If you go to Tourist Land offices at the Corporation Bus Stand Building just in front of the Ernakulum south/Junction Railway station, just a stones throw away from Metropolitan Hotel( at the lobby of which they also maintain an office), you will come across friendly Sunil and Suresh. They can arrange the transportation to and fro Vaikom where they will organize a tour of the backwaters with or without lunch for you.
On the island is also a Jewish community with roots going back to 1000 AD and a 16th century synagogue. It was built in 1568 by 'white' jews and destroyed during fightings between the Portugese and the Dutch, afterwards it was entirely rebuilt
The synagogue is decorated with imported Chinese hand-painted tiles on the floor, the walls and the ceiling, not two tiles are alike.
There are a lot of legends based on those tiles, they should be able to tell the history, and are changing along with time.
The Jewish community flourished under the Rajahs of Cochin and, later, under Dutch rule, in a rare atmosphere of tolerance and respect. They maintained an active religious life, combining ancient traditions with distinctive local customs and liturgy. However, today this ancient community, which prior to 1951 boasted 8 congregations, is depleted. Most of the young have emigrated to Israel and only one synagogue still functions.
Openingtimes: sunday-friday, 10am-12am and 3pm-5pm.
The Dutch Palace or Mattancherry Palace
The Dutch palace at Mattancherry was actually built by the Portuguese in 1557. The extensions of the east and south and the wooden ceilings of the Coronation Hall were incorporated by the Dutch hence its other name, the “Dutch Palace”.
The most important feature and the real glory of this palace, is the astonishing murals in the bedchambers and other rooms, which depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata legends connected with Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Kumara and Durga. In one of the bedchambers you can see the entire story of Ramayana on the walls.
These murals are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful and extensive to be seen anywhere in India.
What a pity no pictures are allowed to be taken inside the palace and no booklet was available at the desk.
The palace is open all days for the public between 10 am and 5 pm except on Fridays and National Holidays.
While you're here, take the opportunity to visit the nearby Jewish Town, a single street of old discoloured buildings
Jew Town is a quarter of Kochi that, according to legend, dates back to the 2nd century AD when Palestinian Jews fled persecution by the Romans. More Jews came from Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, particularly from Spain and Portugal after their expulsion (in 1492 and 1497 respectively). In the mid 1500's the Jews of the area sought protection from the Hindu king against Muslim oppression and he let them build their own quarter in Cochin. Today there is still a Jewish community, but it is small as many Jews have left to go to Israel.
Jew Town is the area around Pardesi Synagogue and was the centre of the Kochi spice trade. Today some of the families remain in the traditional spice shops and the air is filled with the aroma of ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves. The new shops target tourists with antiques, curios, handicrafts, and souvenirs. The antique shops can be really fascinating to wander around, but I've no idea how anyone would get most of it home with them!
Kochi comprises several islands and areas, each with its own style. Most people are referring to the Fort Kochi/Mattancherry area when they talk about visiting Kochi. This is the oldest part of the city, where the Portuguese settled, and where the famous sights are. Fort Kochi has a lot of “oldest” titles surrounding it (oldest European colony in India, oldest synagogue in the commonwealth of nations, etc). Willingdon Island doesn’t have much for visitors except a sizeable resort/casino – other than that, there’s a lot of restricted areas: an Indian Navy base, docks for freight ships, and some kind of naval engineering school. Ernakulam is the modern part, full of shopping and restaurants. They’re all connected by fairly quick ferries and fairly slow roads.
Fort Kochi is where the tourists mostly go, and even within that small area it’s limited – near the Chinese fishing nets and down the west side to the older Portuguese buildings and churches, and down the east side near the spice markets/Dutch palace/Paresi Synagogue in Mattancherry. The streets are old, narrow, and kind of twisty; buildings are mostly two stories with shops underneath and balconies above, iron work railings or window covers. (A few details here.)
I liked Kochi, even with the throngs of tourists and aggressive vendors. The tour groups look like they belong in the limited places you find them, and the vendors can’t help themselves, I’m sure. I did get tired of being asked to buy things.