Cochin, in the southern state of Kerala came into prominence after a particularly heavy monsoon in 1341 changed the course of the Periyar River creating the Cochin Harbour. A very safe harbour, even during the annual Monsoon, Cochin abounds with fishing fleets. There is also a large container terminal and many international cruise liners dock at Cochin for a few days on their journey through the Indian Ocean.
Cochin is the site of the oldest European settlement in India. The first European Church was built here in 1560 and the oldest Jewish Synagogue in the British Commonwealth was built here in 1568.
Although it feels like an island, particularly if you arrive by boat, Fort Cochin is actually attached to the mainland, as is nearby Willingdon Island which was created in the 1920s by dredging the harbour to create an 11m draft.
Across the harbour from the main town of Ernakulam, Fort Cochin and Mattancherry (known locally as Jew Town) is a quaint, artsy area full of antique and curio shops, a plethora of funky cafes and boutiques and Ayurvedic massage centres. There are also several theatres that host the fascinating traditional form of dance/storytelling called Kathakali, found only in Kerala.
If you’re after spices, Mattancherry is a perfect place to come. Located just a few hours drive away from the ‘Cardamon Hills’, Cochin was a major spice trading port. Only a few of the warehouses left still contain sacks of spices – pepper and chilli, cardamom and cinnamon, ginger and tumeric. There are however plenty of shops selling smaller quantities to the tourists these days.
Cochin is probably most famous for its ‘Chinese Fishing Nets’. Possibly introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He, these cantilevered nets take up to 6 men to operate as they are lowered into the water and raised a short time after by a concerted effort of pulling on ropes. The modest catch of a few fish and other sea creatures makes it seem hardly worthwhile, but the mesmerising slow motion action of the nets, as well as the cheery welcome of the fishermen (who often beckon you ‘on board’ to help out) make the nets along the tip of Fort Cochin a favourite place for tourists to while away some time.
Visit Cochin on our South Indian Odyssey Tour.