Kochi and Cochin are the names of the same city. Kochi was the original name and Cochin was the name given by the British but in 1990s government declared Kochi as the official name. It is located on the Spice coast of India. Interestingly, if you are googling, there is another city with the name Kochi in Japan, and both these cities now have a cultural exchange program. Cochin Port is one of the largest ports in India and has the largest container trans-shipment facility in India.
As we were meandering through the Cochin streets, the surroundings seemed so familiar, and there seemed to be some affinity with the place. I was getting a feeling as if I was there only a few days back. Despite this strong feeling and trying very hard mentally, I could not connect with any building or shop around. Indeed an era had gone by, or maybe the age is catching up with me.
We parked the cab, and as we were stepping out, we noticed a house which seemed like a castle straight out of a Harry Potter movie. It indeed was a beautiful house and it was very difficult to miss it. In fact, the entire Fort Kochi area gives an oriental feeling. There was some mystique about the whole place with the rusted iron pillars of an old jetty on one side while rain ravaged houses on the other side. One just has to take a stroll through the area to feel that. We noticed it while walking towards St.Francis Church. There are a couple of museums alongside the street. On the right side, we can see the shoreline, which is part of the Spice Coast of India. The entire coastline of Kerala facing Arabian sea is also known as Spice Coast due to its predominance of spices trade couple of centuries back, and Kochi was the hub of that.
As we strolled towards the church, on one side of the road, we could see the houses, a park, a couple of museums while on the other side one could hear the noises of sea waves splashing on the shore. This area is also known for Chinese fishing nets as you could see many of them around. The houses and the surrounding gave a perfect look of an ideal vacation. Everything seemed to be in the siesta time mode. The faraway ships in the Arabian sea seemed to be standing still or may just be crawling waiting for the signal to enter the port and dock.
Finally, we reached the St.Francis Church. The Church was initially built in 1503 after the arrival of Portuguese explorers and is the oldest European church in India. Originally it was a wooden structure, but later it was rebuilt using bricks, mortars, and tiles. The construction eventually was completed in 1516. The church stands tall facing the Arabian Sea testimony to a long era which has seen huge amount of turbulence just like the turbulent waters of the sea.
Vasco Da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and was sent by Portuguese king on July 8th, 1497 along with a fleet of four ships and 180 men to India to bring spices. He reached India on 14th May 1498 after a 10-month long voyage cutting across the waters of Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean following the route via Cape of Good Hope. There is a long story around how he navigated the rough weather and installed the pillars as a landmark to show the way for future expeditions. During this, he became the first European to land in India via sea route. The discovery of the sea-route proved to be a very highly valuable asset for the Portuguese as it enables them to control the trade in the area for some time to come. Due to the near-monopoly in the area, the Portuguese amassed huge wealth over future expeditions.
Christopher Columbus was another European sailor who had sailed from European coasts a couple of years before Vasco Da Gama did. However, he ended up on the American continent. Vasco Da Gama traveled to India thrice in 1498, 1502 and 1524. He died in Kochi when he was on his 3rd visit to India in 1524. Initially, he was buried in this church, but fourteen years later in 1938, his remains were taken to Lisbon for burial.
We entered the Church, a congregation had just finished, and people were moving out. As I stepped inside, the first thing I did was to look at my right side at the extreme corner. I could see something but not clearly. I paced up to the front, and there, I found what was imprinted in my memory for a long time. There was a grave of Vasco Da Gama where he was initially buried in the year 1524. I cleared my second memory test.
After spending some time in this historical monument which now happens to a protected monument, we moved ahead as we had a long day. We had to stop over at my cousin's place, who is currently based in Cochin, before returning to Kottayam. George had also suggested us to take a small detour while returning and have a stopover at Vaikom Shiva temple which I was keen to go to. Later I got to know that the temple has its own rich history and came to prominence when Mahatma Gandhi visited there in the run-up to Indian independence movement. We did go there while on the way back and I will write about it later.
Recommendations for travelers
Kochi has a rich history, and a week-long vacation trip can be planned. Once here, one can take a trip for a day or two to Alleppey and Munnar side. One can also look for Cruise experience as well for which there are many options. Apart from this there shall be at least two full days to explore Kochi.
Cochin has an International airport which is connected through direct flights from Dubai, Sharjah, Kuala Lumpur, Muscat, Singapore, Male, Jeddah, and Colombo apart from many cities in the country including Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai. This apart, Indian Railway has many trains including Rajdhani and Shatabdi connecting with many cities in the country.