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Friday, August 15, 2008

Cochin


Cochin or Kochi is often known as the 'Queen of the Arabian Sea'. Justifying its nickname, it has a rich past, a vibrant present, is a port that works all the year round and is one of the leading business hubs of the state since long. It is divided into many parts inter-linked with ferries that comprise of the mainland of Ernakulam; the islands of Willington, Bolgatty and Gundu; and Fort Cochin, Vypeen Island and Mattancherry on the southern peninsula. The seaport has been a major cause of the culture and lifestyle of the city being influenced by those of visiting foreigners since the ancient times such as the Chinese, Jews, Arabs and Europeans. Cochin is home to the oldest church in India, the still-operational Chinese fishing nets, 500-year-old Portuguese houses, Jewish synagogues, Chinese pagoda style houses and mosques.
The serene backwaters and beautiful lagoons of Cochin bordered by coconut palm trees and picture-perfect tropical islands make it quite popular with the tourists. See glimpses of medieval architecture of Portugal, Holland and England in the old buildings of Fort Cochin and Mattanchery situated on the Malabar Coast. Cochin has evolved into the largest ports of India and a major naval base nowadays. The 16th century narrow, winding and canal-lined streets of Fort Kochi and the Jew Town seem to create a mini Europe in India. The spice trade flourishes even today and Cochin has retained its title of being the Spice Capital of India.
Cochin's Prime Attractions

Dutch Palace, Mattancherry: Originally built by Portuguese in 1557, Mattancherry Palace was also known as the Dutch Palace since the time, they renovated it after gaining its control in 1663. The exteriors of the palace are stark with white walls and sloping brown roofs. There is a small temple of the deity Palayannur Bhagwati inside its premises and the interiors have beautiful paintings adorning the walls and ceilings. The Central Hall on the upper storey had an intricately carved wooden ceiling and was used for the coronation ceremony of the Rajas of Cochin. The ceiling of the Dining Hall has a series of brass cups while the one at the Assembly Hall is the best with breathtaking murals depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. These murals are among the best in India and cover approximately 300 sq ft of wall. It also has a museum showcasing regal memorabilia such as costumes, palanquins, turbans and weaponry from the days of the Cochin rajas.
St. Francis Church, Fort Cochin: Fort Cochin, the oldest European Settlement in India, houses St. Francis Church, which was the first European Church of India. In 1503, Rajah of Cochin gave permission to the Portuguese Alphonso Alburquerque to build a fort at the mouth of the river with a church of wood dedicated to St. Bartholomew. In 1516, a new church was built to honor St. Antony. When Dutch arrived in 1663, they demolished all the convents and churches of the place and converted them to their Government Church. However, the Church of the Franciscans was spared. The church has Portuguese gravestones to its north and Dutch gravestones to its south with the stone of Vasco da Gama. It is now a protected monument since April 1923 under the Protected Monuments Act of 1904. There is a cenotaph here too erected in 1920 to honor the martyrs of Cochin who fell in the First Great War.
Willington Island: Lord Willington was the Viceroy of India. Willington Island, named after him, is connected to the mainland Ernakulam by Venduruthy Bridge and houses some of the district's best hotels, commercial and industrial offices. It has an airport, a shipbuilding yard, wharf, the Southern Naval Command Head Quarters and the customs house too along with the Government of India Tourist Information Office. The center of all the commercial and industrial activities, it has branches of national and international banks, travel agencies and souvenir shops warehouses too.
Mangalavanam: The small bird sanctuary, Mangalavanam, in the Ernakulam District of Kerala has Bharath Petroleum Company to the north and the east, Emakulam Railway to its south and Salim Ali Road 16 and Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute to its west. It has a shallow tidal lake in the center bordered by thick mangrove vegetation, which is connected to the backwaters by a canal. Mangalavanam has a congregation of communally breeding birds, a former timber and a guesthouse, which was renovated in 1986.
The Pareekshit Thampuran Museum: This archeological museum exhibits 19th century paintings, pre-historic monuments, old coins, stone scriptures, Plaster of Paris scriptures, mural paintings and other such memorabilia that were part of the collection from the Cochin royal family. The Durbar Hall of Kochi Rajas is built in traditional Kerala style where they used to greet the guests of the royalty and organized official ceremonies and meetings. It has been renamed after Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran, the Family's last ruler.
Kathakali Centres: Kerala's traditional dance drama form known as Kathakali evolved in the 8th century from another dance form known as 'Ramanattam' that was invented by Kottarakkara Thampuran. The themes of Kathakali are inspired by Indian mythology and folklore and performers are assisted by vocal and percussion accompaniments. Expressions of face and eyes are the key movements of this dance. Kathakali costumes, tall headgears and elaborately painted faces along with the elemental masculine vigor have made it quite popular among the visitors. Some of the noted Kathakali centres in Kochi are India Foundation near the Ernakulam Junction Railway station, the Cochin Cultural Centre behind Medical Trust Hospital, Art Kerala, Valanjambalam and many others where one can watch daily performances usually held in the evening. One can also see Kathakali dance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre functions at Fort Cochin.
Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry: Perhaps the only place in India where Jews are still residing, Kochi boasts of a Jewish Synagogue built in 1568. It is the oldest synagogue in India and was partially destroyed in the war of 1662. Later, Dutch rebuilt it. The clock tower was added in mid 18th century along with the hand-painted blue willow tiles from China that are more than two hundred years old. None of these tiles are alike. The unique interiors boast of a Belgian chandelier, the great scrolls of the Old Testament and the copper plates that keep the records of the grants of privilege made by the Cochin rulers to the Jewish community in the 4th century. It also has five finely wrought gold and silver crowns on its display that were gifted to the synagogue. One can know about the history of the Jews in Kerala from the rabbi who lives here. One can still see Jewish culture and tradition flourishing and hear the use of the Hebrew language in Jew Town around the Mattancherry Synagogue.
Cochin City Facts

Location: Situated in Kerala, India.

Climate: The seashore affects the tropical climate and keeps it moderately warm all the year round. The area receives heavy rainfall with an annual rainfall of about 310 cm.


How to Reach:

By Air: The domestic airport has regular flights to and from Agatti, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Delhi, Goa, Madras, Mumbai and Trivandrum while the Cochin International Airport has regular international flights to the Gulf. Other important international airports near Cochin are Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Trivandrum.
By Train: An extensive railway network links Kochi to the rest of India by an extensive network of railways and the most important railway stations in the city are Cochin Harbour Terminus, Ernakulam Junction and Ernakulam Town.
By Road: Cochin is connected by three important National Highways and many good motorable state roads and frequent bus services to and from all the major cities of South India.
By Sea: Kochi is a natural port that works all the year round and is connected to Kottayam and Alleppey enroute the scenic backwaters of Kerala via regular boat services.

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