Kochi (formerly Cochin; Malayalam: കൊച്ചി) is a cosmopolitan city in Kerala with a bustling commercial port. Kochi is the financial capital of Kerala and, with a population of more than 2 million, the biggest urban agglomeration in the state. It is one of the major tourist destinations in India.
The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi are an icon of the city
A city born in storm, nurtured in rivalry and established as battling ground for European empires. This phrase makes prefect understanding of Kochi which was formed as an ancient port city after the Great Floods of the Periyar River in 1341. With partitioning of Chera Kerala empire in 14th century, this region came under control of a new dynasty, rivaled by other local feudal lords. With the advent of colonization, Kochi became the first major battle grounds of almost all European powers. However, least it made an impact over the fortunes of this city.
Kochi merchants began trading in spices such as black pepper and cardamom with the Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. This helped Kochi to prosper and to become the gateway to old India. It was from Kochi that the colonization of India started. Portugal was first to establish its base in Kochi in 1500s, followed by the Dutch and English. The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1814, compelled the Dutch to hand over Kochi to the British in exchange for Bangka Island in Indonesia. The British managed to establish their influence over Kochi, limiting their direct administration to a small enclave of Fort Kochi and British Ernakulam with their capital at Bolgatty Island. The rest of the Kochi was administered by Kochi Maharajas from their capital at Thripunithura. However the real administration was done by Diwans (Prime Ministers), leaving the Maharajas to patronize culture, arts and focused heavily on public health and education areas.
The foundations of modern Kochi city started when Sir Robert Bristow, a senior Royal Navy Engineer felt the need of a modern large port after the opening of Suez Canal. This made the creation of the largest man-made island in the country, the Willingdon Island to house new Kochi Port.
In the 1930s, the Kochi Maharaja joined the public outcry to form a common state of Malayalam-speaking people by merging with the Kingdom of Travancore and British Malabar. Kochi Maharaja Kerala Varma Raja was at the forefront of this agitation, and passed the Aykiakerala Resolution in the Kochi Parliament. In 1947, the Kingdom of Kochi and Travancore merged to form the Royal State of Travancore-Kochi. The Kochi Maharaja was amongst the first to advocate the state joining the newly formed Indian Union. Finally, in 1949 the state of Travancore-Kochi merged with India.
Since the formation of Kerala in 1957, Kochi has been the commercial capital of Kerala as well as the seat of the Kerala High Court. Since 2000, Kochi has revitalized its economy, with a focus on tourism, information technology, and the port.
The colonial charms of Fort Kochi with arrays of traditional European bungalows and alleys
Kochi has a cosmopolitan culture, highly influenced by historical trading partners, Portuguese, Dutch, Arab, Chinese, and Japanese. Kochi has an unusual higher Christian population, thus the city being the seat of the Latin church of India, the ecclesiastical seat of one of the 4 Catholic Cardinals of India and has many Catholic churches and followers apart from other religious orders of Christianity.
Kochi was traditionally a potpourri of various Indian and international communities. Syrian Christians started the first wave of immigration, followed by Jews between the 7th and 10th centuries. Arab merchants also made a strong settlement in Kochi. In the 15th century, Gujaratis settled in Kochi, especially on Mattencherry Island, where they played a strong role in spice trading and other areas. Apart from that, nearly 31 trading communities across India call Kochi as their home.
Later, at the beginning of the colonial era, the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British all made their settlements in Kochi. The Portuguese had a strong influence in Fort Cochin while Dutch has lent many of its words and culinary influence into local cultures. British culture was strongly felt, lending Kochi a strong community of Anglo-Indians, the largest of the social group in India.
In the early 1970s, Punjabis settled here, focusing their strong presence on the local automobile industry. Tamilians, Telugus, Kannadigas have all formed small settlements since the days of royalty. Recently, students from Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia have settled down in Kochi for studies and research activities. Kochi has a sizeable expatriate population mainly from European countries who have settled in Fort Kochi. Most of them are senior citizens who settled down to enjoy retirement life and many run boutique hotels and restaurants in that area. Due to the rapid growth of the city, a majority of the local population are immigrants.
Generally, Kochinites are modern and fashionable. Being a city that has a tradition of various cultures being given equal respect, a high level of tolerance exists. The city has a modern attitude, but some basic social modesty still prevails, especially in villages and rural areas.
Kochi has a typical tropical climate. Temperatures range between 30°C and 35°C during daytime and around 24°C during night. Kochi is one of the first places to experience the heavy Monsoon showers starting by mid of May. Kochi experiences heavy rainfall between mid of May to first week of September. Day time temperatures during the monsoon fall to between 25°C and 30°C during these months. From September to early February, the weather is fine, marked with cool winds and light showers in between. However by February, summer season starts. Though temperatures never touch 40°C, the presence of high humidity can make summers very harsh. This continues till early May. However frequent summer showers cool down the harshness of summer.
After rapid growth during the two last decades, Kochi is now one of the most densely populated town areas in India. Kochi city consists of:
Map of the Kochi area
Koonan Kurishu Sathyam took place at koonan kurishu Old Syrian Palli (Church) in AD 1653
Ernakulam Mainland City — the heart and transport hub of Kochi with three distinct parts: the Central Business District (CBD) which has
Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road) as the main arterial road along with Marine Drive and Chitoor Road; Downtown with upscale residential areas and the business district at SA Road and Vytilla Junction and the Suburb with Edapally, Pachalam, Palarivattom which has many business and commercial areas.
Willingdon Island — large man-made island made from sand dredged from the backwaters to deepen the Kochi Port. Named after Long
Willingdon, then-the reigning Viceroy of India, it houses the Kochi Port, Southern Naval Command Headquarters of Indian Navy and many five star hotels.
Peninsula of Mattencherry and Fort Kochi (Old Kochi) — primarily a tourist enclave. Fort Kochi forms the upper part of the Peninsula with neatly arranged colonial buildings, narrow well-paved roads, Anglo-Dutch influenced structures and large antique shops. Mattancherry is primarily a spice trading city, famous for its thriving Gujarati settlement brought to the city in the 16th and 17th centuries by the spice trade.
West Kochi, the lower portion of Mattancherry, which are primarily agricultural/fisheries belt of the city. The area includes famous tourist village
Kumbalangi, small fishing hamlets like Edakochi, Kumbalam, Perumpadappu etc, all known for their scenic beauty.
Bolgatty Island — the island where the British established a Royal Residency, which is now converted into a five star hotel along with upcoming India’s largest convention center. Famous for its large golf course, horse riding tracks, marina and boatyards.
Vallarpadom Island — that houses Cochin International Mega Container Terminal (ICT) and one of the largest Basicilla of the country.
Vypin Island — one of the most densely populated islands in the world with numerous fishing villages, tourist villages, backwaters and many beaches including the popular Cherai Beach.
Aluva — the second largest town in Greater Kochi, famous for its Periyar river banks. Cochin International Airport is nearby.
Thrikakara Town — famous for the large Vamana Temple, the focal centre of Onam, the national festival of Kerala. Also the home of Cochin University and other educational institutes.
Thripunithura — the erstwhile capital of the Kingdom of Kochi is famous for various historical palaces, museums and temples, and as a centre of the arts.
Maradu — next door to Kochi city; an upcoming business district with numerous high-end hotels.
When to visit
The tourist season is normally from August to February. December being the most tourist rush month has many festival and special attractions to welcome along with the famous Cochin Carnival and Christmas celebrations. Onam season (mid Aug-mid Sept) is also a busy tourist season considering traditional line up of various festivities. Recently monsoon is being promoted heavily by tourism dept as a rejuvenation season which also slowly becoming a popular season to visit to experience the heavy rainfalls. However it is always advisable to avoid March and April, considering the harsh summer, though it is primarily Indian domestic tourist season.