In Fort Kochi (the historical area of Kochi, earlier known as Cochin), there is a lane that acts as a time machine. It lets you surf on ups and downs of various periods in history. Yes, I am talking about the Jew Town in Kochi, the oldest Jewish settlement in India. As you cross the famous Mattancherry Palace, there is a narrow lane, which marks the starting of the Jew Town. This place got its name in 1524 when Jews migrated here from various places of Malabar (and hence known as Malabar Jews) and given shelter at Mattancherry area by the then King of Cochin.
As you enter the Jew Town, it feels that you have stepped into a completely different world. You will be amazed by the very rich collection of the antiques, crafts and spices. The old Jewish houses with their colourful architecture, the aroma of spices wafting in the air invites you to explore the treasure of history and taste.
As you progress down the lane, you can see on either side of the road, various shops, small to big in terms of their sizes and collections, selling such antiques, those have waited for several centuries and travelled thousands of miles to be here. If your budget allows, you can purchase really wonderful artifices but you must be very good in bargaining. It was like visiting the museum rather than a market as every shop was giving a look of a museum. Some shops were having even richer collections of antiques as compared to many small museums. Although clicking pictures inside the shop is not allowed generally, you can take snaps of the articles placed in the open.
The shops deals not only with antiques but also sell jewellery, curios, wooden sculptures and carvings, large metal figurine, mirrors, wall hangings, carved door frames, handmade soaps, carved doors, paintings, potteries, floral aromatic oils, wooden spice boxes as souvenirs, vibrantly coloured masks, vintage furniture, handmade toys, embroidered clothes, spices.. the list goes on and on. You just name anything antique and most probably you will get it there. I think this is the biggest antique market in India.
Since medieval times, Kochi has been the hub for spices export and a prominent seaport. Ginger house is such a historic place on Jew Street, which was the most famous point for sale of dry ginger (‘sonth’ in Hindi). A very old wooden staircase leads you to the first floor of Ginger house, where you can buy authentic herbs and spices. We did purchase some incense sticks and spices for our own use and for gifting purpose. It also houses a restaurant, the Ginger House Restaurant which is India’s first and only museum restaurant and hotel which offers you a meal in the setting of history! The restaurant is an architectural marvel, completely made up of antique furniture – including the tables, chairs, counters, pillars, door frames, etc. A suit here named King’s Chamber has a painting by Raja Ravi Varma, at the entrance and even the bathroom includes a wall studded with Art Deco tiles made of 24-carat gold.
In Jew town, there is situated, the International Pepper Exchange, which is an organization headquartered in Kochi, that deals with the global trade of black pepper. It is the world’s oldest pepper exchange, run by the India Pepper and Spice Trade Association (IPSTA). The IPSTA Pepper Exchange began futures trade in pepper in September 1957. In 1997, The exchange has been converted to International Pepper Exchange, which is described as the world’s only international pepper exchange.
The Paradesi (‘Foreigner’ in Hindi) Synagogue (a place of worship for a Jewish congregation) is the last attraction of the Jew Town. This oldest active Synagogue was built in 1568. The complex has four buildings and a popular tourist attraction. The synagogue is closed on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and also on Jewish holidays. Timing to visit the Synagogue is from 5:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m and then from 5:00 p.m to 7:00 p.m. There is a strict dress code for both men and women. Men have to wear full shirts and trousers and women have to wear skirts or any dress below knee length.
Jew Town is a heaven for shopaholic as well as for foodies. Several good restaurants offer traditional and authentic cuisines. Cafe Jew Town, Cafe Crafters, Celestial Cafe, Ginger House restaurant are some good options to carve your appetite. The only problem you will be going to face here would be what to left and what to buy. Normally 2-3 hours are sufficient to visit Jew Town but if you feel a strong connection with history as I feel, spending 5-6 hours here is a common thing.
Read a detailed travelogue on Fort Kochi …