Kochi is in Kerala – and we had fallen in love with Kerala after our short maiden visit.
We had never travelled to Kochi before.
These reasons were enough for us to book our tickets to New Zealand via Kochi because, in the flurry of activities, we mistakenly thought we were getting a good deal. But that’s a story for another post!
First impressions: Kochi airport and solar panels
An early morning flight into Kochi meant that we had an entire day for exploration. The Cochin International Airport is a perfect case of a non-metro airport. With wooden chairs and sofas in the waiting areas and limited eating options, it wasn’t exactly teeming with people. It did lack the swanky look that the T2s and T3s of Mumbai and Delhi.
But what it DID have are solar panels. In fact, there were huge fields of solar panels just outside the airport. The Cochin International Airport has the honour of being the first airport in the world to be fully powered by solar energy!
We had booked a place in the Fort Kochi area of Cochin as that is where all the “things to see in Kochi” are – which is something we are just not used to do! But this stay in Kochi was essentially a “transit” stop. We decided to be a tourist and stay close to the action!
Our homestay in Fort Kochi
There were some superb homestay options in Fort Kochi. This was our little scope for local interaction in the midst of all the tourist activities.
Fort Kochi is around 40 km from the Cochin airport and daytime commute would easily be around 2 hours. Luckily, there was a good air-conditioned bus service from the airport to Fort Kochi. The combination of the rising heat, traffic and our early start worked perfectly for us to catch up on some sleep.
Henry, in whose homestay we had booked a room, had given us perfect directions to get to his place. We got off the bus, walked for a couple of minutes through a lane of coconut trees. Even in the afternoon heat, it was cool inside the house, thanks to the ample of trees around.
Henry himself had lived an adventurous life. He used to work in Kuwait as a driver for the US army trucks. Carrying supplies from Kuwait to the US army bases in Iraq. He had seen his friend being killed when a shell hit the windscreen of a truck he was driving.
Which is when he decided that the risk was not worth the money. He came back to India and worked at the port in Cochin. During which he expanded his house to start a homestay. His sincerity and dedication were visible in the way he operated the homestay. Anything his guests needed, he would try his best to provide.
Chinese fishing nets at the beach in Fort Kochi
The evening started with a visit to the beach which was just a few minutes through the leafy lanes of Fort Kochi. A brilliant show of colours, a cruise liner entering the Cochin port and of course this cool phenomenon of Chinese fishing nets.
Seeing these Chinese fishing nets is a must-do on the list of every tourist who comes to Kochi. They are an elaborate mechanism towering over the wooden board covered with massive nets. Why would someone come up with this complex system for fishing? Why are they called Chinese, how did they come to India, why is this style of fishing still practised? Is it financially viable today?
All these questions fill your mind as you see the nets being lowered into the water. You can pay the fishermen a tip, and they’ll let you photograph all you want. You can even arrange to be with them when they actually set their nets down for the catch.
If you have access to a kitchen/someone to cook it for you, you can buy some of the fresh catch for a seafood meal. In any case, there is no dearth of options to have some delicious fish and coconut dominated curries with the luscious appams.
A Kathakali performance at a cultural center in Fort Kochi
We had seen this cultural centre on the way to the beach. We were still undecided whether we wanted to see a Kathakali performance. The heavily painted faces of the Kathakali dancers were a childhood scare and the memory lingered. But when a guy from the centre caught us on the street, handed us a pamphlet saying if we went early, we could see the dancers applying makeup and getting ready for the Kathakali performance, it wasn’t something we wanted to miss.
The evening started with the performers explaining the concept of a Kathakali dance, what the various mudras and the colours of their make up meant and how these were used to convey the emotion.
This helped us understand the story being told in the dance performance – the victory of good over evil. The music and the expressions of the Kathakali performers came together beautifully to keep us at the edge of our seats through the fast-paced performance.
Hiring an auto rickshaw to explore the churches, temples – and shops
The areas to be explored in Fort Kochi are a good walking distance, but the day was hot and humid. And we had a long flight to catch early the next morning. We took Henry’s advice of hiring a local auto rickshaw to see around.
He started off well by taking us to the Cathedral and a Syrian Christian church. He asked us where we were from, was amused that we were here on our way to New Zealand. In further chats, we learnt he had two little school going boys.
And then, the onslaught began. Shop after shop after shop had to be visited – sari shops, artefacts stores (surprisingly, all run by Kashmiris), spice vendors – everything that was sold on the streets of Fort Kochi. “You don’t have to buy anything, just go for 5 minutes.” Bringing customers got him a coupon which he could exchange for a T-shirt for his sons for Easter was the emotional blackmail forwarded each time.
This is how “tourist sightseeing” operates at most popular tourist destinations. But this is when things got interesting – we couldn’t be Indians. Because Indian tourists didn’t fetch him any coupons, only foreigners did! We were aghast and appalled.
But two little boys were waiting for some T-Shirts to be gifted by daddy. They couldn’t be disappointed when all it took was some pretence. We had already joined the bandwagon of tourists, why not up the ante and be foreign tourists!
Top tips for a visit to Kochi
- We stayed at Kevin’s Placid homestay, located at a very convenient location in Fort Kochi.
Kochi is well connected with other cities in Kerala like Trivandrum and Alleppey, famous for the backwaters of Kerala. It is just a short, beautiful train ride away. Kochi is an ideal getaway for the best places to visit in Kerala.
- Kochi is a good option to take your low-cost flights to destinations in Southeast Asia.