The Best Things to Do and See in Kochi, India

The traditional Chinese fishing nets in Kochi are a must-see
The traditional Chinese fishing nets in Kochi are a must-see | © dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
Shreyas Kulkarni

Welcome to Kochi: a collection of tiny islands and peninsulas along the shore of the Arabian Sea, shaped and nurtured for centuries by foreign powers such as the Dutch, British, Chinese and Portuguese. This port city (also known as Cochin) is the biggest city in the Indian state of Kerala, and it’s a must- visit for people who want to learn about the rich history of colonial India and its trading prowess.

Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets, Kochi, Kerala, India, Asia

The Chinese fishing nets are, without a doubt, Kochi’s most popular sight. According to legend, the nets were brought from the court of Chinese emperor Kublai Khan and introduced to fishermen in Kochi by Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century, and they’ve been in use ever since. Local fishermen show how to use them in return for a small fee. It’s a fun experience, and later on in the day, you can purchase the morning catch from the fishmongers, have it cooked in the nearby shacks and enjoy it while taking in the breath-taking sunset.

Mattancherry Palace

The Mattancherry Palace was built and presented as a token of appreciation by the Portuguese to the Raja of Kochi, Verra Kerala Varma, in 1555. The Dutch carried out renovations and created extensions in 1663, which is why it’s also called the Dutch Palace. The double-storeyed palace has the architectural style of the Portuguese, but it follows the design patterns of Kerala temple architecture, which can be seen in the wooden balconies and the sloping roof. Today, the palace serves as an art gallery showcasing some of India’s best art murals and paintings, the star attractions being the murals depicting scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana and other Puranic legends in elaborate detail.

Paradesi Synagogue

This is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. Paradesi is the Hindi word for foreigner, which was applied to the synagogue because it was frequented by exiled Jews from Europe and the Middle East. It was built in 1568, and although somewhat damaged by the Portuguese in 1662, it was rebuilt when the Dutch took over Kochi. The synagogue features a gold pulpit and hand-painted, willow pattern floor tiles imported from China. The synagogue is magnificently illuminated by an exquisite Belgian chandelier, and the clock tower was added in 1762. Paradesi Synagogue is a famous tourist attraction and worth every minute spent there.

Kodanad Elephant Training Centre

Horizontal view of a young Asian elephant playing

Kodanad is a small rural riverside village in the district of Ernakulam in Kochi. Most hotels arrange a day trip to this small village, which has training centres for stranded adult and baby elephants. If you’re able to arrive before 8am, there is a good chance that you can lend a hand to the trainers in giving a wash to the elephants, one of the liveliest pleasures to experience in Kochi. Watch the elephants roll around, and let them douse you in water as they play. You can also attend elephant safaris for a small fee.

Kathakali performances

Kathakali is one of the nine classical dances of India and has its origins in Kerala. Well known for its colourful and fascinating costumes, the dance presents themes derived from the Hindu epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and many others. Kochi’s Kerala Kathakali Centre runs performances every day, provides opportunities to watch the artists apply their makeup and offers training programs in the classical dances too.

St Francis Church

This church is a landmark monument, as it is believed to be the oldest European-built church in India. It stood as a silent spectator to the colonial conflict among the European nations for dominion over India. Built in 1503 by the Portuguese as a Roman Catholic Church, it became a Dutch Reformist Church in 1664 and eventually an Anglican Church in 1804. The church is perhaps most famous for being the first burial place for the explorer Vasco De Gama, who died in 1524. His remains were moved to Lisbon 14 years later, but you can still visit his tombstone in the church.

Kerala Folklore Theatre and Museum

Kathakali performance in Kerala, India.

The Kerala Folklore Theatre and Museum is a three-floored structure covering three architectural styles: Malabar on the ground floor, Kochi on the first floor and Travancore on the second floor. It houses over 4,000 artefacts sourced and collected from ancient temples and old houses. The museum also houses a wood-lined theatre, with a 17th-century wooden ceiling. The theatre conducts authentic stage performances daily from 6:30pm; the credit for the theatre goes to the hard work and passion of George Thaliath and his wife Annie George and to the craftsmanship of 62 carpenters and skilled workers.

Princess Street

Loafer’s Corner or Princess Street is one of the oldest areas in Kochi and is an amalgamation of the traditional and the modern. The influence of the colonial powers is evident here, with both sides of the street dotted with buildings and homes of European architecture, most prominently Dutch, Portuguese and British architecture. Princess Street is the place to go in Kochi for street shopping, cafés and people watching, and the best way to experience it is by foot.

Scuba Cochin

Scuba Cochin is South India’s first PADI-authorized dive centre and offers various PADI certification courses, from open water diver to instructor level and daily dive trips. Located in the centre of Kochi, it also offers an Emergency First Responder course. It conducts snorkelling trips and kayaking excursions and has a dive store that offers updated and branded equipment.
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