When you have all of one day to see a place, and the need for surety on time Vs value for your fellow travellers, you do the popular spots. Though this is not typical of us on this site, that’s what I did when taking my uncle and aunt around Kochi from Trichur. So in the peak of monsoons, off we went. We took it slow and only left Trichur by 8 AM. The rains decided to roar and pour over the entire way up there with all the fury it could muster, almost making us regret the choice of time to make this trip, almost. Since just as got there, it decided to bless us with clear weather all of the day.
We planned the route such that we didn’t have to go back and forth within the area- so first headed to the Ernakulathappan Shiva temple. The diety is considered the guardian of Ernakulam- hence the name.
I’ve to admit I’d been misled by a picture online of a humongous Shiva statue that I figured my co-travelers would enjoy. We got there just a moment after the sanctum santorum closed for the morning. Our view of the outside was that it was a nice but pretty typical temple in Kerala with lamps covering the walls and the gold flag staff in the front of the temple. If you haven’t ever seen a temple in Kerala it will be worth dropping in. Since we missed it I’m not sure how the main sanctum sanctorum looks/is designed. Just outside and beside it is a Murugan temple in Tamil style- it too was closing just as we got there.
Note: Temples in Kerala often close the main areas with the deities twice a day. If you want to visit them for prayers you may want to check before you get there.
Our next stop was the Mathhanchery Palace. The first thing one would see would be the calm pond just outside the palace. There are 2 temples just outside of the palace but both were closed- not sure if they are open for the public to visit- the Pazhayannoor Bhagavati temple and the Azhithrikovil Mahavishnu temple.
The palace by itself is more the size of a large home than a mammoth structure one would expect a “palace” to be. And it is converted into a heritage museum of sorts. This structure was gifted by the Portuguese to the Kochi King. It was renovated several years later by the Dutch and somehow the name “Dutch Palace” stuck. Photography is not allowed inside so not much could be captured. However, I’d highly recommend it for a peek into the lifestyles of Kerala royalty. Their clothes, ornaments (I didn’t know one of them was called pulinakham or tigers nail for its shape), and pretty palanquins.
It’s interesting to see how the children in the royal family were dressed in a loin cloth or small pieces of fabric only distinguishable as the royalty due to a single necklace each. It also has images that represent the evolution of women’s clothing in Kerala across the ages till the saris of today.
The room one first enters into has the most lovely designs carved of wood on the ceiling. There are stunning frescoes in intricate details beautifully painted on the walls of the room where the ladies of the house lived, and the area called the “bedchamber”. The murals depict the entire story of Ramayana and several deities – Ganapathi, Vishnu, Durga, Shiva-Parvati et al. They were the most well preserved of the murals I’ve seen till now in India. My favourite little detail in the palace were the seats right by the window where 2 people could sit facing each other gazing at the waters of the pond or just the city going by their day.
We next headed to the Jewish Synagogue also called the Paradesi(Foreigner) Synagogue. It’s the oldest Synagogue from the then British Commonwealth nations built in 1568. To explain it to Uncle and Aunt I had to look up the word for Jew in Malayalam- it was Yahuda, so that’s that bit of information for you. While I had heard of the Portuguese in Kerala, I’ve to admit I didn’t know of the Jews. The synagogue is at the end of a street in the area simply named Jew town. Apparently, there are only 5 Jews currently living there one of them being our ticket seller, while the rest have returned to Israel. The Synagogue itself shares a wall with the Mattancherry Palace temple and the land for the Synagogue was gifted to the Jews quite literally under the protection of the King since their earlier Synagogue in Cochin was destroyed by the Portuguese because of Jewish persecution.
The clock tower outside the Synagogue has letters imprinted in Hebrew, Malayalam and Roman. As one enters the main area, you’d immediately notice the numerous chandeliers and Belgian lamps in different colours and shapes, hanging low from the ceiling. The Synagogue has hand-painted Chinese tiles each tile with its own unique twist to one of 4 landscapes repeated on all of them. Apparently, the prayers require 10 Jewish men of age greater than 13 and since there aren’t sufficient here the prayers require Jews from elsewhere to come over if prayers are to be held.
If one can afford it, the Jew town is quite the place for interesting antiques. The homes on the street have small torches attached to the door frames that are touched before entering the homes as per Jewish beliefs.
Note: The Synagogue closes for lunch between 12 pm – 3 pm so plan your day accordingly. Also no pictures were allowed in both the Synagogue and the Palace but both are quite nice inside.
If interested, this is an interesting short documentary on the life and times of the last few Jews in Kochi(It is in Malayalam but has English subtitles).
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a pretty ambience and 2 gorgeous birds sitting casually at the entrance. However, they took 45 mins to get the first item we ordered which was a bit of a letdown.
After lunch, we headed to Fort Kochi. I had not looked up too many pictures and I went here expecting an actual Fort. However, it is simply the name of an area with charming homes and pretty structures reminiscent of those in White town of Pondicherry. The beach walkway is the highlight of the place with a huge number of people spending the afternoon there. It’s saddening to see a huge amount of trash washed over from the sea onto every piece of land on the edge of the water.
After passing by the shops selling enticing fresh catch from the sea, we decided to head in the opposite direction of the tourists to the boats. Apparently, the fish come nearer to the beach in the rain and go deeper into the water when it’s too sunny.
Just beside it was the first Chinese fishing net I saw. It’s quite a contraption- seemingly simple and yet elegant.
We decided to spend some time walking along the path munching on ice creams and random eats from the vendors along the way. Just as we walked to the end and headed back we saw multiple industrial looking ships up close and admired them from afar. While we considered having some seafood after the lacklustre lunch, Uncle, however, wasn’t convinced at the prices for the seafood we make regularly at home, but it’s something one could try during a visit there.
Note : If you’ve more time we’d recommend strolling along the bylanes of the area with beautiful old houses and quaint remnants from the times gone by.
Our last stop for the day was the Cherai beach where we decided to watch the sunset and end the day. We first stopped for some tea and pazhampori (batter-fried sweet plantain) that I’d highly recommend you try during your time in Kerala and that’s a tea time staple. This beach is a small stretch filled to the brim with people in the water so we decided to instead sit at the edge of the walkway and while the time watching the waves slowly form from afar and roar on to the edge with sheer power and grace. As riveting as the view was, it was 6 pm already and the sun showed no signs of wanting to set. I checked and realised the sunset was at 6:50 PM that day. Since it was a cloudy day with high chances of no clear sunset view + we had a long drive back home we decided to call it a day and head back.
We followed maps and came to a spot with a huge number of bikes, a crowd of people and a queue of cars. Only then did I realise we had to take a ferry on the way back! We enquired and it was the easiest way or we’d have to take a circuitous route by road and spend a long time at it. It was the first time for all of them taking a ferry and the first time for me taking a car into a ferry. The tickets were incredibly inexpensive at just Rs.35 for the car with its passengers! After a short time in the queue, we drove into the ferry. Our view of the sea was almost completely covered by people on all sides having conversations about their day as they headed home from work while we had a fun time finding magic amidst their ordinary, rocking gently inside the car to the rhythm of the sea.