Kochi's first Jewish settlers arrived from Yemen and Babylon as early as A.D. 52; this -- the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth -- was originally built 1,500 years later. Set in a corner of Jew Town and rather hemmed in by other buildings, with only the 18th-century clock tower visible from the outside, it must be entered before you can view its most interesting feature: the beautiful blue-and-white Cantonese ceramic floor tiles -- each individual tile hand-painted, so no two are alike. Above, glorious Belgian chandeliers dangle from the ceiling. At one end of the hall, old Torah scrolls are kept behind the gilded doors of the holy tabernacle.

Only a handful of Jews remain in Kochi (around five or six), though they uphold the traditions of their ancestors, and the synagogue is moving testament to the effects of the Diaspora. The number remaining are not enough to form a minyan (the number of men needed to sustain a synagogue), so Jews from outlying areas travel to Kochi to worship in this historic Judaic monument; they also rely on Jewish visitors to help make up numbers for ceremonies, so definitely make your presence known if you qualify. The synagogue elders are understandably concerned about tourist numbers, and numerous signs warn that no one is allowed upstairs, no one is allowed inside the pulpit, and no one is allowed to touch anything. You are also expected to be demurely attired.