Port of Call Cochin, India
The Cochin Port, as it used to be in the past, keeps a close association with various industries like oil refinery, cashew and spices exports, marine and tourism. It has grown into become one of the prominent ports in India with over 1100 vessels reaching here every year. It also handles about 13.5 million tons of cargo annually. Though the port facilities are now located on the Willington Island, it possesses a vast area at Vallarpadam and Puthuvypeen. The Port will soon emerge as a major centre for transshipment business with the setting up of the International Container Terminal at the Vallarpadam Island. Cochin Port was also made a stopover for the yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race. The flow of cruise liners to the port is uninterrupted irrespective of the season and climate.
If you’ve never been to India, brace yourself. Scary does nothing to describe those first few moments when you leave the port, whether in a tuk-tuk, car or coach, and discover that things on the road are not quite as you’re used to at home.
Horns parp, cars overtake — never mind the traffic coming in the other direction — vehicles pull out from nowhere. It’s alarming if you’re not used to it, but the best thing to do is relax. These drivers might seem crazy, but they know what they are doing. Mostly.
Cochin, or Kochi to use its Indian name, is one of the favourite cruise ports in India. It’s in the southwest, on the Malabar coast, sitting in a natural harbour that was created by a flood in 1341. Make sure you are awake for the sail-in to watch the sun rise over the misty water and the colourful local boats make their packed way from one side of the city to another.
Cochin is believed to have had trade links with China and Arabia for 2,000 years; 500 years ago the Europeans arrived. First were the Portuguese, when Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India and set up a trading station in 1502. In 1503, Fort Cochin, the first European fort in India, was built.
The British arrived in 1635 but were forced out by the Dutch in 1663. However, they returned in 1791 and stayed until independence in 1947.
The city is divided into two halves — Mattancherry on the south side and Fort Cochin. (You’ll see an area that was within the fort, rather than battlements.) The new town of Ernakulam is to the north. There are museums, shops, restaurants and hotels in Ernakulam, but essentially, it’s a most modern city. Visitors usually stick with the south side, as that is the most attractive and historic area of the city.
A few hours of exploring in Fort Cochin is time well-spent, but one of the biggest attractions of the city is that it is the gateway to the Kerala Backwaters, a drop-dead gorgeous network of canals, rivers and lakes that twist and turn for about 1,150 kilometres. It’s incredibly peaceful and offers a fascinating glimpse into another part of life in India.
You can visit the backwaters alone or on an excursion — the best cruise-line tours use houseboats for the cruising part of the trip. These boats are hand-built, thatched-roof vessels with up to four rooms and can be hired for a couple of days if you are staying in the area. One note, however: a trip to the Kerala Backwaters involves a solid (and life-risking) two-hour ride, each way, from the dock. So it’s a full-day tour that precludes time to explore Fort Cochin.
It’s nearly impossible to see both Fort Cochin and the Kerala Backwaters in just one day. Ultimately, the biggest downside of a visit to Cochin is choosing between the two.
The national currency is the Indian Rupee (Rs), which is divided into 100 paise. There are about Rs 48 to the dollar and about Rs 78 to the pound sterling.