Cochin is one of Kerala’s most beautiful places. A lagoon of islands and peninsulas separated by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, connected by bridges and ferries. It comprises the mainland town of Ernakul am, the southern peninsula of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, and the islands of Willingdon, Bolghatty, Gundu and Vypeen.
The scenic setting of its famous natural harbour, surrounded by palm groves, green fields, inland lakes and backwaters, has earned it the title ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’ Cochin has a rich maritime history, and still ships Kerala’s coir, rubber, seafood and pepper products off to foreign ports. Influenced at various times by the Arabs, the Chinese, the Dutch, the British and the Portuguese, it was Cochin’s Jews who founded the first strong community here, over 1000 years ago. Seized for the Portuguese by Vasco da Gama in 1502, the port was also the first European settlement in India. Lured by its spices and ivory, the Dutch arrived (1602) and displaced the Portuguese (1663). In 1795 Cochin passed into British hands. All of these conquerors left their mark, and present-day Fort Cochin/Mattancherry is a curious pot-pourri of Jewish synagogues, Chinese fishing-nets, Portuguese churches, Dutch palaces and British cricket greens. The atmosphere is perceptibly Mediterranean. But the climate is sub-tropical; hot and sticky for much of the year. The official season is October to March, but for comfort visit in December or January.
Cochin airport (Willingdon Island) is 6 km (3 3/4 miles) from Ernakulam town centre, a Rs30 taxi-ride, or Rsl by bus (to or from Ernakulam’s Kallor city bus-stand, just above Ernakulam Town railway station).
Indian Airlines flies 3 times daily between Cochin and Bombay (Rs2026). There are also flight connections with Bangalore (Rs842), Delhi (Rs3757), Dabolim in Goa (Rs1313), Madras (Rs1325) and Trivandrum (Rs525). East West Airlines operates a daily flight to and from Bombay (Rs2026).
Ernakulam has two rail stations—Ernakulam Junction and Ernakulam Town—both some 2.5 km (11/2 miles) from the main boat jetty. Ernakulam Junction is easier to deal with: the Area Manager here (office open 10 am-5pm) may be able to get you tickets at short notice, if you’ve failed to advance-book. There are daily trains to Kottayam, Quilon, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Bombay and New Delhi. For Ooty, take the daily 9.25 am Tea Carden Express.
Buses for Alleppey and Trivandrum (regular), Quilon (one express bus daily), Thekkady (6.30 am and 8.15 am buses, 6 hours), Kottayam (regular, 2 hours), Bangalore (few Interstate express buses, 15 hours) and Madeira (regular, but 8.15 am is best; 10 hours; superb scenery) all leave from the KSRTDC bus-stand in Ernakulam.