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Fort Cochin, at the mouth of Kerala’s busiest harbour, was where the first European colonizers put down roots in India. Its early-16th-century Church of St Francis, the original burial place of Vasco da Gama, stands a stone’s throw from a Jewish synagogue, Dutch merchants’ houses, Armenian graves, Chinese fishing nets and British spice godowns – vestiges of the multi-national trade in pepper and other spices that shaped the fortunes of the subcontinent for more than five centuries. In recent decades, many of the old buildings have seen a new lease of life as arty cafés, restaurants and heritage hotels.