Town

This part of Fort Kochi is glorious for wandering; India’s urban areas are invariably linked with chaos, noise and dirt, yet peaceful Jew Town confounds all of these perceptions. Despite the seemingly pejorative name, Jew Town was and is no isolated ghetto, but just as much an emblem of Kochi’s polycultures and tolerance as the Chinese fishing nets. Hebrew scripture and the Star of David adorn the walls of some of the area’s shops – enticing you in from the cobbled streets with an array of curios – and the elegant, white-washed Paradesi Synagogue stands tall, having seen centuries of history pass since its foundation in 1568. The number of Jewish people living in the area may be rapidly dwindling, but the long and peaceful history of Judaism here continues to be felt today.

Kathakali performance

Kathakali performance

Kathakali is the classical dance of Kerala, traditionally performed in Hindu temples, and there are many places in Kochi where you can take in performances from high-quality exponents of this art – an apt description, as theater, music, literature and dancing all come together in a performance. Kathakali dancers wear elaborate costumes, ornate headwear and startling make-up – requiring hours of rigorous preparation beforehand – as they enact scenes from the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, that depict the struggle between good and evil.

There’s little that can surpass promenading along the waterfront in Fort Kochi, past the Chinese fishing nets at sunset. Unsurprisingly though, this is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. If you want to get to see a bit more of the city beyond Fort Kochi, then take a ferry across to Ernakulam and find yourself a comfortable spot in Subhash Park, which has been spruced up recently and offers a calming green abode right next to the sea. Also up-and-coming is Kochi’s contemporary arts scene, and if you’re unable to attend the prestigious Kochi-Muziris Biennale Festival then go to David Hall Art Gallery (inside a restored Dutch bungalow) to find out what all the fuss is about over a relaxed cup of coffee.
Bazaar Road, although a wholesale market, is a fine place to start your shopping, even if only to admire the mounds of spices as you walk along the seafront. Although undoubtedly built on the spice trade, Kochi offers much more to shoppers: Kerala is where you will get the finest coffee in India, so if you need pepping up after being lulled by Kochi’s calm then Bazaar Road, amongst many other places, can also help you out. Jew Town is a snoopers’ paradise – nestled within its intimate lanes lie many antique shops. Going to M.G. Road brings you into the heart of modern Kochi; crowded and congested it may be, but the textiles and handicrafts here are definitely worth browsing through.
The cuisine of Kerala is a world away from what is dubbed ‘Indian food’ in the West. When you arrive into Kochi, you leave yourself open to a diametrically opposed, yet magnificent gastronomic experience. Out go the ghee, cream and yoghurt that are the flourishes to North Indian fare, to be replaced by coconut milk and oil and lighter, but still potent chutneys. No naan or roti here either! Fish is much preferred to meat, although vegetarian dishes, served either on a steel thali encircled by chutneys or, more quintessentially, on a banana leaf, occupy the majority of menu-space. In Kochi, given its maritime location, opportunities for sampling some exquisite seafood are plentiful. For fine dining, book yourself a spot at the Rice Boat (where you can enjoy, as the name suggests, eating inside a mock rice boat) and Malabar Junction. If you’re hungering after some meat, Rahmuthalla Hotel serves biryanis with a Keralan twist. Vegetarians will find immense solace in the food served at Hotel Annapoorna.
* Any Hindi you may have picked up on your travels in North India won’t get you far! The main language of Kerala is Malayalam, which uses an entirely different alphabet. Don’t worry though: English is widely used amongst people of all backgrounds, from rickshaw-drivers to hotel managers.

* If you’re tired of haggling for a rattly ride in a rickshaw, then find your sea legs; getting around the various parts of Kochi by ferry is practical, incredibly cheap, and authentic!

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