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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fort Kochi: Self-Guided Heritage Walking Tour

Situated in the district of Ernakulam in the state of Kerala, Kochi, also known as Cochin, is a charming city with a fascinating hodgepodge of cultural heritage: Indian, Jewish, Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese, and British. It was my first stop in my 4-month long backpacking trip in India. 

As planned, I spent most of my time in Fort Kochi, which is part of what is known collectively as Old Kochi, because the important monuments and historical places are located there. There are other attractions in the nearby towns, but I decided to stay solely in Fort Kochi as I only allotted 3 days in the city.

Arrival at Fort Kochi International Airport:
My 6:00am flight via AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur to Kochi took about 4 hours. It was such an early flight for my liking but I bought it anyway because it only costs 1,800 pesos (38$), probably the cheapest 4-hour flight I have ever bought. To avoid the risk of being late, I left my friend’s house in Cyberjaya at 11pm to catch the last train to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at midnight. I had to force myself to sleep while I was on the plane.

The plane arrived on time at 7:35am. There is a time difference between Malaysia and India; India being 2 hours and 30 minutes late. Upon exit, I immediately rushed myself to the immigration threshold as I wanted to reach Fort Kochi before noon and maximize time. I read online that crossing the immigration at the Kochi Airport usually takes time but I didn’t experience it. My arrival went smoothly, taking no more than 20 minutes to go through the passport control and Customs. I was also traveling without any luggage which also saved me time.

After exiting the Customs gate, I exchanged my 100$ to Indian rupees. There are several currency exchange shops at the International Arrival terminal. There is no point to compare as they offer the same exchange rates. Before leaving the terminal, I connected with the free wifi and pinned the location of my accommodation in GoogleMaps.

How I Get to Fort Kochi from the Airport
To get to Fort Kochi, I took the Orange public bus servicing the aiport and Kochi City. You can read the full details here: How to Get to Fort Kochi The Cheapest Possible Way. Fare costs only 80 Indian rupees (1.20$), way cheaper than taking the taxi. This is the most cost-effective option to get to downtown Cochin.

Accommodation in Fort Kochi: Allan’s Inn Homestay
Finding the exact location of my accommodation (Allan’s Inn) was harder than I expected. From the Sta. Cruz Basilica where I was dropped off by the bus conductor, it shows in the GoogleMaps that I’m only a few blocks away but it is not accurate. I had to ask several people where the hostel is located, most of them clueless about its address.

After aimlessly walking around for about 30 minutes, I finally found the place with the help of an Indian guy who was kind enough to call the hostel’s owner and point me to the right direction.

Upon arrival, I was welcomed by an Indian lady named Fexy with a welcoming smile. I booked a private, fan room, including breakfast, for 600 rupees in this homestay accommodation for two nights. Besides the cheap price, I specifically chose this inn because of its proximity to key historical attractions in Fort Cochin.

After checking in, I changed clothes, rested for a bit, connected to the free wifi to load my desired locations in GoogleMaps, before heading off for an afternoon walk around town.

DIY Heritage Walking Tour of Fort Kochi
Fort Kochi is a small, walkable town with many attractions close to each other. From Allan’s Inn, many of the colonial churches are only a few minutes away by walking. This self-guided, DIY  heritage walking tour of Fort Kochi lasted for about 3 hours.

My first stop was the Sta. Cruz Basilica, a colonial church originally built by the Portuguese in 1505 but was later re-erected by the British after its destruction. FYI, there are only 8 Basilicas in India and it is considered as one of the finest churches in terms of architecture. I only managed to take photos of its facade because there was an on-going afternoon mass and foreign visitors were not allowed inside during that time.

Afterwards, I walked along Princess Street, one of the oldest streets in Fort Kochi, where a number of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and souvenir shops are located. Also lined up in this street are old buildings and bungalows built in the European style, giving a good slice of colonial European architecture. A good view of the entire street can be seen at the Loafer's Corner, a famous cafe at the junction of Bastion, Peter Celli, and Princess Street.

Not far away is another important cathedral, perhaps the most notable of all, not only in Kochi but the entire India, St. Francis Church. It is the oldest church built in India built by the Portuguese colonizers in 1503. It was also here where Vasco da Gama, a well-known Portuguese explorer, was buried in 1524, before his remains were transferred to Lisbon, Portugal 14 years later.

Also nearby is the popular Vasco de Gama Square, a promenade along the Mahatma Gandhi Beach where you can watch fishermen use traditional Chinese fishing nets. There are numerous stalls serving seafood and other delicacies in the area.

My final stop was the Dutch Cemetery. It is believed to be the oldest European cemetery in India. It is located down the street from St. Francis Church and parallel to the Fort Kochi Beach. Consecrated in 1724, the cemetery has 104 tombs.

If you wish to follow this self-guided heritage walk of Fort Kochi, I suggest you use the GoogleMaps.

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