This post is on a place of historical importance. A place where different cultures mingled in the last few centuries. An important place for the maritime trade. A jewel adorning the coast of the Arabian Sea. The city of Cochin still has some beautiful remnants of its glorious past. We spent a day in Fort Kochi before starting our birding trip to Thattekad and Munnar. We took the evening flight from Bangalore during the diwali holidays of 2011. The Cochin airport is pretty far from the city and it took us nearly an hour to reach Fort Kochi where we would be staying. We had arranged for stay at the Old Courtyard hotel. Thanks a ton Chitra for recommending this place! It was a memorable and pleasant experience to stay in this place steeped in history.
The Old Courtyard
This heritage hotel is located on Princess Street which by itself is one of the places to visit when in Cochin. A quiet street tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Its close proximity to all the historical landmarks of Fort Kochi makes it the perfect place to stay.
The Old Courtyard was part of the home of the Jewish Koder Family. The entire home included the present day Koder House Hotel too. The hotel has been painstakingly restored from the dilapidated mansion it had become before. The antiquity of the place is still evident.
The staff were very courteous and willing to help at all times. We were given a cordial welcome when we reached. It was closing time for the restaurant but they conjured up some lip-smacking dishes which was a good gesture. We were made to feel at home and felt very pampered by the staff.
Our room was on the top floor of this three storeyed property. A mango tree in the middle of the courtyard added to the charm of this place. The decor is commendable. It was hard for us to believe the frame on the wall depicting the state this mansion was in before it was converted to a hotel. Our room had a four poster bed and the furniture transported us back in time.
We woke up early the next morning and the day seemed to be pleasant. We had a traditional breakfast consisting of Ethikya (Steamed Plantain with garnished with grated coconut) which was yummy. The lady who runs the hotel, Rose, with whom we had interacted over mail during the booking process came to us and inquired if everything was fine with the stay.
We had arranged for a half day backwater cruise via Tom’s Old Mansion hotel located next door. After some initial delays due to the cab turning up late to pick us up, we managed to reach the place where the cruise starts only around 10 AM. Tourists of various nationalities were our companions on this cruise. The backwaters looked so serene. This was our first trip to the backwaters of Kerala. The blue sky in the background and the coconut trees on the bank added to the scene. It was amazing to watch how the boatman navigated the boat through narrow passages in the backwaters. We saw a Water Snake near the boat. Some of the birds that we saw were Kingfishers and some Cormorants. We could see people rowing their small boats ferrying goods.
We stopped at a lime factory and saw how the shells are processed and converted to lime. The next stop was at a coir making factory. Every by-product of the coconut tree is put to use by the people of this state. Nearby was a home where fresh homemade banana and tapioca chips were being sold. We grabbed a packet of the banana chips and started munching them :) Around the houses here were plants and trees bearing different types of spices. Our cruise came to an end shortly after this. The boat dropped us and proceeded with the remaining people who had booked the cruise till evening.
After lunch at Old Courtyard, we set out to see the historical places around. The plan was to be back in time to the Chinese Fishing Nets before sunset. We hired an auto for going around. The staff of Old Courtyard had given us a detailed map of all landmarks around which proved to be very useful.
Our first stop was at Mattancherry palace also called the Dutch palace. This palace was initially built by the Portuguese and gifted to the king of Cochin. Later it was repaired by the Dutch. Today it houses a museum of the relics belonging to the royal family. The intricately designed ceiling is worthy of mention. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside which was disappointing. We had to make-do with the pictures from outside! I do not understand this practice of disallowing photography in many Indian museums and public places. But that’s a discussion for another day and post.
We walked across the street from the palace towards the Pardesi (Jewish) Synagogue nearby. On the way were shops glittering with souvenirs, spices and antiques. We saw the Pepper Exchange about which I had heard before the trip.
The synagogue was crowded with lots of school kids and other tourists. The crowd was slightly unmanageable and the people issuing the tickets were having a real hard time trying to organize the queue and restore some order. We just glimpsed the beautiful interiors of the synagogue from outside and did not attempt to go in. We saw picture frames of the Jewish settlement in and around Cochin over the times stacked in a room in chronological order. Most of the Jews who had made Cochin their home for a long time have returned to Israel now. The Synagogue and associated properties are looked after and managed by a handful who get deputed from Israel.
Next on the itinerary was the St.Francis church built in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese. Vasco Da Gama’s remains were housed here before being taken to Portugal. The peaceful atmosphere here was very soothing for us. The beautiful interiors of the church added to the tranquility. After spending some time here, we set out to the maritime museum. Unfortunately it was closed on that day.
Our friendly auto driver took us to the Bishop’s House next. One of the buildings in the compound here has been converted to a museum housing some antiques from the Portuguese families that lived in Cochin and also from the old churches.
We then went to the Santa Cruz Basilica which is considered to be the first European church constructed in Asia. It is an imposing structure and has rich interiors. We spent some time in the church grounds and headed back towards the hotel.
It was almost five in the evening when we got down near the hotel. We walked to the Chinese Fishing Nets which is a five minute walk from the hotel. These fishing nets almost five centuries old are still in use and effective! The fishermen were busy trying to catch the fish. The gulls were flying high. The sight of the sprawling coastline and boats speeding by was beautiful. Unfortunately sunset was not great due to clouds. We spent some time wandering here and getting pictures of the fishing nets and of some fishermen casting their nets beautifully.
Now was the time to relax and put our feet up. We had read up about a cafe called Teapot where tea was claimed to be excellent. We decided to go there and asked the hotel staff for directions. It was nearby and on the other side of the Princess Street. This cafe definitely needs a section for itself!
This small cafe is tucked away in the quiet Peter Celli street. One can spend hours together here listening to some awesome music and sipping away cups of tea together with some cakes. A lovely hang-out place. This place has been done up tastefully. Teapots of various sizes and shapes from different eras adorn the walls. The collection is awesome! Doesn’t this sound great? We spent almost 2 hours here just relaxing and enjoying the lovely tea and pastries.
It was a great way to end our day in Cochin. It started drizzling as we walked back to the hotel. We retired early for the night after thanking the staff for all their help. We had an early start the next day at 4 AM to head to Thattekad.