Five Reasons Why Kochi Should Be on Your India Bucket List

Published 10 November 2016

Sandy Dhaliwal

Kochi is one of India’s most charismatic destinations. It is a welcome departure from the bustling metropolises of Delhi and Kolkata, the spiritual intensity of Varanasi and Amritsar and the buzzing hedonism of Mumbai and Goa. And while these aforementioned, already established bucket list contenders each offer something wonderfully alluring for every visitor; the colourful port town of Kochi effortlessly manages to encapsulate a little bit of them all.

This charming, southern Indian hideaway is a fusion of intertwining cultures, a quirky art and food scene, breathtaking scenery and more. It is a bohemian location that will enthral and capture your imagination, imploring you to return again and again.

Sandy and Pete in Kochi

Sandy and Pete in Kochi image: Sandy Dhaliwal

While living and volunteering in Goa, best friend Peter and I took a break from the beaches and parties to explore Kerala’s vibrant and fascinating cultural capital. We fell in love with this diverse and enchanting region and think you probably will too. Here are my five reasons why you need to get Kochi on your bucket list and plan a trip now!

Santa Cruz Basilica, Kochi

Santa Cruz Basilica, Kochi image: Sandy Dhaliwal

There's so much history

Kochi is a place that is all about dining in amazing places, discovering expressive art forms and getting pampered at one of the many auyurvedic retreats; while at the same time taking in the rich history and architecture which combines colonial Portuguese, Dutch and British.

Here, relaxing spas rub shoulders with enticing merchants, selling everything from spices and fabrics to antiques and art; while vivacious street art beautifully decorates the walls and shop fronts. No doubt you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the narrow lanes bursting with old world charm and the warmest of welcomes. For this reason, it’ll be likely that you’ll be able to perfectly combine your activities and endeavours, enabling you to make the most of your stay - one minute admiring a 17th Century relic, the next haggling for a decorative vase across the road.

For an in-depth glimpse into area’s captivating past, visit the crumbling Mattancherry Palace, a centrally located museum housing Dutch, Portuguese and Indian artefacts, as well as finely preserved murals and paintings. Along the way you’ll spot the striking Santa Cruz Basilica, which also houses impressive vestiges from the varying eras of Kochi.

The more humble St Francis Church is also located nearby, and believed to be the oldest European-built church in India; as well as the place where adventurer Vasco de Gama was originally buried in 1524. Here you can visit his tomb and the original site where he was thought to be buried. For further insight into the area’s Portuguese roots, head to the Indo-Portuguese Museum, as well as the colourful Maritime Museum. Packed with artefacts including giant missiles and rocket launchers, this absorbing point of interest vividly showcases Kochi’s proud naval presence.

Deer at Hill Top, Kochi

Deer at Hill Top Palace, Kochi image: Sandy Dhaliwal

If time permits, I would also head to the eloquent Hill Top Palace in nearby Tripunithura. Its extravagant 49-building palace complex was originally home to the Kochi royal family; though nowadays houses a vast collection of animals including deer, birds and a large dinosaur (statue).

Back in town, the vibrant Jew Town district is a bustling area of antique stores, fashion houses and jewellery outlets; as well as serving as the hub of Kochi’s spice trade. Here you will also find the historical Pardesi Synagogue and clock tower, the focal point of Kochi’s thriving Jewish community. Dress modestly and head inside to see the opulent crystal chandeliers and elaborate décor made from gold, silver and hand painted tiles. If you’ve worked up an appetite, try to the nearby Ginger Café, an Aladdin’s cave-like antique emporium and restaurant that overlooks the water and serves the most amazing local cuisine.

Spiced rice on a banana leaf

Spiced rice on a banana leaf image: Sandy Dhaliwal

You’ll be in foodie heaven

Unsurprisingly, the food is as diverse as town’s history. Typically, as Kochi is situated along the coast, you’ll be able to enjoy a variety of Indian seafood dishes and curries, as well as an array of eateries and stalls offering up the best in colonial fusion. There is literally something to suit everyone, whatever you taste or preference. Each establishment tends to possess their very own wow factor too, as they really do make the places their own with the decor, usually centring on art and design.

One of my big favourites is the partially open-air art gallery-come-restaurant, the Kashi Art Café. Their high tea style cakes and sandwiches are just the best. And if you fancy a cuppa in the afternoon, head to the teapot obsessed tea room, funnily enough named Teapot! And for dinner, I cannot recommend the family run Dal Roti more, who are specialists in North Indian cuisine. Their Kati Rolls are extremely popular among the locals and visitors alike, with the small venue getting packed out every night – always a good sign.

Kerala Kathakali Centre performance

Kerala Kathakali Centre performance image: Sandy Dhaliwal

The unique arts and cultural scene

For entertainment, you cannot get better than the Kerala Kathakali Centre for its traditional Kathakali dance performances. Unique to the state, the style combines dramatic movements, colourful costumes and outrageous make up. It’s a full house every week, so you will need to book your tickets earlier in the day so you don’t miss a performance. The centre also hosts musical performances including tabla and sitar, as well as meditation and yoga sessions. For a bite beforehand, you must try the delicious Tibetan restaurant next door. Its East Asian noodle soups and dumplings are fabulous and extremely filling.

Ayurvedic spa, India

Ayurvedic spa, India

After all that sightseeing, you will deserve a bit of pampering

Let’s face it, travelling at times, can be extremely exhausting. Especially if like me, you want to see as much as possible. If you’re growing weary of all the sights and attractions, or just fancy a more laid back day or two, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the number of Ayurvedic spas, resorts and retreats here to indulge in. Kochi is a bit of a famed centre for the natural medical practice, so having a treatment here couldn’t get any more authentic. I treated myself to an all over body massage on my last day in Kochi and it really did send me on my way feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I can’t say I was ready for home after that, but it did certainly ease the blow!

Kochi's Chinese fishing nets

Kochi's Chinese fishing nets image: Sandy Dhaliwal

The landscape will blow you away

Finally, a trip to Kochi would not be complete without checking out two things; firstly the enormous 13th century Chinese Fishing Nets. These giant contraptions stand tall along the city’s coastline, while teams of men work them every day, endeavouring to pull in the big one! If you want a have a go for yourself, the fishermen will be more than happy to oblige, though a tip is expected too – we learnt this the hard way!

Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters image: Sandy Dhaliwal

The second thing you must check out is one of the famous Kerala backwater cruises. Spend a day or two on one of the traditional houseboats, and just sit back and relax as you cruise down the palm-fringed scenic waterways. You will also be treated to a traditional meal served on a banana leaf, and probably drop in on some locals making a variety of things including fabric, rope, spices, wooden tools such as back scratchers and massagers; as well as harvesting fruit and vegetables. Watching them at work is fascinating stuff, and you’ll probably be tempted to make a purchase at the end too.

If you fancy following in Sandy's footsteps with a visit to Kochi, take a look at Round the World Experts' Splendours of the South holiday to India, or chat to your Expert for further information.

You might also like:

Exploring Kerala's Backwaters

10 Things to Do in Southern India

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