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Cochin Calling

This is a land of great natural beauty. From the majestic heights of the western ghats, the state of Kerala undulates further, presenting a vista of silent islands clothed in the richest green. Along its coast, sand dunes shelter a linked chain of lagoons, the still waters of which are studded with sea-gulls and country canoes plying at a snail's pace. It is in this green strip of land that you can find the most enchanting backwaters. Ones that captivate your mind and senses.

The biggest amongst these backwaters is the Vembanad Lake which opens out into the Arabian Sea at the Cochin port. Cochin, the commercial capital of Kerala, is a cluster of islands on the vast expanse of this Vembanad Lake. In other words, a visit to Cochin, which is now called Kochi, is a journey through fascinating water bodies, tucked away in thick forests, and picturesque islands. What makes it unique is that the islands have remained islands and a quaint system of ferries connects the various parts of the city.Ernakulam and Fort Cochin are twin cities connected by bridges. Ernakulam is the business centre of Cochin, pretty clean but bustling with activity. It has two main railway stations, glamorous shopping centres and famous hotels and restaurants. While Fort Cochin is a typical English suburb, complete with charming bungalows, set amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. The Chinese fishing nets, that line the sea-front at Fort Cochin and exhibit a mechanical method of catching fish, are a fascinating sight here.

Two other interesting areas that flank Fort Cochin and Ernakulam are Willingdon Island and Mattancherry. Willingdon - home to Cochin airport, seaport, naval headquarters and all the important government offices - is a man-made island created to bridge the gap between the twin cities. The Taj Malabar on the Willingdon waterfront is one of the most striking spots here. Regular ferry services on the lake surrounding the island offer great backwater cruises. Mattancherry, the chief attraction of which is the glimmering waterways, lies on the same island as Fort Cochin.

A visit to the Dutch Palace, here, is a must. Built by the Portuguese, the palace was renovated by the Dutch and presented to the Cochin Raja in AD 1555. This mixed heritage continues to be in evidence all over the city. The Jewish Synagogue is decorated with copper plates bearing the Hebrew script and hand-painted Chinese tiles.

If there is so much to see in Kochi, there is also a lot to do. Boat cruises are available along the harbour, and tourists can also watch kathakali performances and displays of kalaripayattu in the various resorts that are found here. In case you've had your fill of the waters, a three-hour drive from Cochin will take you to the beautiful hill station of Munnar.

Channels of silvery water crisscross the city. Fishing, canoes, nets, shipping and the lush greenery fringing the expanses of water give Cochin its picture postcard look and is what draws outsiders to the busy port of Cochin. Serene backwaters, beautiful lagoons, green isles and magnificent canals - Cochin is truly the queen of the Arabian Sea.

Cochin at a glance
Location: Central Kerala.
Best season: September to May.
Main attraction: The islands over which the city is spread and the backwaters.
Food speciality: Coconut and spice-based food.
How to get there: Air - Cochin airport; Rail - Ernakulam junction.
Where to stay: Five star - Taj Malabar, Taj Residency, Casino, The Trident; Medium budget - The Metropolitan, Yuvarani Residency, Bolghatty Palace Hotel.

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