FAST GAINING a reputation on the international resort itinerary, Kochi, formerly Cochin, offers more than scenic beauty, sun and sea. It is in the state of Kerala, known as 'God's own country', although Kerala means 'land of coconuts'. Kochi is made of up the island of Fort Cochin, Ernakulam on the mainland, where commercial activities take place, and Willingdon Island, which provides a link between the two locations. Willingdon Island is a man-made island built by the British in the 1920s. As Cochin Port developed, the island became the centre for customs, importing and export. Recently, the quiet and laid-back location has become home to luxury resorts, such as the five-star Taj Malabar and Le Meridien. For many visitors, a big reason to come to Kerala is for Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicinal science. Clinics and spas offering rejuvenation and therapeutic programmes under the Ayurvedic banner proliferate, so it is important to decide whether you are taking the opportunity to simply relax or gear up for a more serious consultation. The port shows the influence of its former rulers - the Portuguese, Dutch and British. At Fort Cochin and Mattan-cherry, there is St Francis Church, built in 1510 by the Portuguese. It is believed to be the first European church built in India. In Jew Town, small shops selling handicrafts and silk line the street that lead to the mid-16th century synagogue. Among these is a bric-a-brac market with piles of vintage photographs and posters. The origin of the name Kochi is controversial. One theory is that empire builder Kublai Khan named the place. A trip to Kochi would not be complete without visiting the Dutch Palace museum and taking in a performance of Kathakali, a traditional Kerala story-dance similar to Peking Opera. The full dance ritual goes on all night in a temple. Luckily, tourists are presented with an excerpt only. The intriguing work does not involve any dialogue or singing, and all is communicated through 24 'alphabets' in hand and facial signs and rolling eye expressions. To truly experience the idyllic beaches of Kovalam and Varkala, the hills and wildlife, or to stay on a converted luxury rice boat and explore the waterways at Alap-puzha, you need to travel further into India's 'cleanest, most peaceful state'.