Sandip Patel

Kochi (formerly Cochin) also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, is a major port city situated on the south-west coast of Indian peninsula by the Arabian Sea and the Laccadive Sea in the state of Kerala. It was an important spice trading center on the west coast of India from the 14th century onward, and maintained a trade network with Arab merchants from the pre-Islamic era. Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Kochi was the first of the European colonies in colonial India. It remained the main seat of Portuguese India until 1530, when Goa was chosen instead. The city was later occupied by the Dutch and the British, with the Kingdom of Cochin becoming a princely state. These invasions have left an unforgettable mark on the history and development of Kochi.

Kochi is the second largest city in Kerala after Thiruvananthapuram and the second largest urban agglomeration in Kerala after Calicut. Kochi ranks first in the total number of international and domestic tourist arrivals in Kerala. Kochi has also been ranked the sixth best tourist destination in India according to a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company on behalf of the Outlook Traveler magazine.

Kochi is also the home to Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy and the state headquarters of the Indian Coast Guard with an attached air squadron, named Air Squadron 747.

History

Kochi was the center of Indian spice trade for many centuries. Kochi rose to significance as a trading center after the Port Muziris around Kodungallur (Cranganore) was destroyed by massive flooding of Periyar in 1341. The earliest documented references to Kochi occur in books written by Chinese voyager Ma Huan during his visit to Kochi in the 15th century. There are also references to Kochi in accounts written by Italian traveller Niccolò Da Conti, who visited Kochi in 1440.

According to many historians, the precursor state to Kingdom of Kochi came into existence in early 12th century, after the fall of the Chera Kingdom. The reign of the Kingdom was hereditary, and the family that ruled over the region was known as the Perumpadappu Swaroopam in the local vernacular.

Portuguese navigator, Pedro Álvares Cabral founded the first European settlement in India at Kochi in 1500. From 1503 to 1663, Fort Kochi (Fort Emmanuel) was ruled by Portugal. The Portuguese rule was followed by that of the Dutch who renamed Fort Immanuel as Fort Stormsburg. In meantime, the Royal Family of Kochi relocated the capital of Kochi Kingdom to Thrissur, leaving nominal authority over Islands of Kochi. By 1773, the Mysore ruler Hyder Ali extended his conquest in the Malabar region to Kochi forcing it to become a tributary of Mysore.

Meanwhile, the Dutch, fearing an outbreak of war on the United Provinces, signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 with the United Kingdom, under which Kochi was ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for the island of Bangka. In 1866, Fort Kochi became a municipality, and its first Municipal Council seating contest was conducted in 1883. By 1870s, the capital of Kochi Kingdom was relocated again to Kochi Suburb of Tripunithura. In 1910, Ernakulum became the administrative capital of Kochi Kingdom with establishment of Royal Secretariat and State Durbar. The Offices of Diwan and High court were soon moved into Ernakulum. In 1925, Kochi legislative assembly was constituted due to public pressure on the state.

In 1947, when India gained independence from the British colonial rule, Cochin was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly.

The city's economic growth gathered momentum after economic reforms in India introduced by the central government in the early-1990s. Since 2000, the service sector has energized the city's economy. The establishment of several industrial parks based on IT and other port based infrastructure triggered a construction and realty boom in the city. Over the years, Kochi has witnessed rapid commercialization, and has today grown into the commercial hub of Kerala

Origin of the Name

Ancient travelers and tradesmen referred to Kochi in their writings, variously alluding to it as Cocym, Cochym, Cochin, and Kochi. The origin of the name "Kochi" is thought to be from the Malayalam word kochu azhi, meaning 'small lagoon'. Yet another theory is that Kochi is derived from the word Kaci, meaning ‘harbor’. Accounts by Italian explorers Nicolo Conti (15th century), and Fra Paoline in the 17th century say that it was called Kochchi, named after the river connecting the backwaters to the sea. After the arrival of the Portuguese, and later the British, the name Cochin stuck as the official appellation. The city reverted to a closer Anglicization of its original Malayalam name, Kochi, in 1996.

Things to do

Tourism is one of the strongest drivers of the local economy. Ernakulam district, in which Kochi is situated, ranks first in the total number of domestic tourists visiting Kerala and thus contributes to the economy of the city. The tourist enclave at Fort Kochi and presence of several historical monuments, museums etc. as well as natural attractions like the Vembanad lake and the backwaters attract a large number of tourists to the city. The Kochi Port is one of the leading ports where international cruisers call on regularly. The city has the first marina facility in the country Kochi Marina which attracts yacht-totters. To further tap the potential of the all-season harbor at Kochi, an international cruise terminal, and several marinas are being constructed.

Chinese Fishing Nets are unique to Kochi and it was earlier thought that the nets might have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He but the recent research shows that these were introduced by Portuguese Casado settlers from Macau. The Chinese fishing nets have become a very popular tourist attraction, their size, and elegant construction is photogenic and the slow rhythm of their operation is quite hypnotic. In addition, catches can be purchased individually and need be taken only a short distance to a street entrepreneur who will cook it.

Backwaters of Kochi are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (known as the Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. In Cochin, the stretch from Kochi Azhi to Munambam Azhi, the serene backwaters are popularly known as Veeranpuzha. It is the northern extension of Vembanad Lake. Vembanad Lake (Vembanad Kayal or Vembanad Kol) is India's longest lake and is the largest lake in Kerala. A boat ride through the backwaters is an unforgettable experience.

Kathakali is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance. It is another "story play" genre of art, but one distinguished by its elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and face masks wearing actor-dancer performance. See India Foundation, The Cochin Cultural Centre and Art Kerala organizes Kathakali.

Marine Drive is a picturesque promenade in Kochi. It is built facing the backwaters, and is a popular hangout for the local populace. Marine Drive is also an economically thriving part of the city of Kochi. With several shopping malls it is as an important center of shopping activity in Kochi. The walkway has two contemporarily constructed bridges, the Rainbow Bridge and the Chinese Fishing Net Bridge. Hundreds of people, both natives and tourists, throng the walkway during the evenings.

Fort Kochi, situated on the Fort Kochi/Mattancherry peninsula, is the historical part of the city and home to many tourist attractions, such as the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, the Mattancherry Palace and the Santa Cruz Basilica.

Hill Palace is the largest archaeological museum in Kerala, near Tripunithura. It was the administrative office of Kochi Rajas. Built in 1865, the palace complex consists of 49 buildings in the traditional architectural style, spreading across in 54 acres. The complex has an archaeological museum, a heritage museum, a deer park, a prehistoric park and a children's park.

Jewish Synagogue, or the Paradesi Synagogue, is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, located in Kochi in South India. It was built in 1568 by the Malabar Yehudan people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin. It is also referred to as the Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue.

Bolgatty Palace was built by the Dutch in India, and is located on the scenic Bolgatty island in Kochi. One of the oldest existing Dutch palaces outside Holland, this quaint mansion, built in 1744, by Dutch traders, was later extended and lush green gardens were landscaped around it. The palace eventually became the property of the state and later was converted into a heritage hotel resort.

Kochi International Marina is an excellent stop for yachts, and the marina is placed ideally within the city, attached to the shoreline of the historic Bolgatty Palace Hotel in Bolgatty Island.

Willingdon Island is a man-made island named after Lord Willingdon, a former British Viceroy to India. Southern Naval Command, Cochin Harbour, Port Trust headquarters, the best hotels in the city, and major trading centers are situated at Willingdon Island.

Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary is a biosphere reserve located at Central Cochin is a natural habitat of many endangered and regular species of local and migratory birds, as well as mangrove vegetation.