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Sitting by the sea on India's southern tip, Cochin has been an important trade port for centuries – most notably the capital of India's spice trade. The second city of India's west coast after Mumbai, Cochin (known locally as Kochi) is an exciting tourist destination as rich in heritage as it is breathtakingly beautiful.
Its moderate climate, coupled with the sun-soaked Arabian Sea before it and the lush green Ghat mountains behind make the city and its surrounding countryside a place of outstanding natural beauty – and a gorgeous port of call for a better look at India's relaxed, multicultural side.
The plentiful equatorial sunlight gives the colours of Cochin a vivid, vibrant quality – from the palm-lined backwaters to the modern developments and historical landmarks of the city itself. Portuguese, Chinese and Dutch influences run through the city, thanks to Cochin's place in history as a major port of call for ocean traders for hundreds of years. As such, there's no shortage of cultural attractions for visitors to the so-called ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea':
Chinese fishing nets
Arguably some of the most graceful man-made structures to stand by the sea, the iconic slender fishing scaffolds on and around Fort Cochin Beach are a must-see when you visit the region. Originally thought to have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He, the nets' design are now known to have come from the Portuguese colonial settlers of Macau near Hong Kong. Make sure you have a camera handy if you visit the structures around sundown – the wispy nets and spidery frames often stand in stunning silhouette against rich, golden sunsets over the sea.
You may have the opportunity to walk the streets of historic Cochin, a treasure trove of Indo-European culture and architecture stemming from the town's mix of colonial Dutch and native Indian cross-culture. Follow tree-lined streets past a wealth of landmarks, including the white-walled St Francis Church built in 1503; and close by, the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica – a strange juxtaposition of white-walled European gothic architecture, complete with stained glass windows and heavy wooden doors, surrounded outside by the palms and cloudless blue skies of Southern India.
Built in the mid-16th century by Portuguese settlers, and added to by Dutch settlers a century later, Mattancherry Palace presents visitors with a unique style of construction – a European interpretation of the native South Indian, courtyard-centred Nalukettu style. Popularly known as the Dutch Palace, the museum boasts a portrait gallery of the town's rajas in its former Coronation Hall as well as stunning, brightly-coloured Hindu murals throughout. Exhibits in the museum include royal ceremonial dress, coins, stamps and carriages.
The city does good trade in souvenirs and curios, and carved rosewood paperweights and animal figurines are a particular local speciality. You'll find arts and crafts shops on Broadway, a street also famous for its clothes and spices, and various emporia selling a wide variety of fascinating objects, both old and new.
Jew Town in Cochin is best known for its antique shops – look out for stores which deal in wooden jewellery boxes, Chinese ceramics and ancient Indian arts and handicrafts. The synagogue also lies in this truly historic part of town, where you can step back in time to see the centuries-old, hand-painted Chinese floor tiles that are testament to the city's international history. The shopping in this part of the city also includes spice traders, silk merchants, clothing, carpets and jewellery, as well as the odd café and bookshop too.
As a coastal city there's no shortage of delicious seafood on Cochin's local menus. There are some bright, breezy restaurants around Rose Street that get consistently great reviews, serving grilled prawns, masala fish and cold beer – what better way to enjoy a taste of Cochin?
Spices, banana and coconut are common ingredients in many local dishes, like the bright yellow, yogurt-based kaalan or pachadi vegetable side-dish. Conversely, visitors may also find eateries that specialise in a taste of Northern Indian food in the heart of the South – serving rich, aromatic Mughlai cuisine as a great contrast to the local fare.
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