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marianne Kochi - A travel report by Marianne
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Kochi,  India - flag India -  Kerala
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marianne's travel reports

Spices and Tourists (Kerala)

  25 votes
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Kochi or Cochin, as the English called it, attracted Portuguese, Dutch and British merchants who came for the spice trade. Today foreigners also come in droves. They fill the narrow streets which are still heavy with the pungent smell of fresh pepper.

Their faces are painted green and they wear tiered headgear
Their faces are painted green and they wear tiered headgear
Kochi is an old port on the Malabar coast in Kerala. It is a cluster of islands linked by bridges and frequent ferries to Ernakulam, its sister-town on the mainland.

Ernakulam's chaotic, noisy streets contrast sharply with quiet, slightly European Kochi. The spice traders left their distinctive marks: Dutch style houses, a Portuguese church, Chinese fishing nets near the harbour, and lots more.

Kochi is also the place to see a kathakali dance performance. The dancers are in colourful costumes, which are stuffed from the waist down and make the artist fat and rotund. Their faces are painted green or black and they wear tiered headgear. Enthusiastic theatre managers will thrust leaflets into your hands so that it is difficult not to notice their performance.

Local ferries connect Kochi with Ernakulam. They operate from 6.30 am to 10 pm, and run every 20 minutes, but in the middle of the day every 40 minutes. Ask where the ferry is going before you embark because there are various routes and the ports of call are not indicated on the ferries themselves.

Backwater trips can be booked from Bijus Guesthouse. If you move on to Alleppey it is better to take a boat trip from there because here the backwaters are part of town. From Kochi it takes 30 minutes to get to the mooring place.

You will spend most of your time in Kochi as here are all the sight, still it is worth to go to Ernakulam if only to walk up and down Ernakulam's main road: MG Road. (MG stand for Mahatma Gandhi). Here you can eat, shop, e-mail and phone to your heart's content. If this is not enough you can let yourself be carried away while watching a Bollywood movie.

Best time to visit is December to March. The temperature varies from 23C to max 31C. The monsoon, the rainy season, is from June to mid-November.

Favourite spots:
Merchants sit in door openings. On their tables  samples of rice.
Merchants sit in door openings. On their tables samples of rice.
My favourite spot is Calvathy Road. (when you get off the ferry, turn left.) The road is a hodgepodge of auto rickshaws, bikes and brightly painted lorries, all transporting big loads.

Hessian sacks bulging with spices are carried in or out of decorated godowns, warehouse here spices like ginger, turmeric and rice are stored. The whole street is lined with these warehouses.

Merchants sit in door openings, filling in ledgers and haggle over prices. On their tables heaped bowls of rice, lentil or chilli samples.

Brawny men lug bales of tea, rice, ginger and spices into dark store rooms. Strong exotic smells pervade the street. Fresh pepper gives a tang to the air and I stifle a sneeze.

What's really great:
A loud creak-creak andthe fishermen haul up the nets
A loud creak-creak andthe fishermen haul up the nets
When you get off the ferry and you turn right you will get to the Chinese fishing nets, promoted by Kerala Tourist Board. as one of the big tourist attractions of Kochi.

It is true to say they are photogenic, but they are not very special. The same type of fishing nets can be seen all along the backwaters.

The nets are suspended on poles and operated by a system of levers and weights.

A loud creak-creak and the fishermen haul up their nets. They examine their catch which is usually not more than a handful of wriggling, silvery fish. Tourists are invited to buy some fish and then go to one of the food stalls to have them fried.

Our visit coincided with a tour group on a cruise. Each time a new group of tourists neared, the nets were pulled up. I couldn't help thinking: Are the nets there to catch fish or the tourists?

Always look up. Many windows have wooden shutters.
Always look up. Many windows have wooden shutters.
I always look for Dutch remains and found the VOC gate, facing the Parade Ground. This gate was erected by the Dutch East India Company in 1740 as the inscription shows. It is a large wooden gate and less imposing than the VOC gate in Galle, Sri Lanka.

I was also interested in the Dutch Cemetery as I like to read the epitaphs on the tombstones, but the cemetery was locked.

Generally speaking I find visiting churches not very interesting but the Church of St Francis was an exception because there were original floor tiles at the entrance and enough tombstones with inscriptions. Vasco da Gama died in Kochi and was buried here, but soon after his burial his remains were returned to Portugal.

I love to wander through narrow streets and look at the architecture. Princess Street is one of the oldest streets and lined with European style houses. Don't forget to look up. Most of the windows have wooden shutters and very photogenic.

Maple Tourist Home
Maple Tourist Home
We were in Kochi twice. We did not stay in Kochi itself, but in Ernakulam close to Main Boat Jetty. This is more convenient as is closer to the bus and train station. Besides it saved us from a ferry crossing lugging our baggage.

We first stayed in: Bijus Tourist Home (see tips). It is a place where many westerns stay. We had a room at the back which ensured a minimum of traffic and other noise. On checking in we got a city map and info about backwater cruises. The hotel has a air-conditioned restaurant where we had breakfast which was included in the room price. Two computers in the hotel lobby. But you must be able to type blind as all letters on the keyboard of one of them have faded.

The second time we stayed in Maple Tourist Home in Canonshed Road (see tips), better value for money than Bijus.

There are a number of hotels in Canonshed Road and there is no need to prebook. There is Sapphire Tourist Home, Park View Residency, V-line Tourist Home and Saas Tower Hotel.

MG Road, crowded, noisy and chaotic.
MG Road, crowded, noisy and chaotic.
Not much night life apart from going to an internet place. The lobby of Saas Tower Hotel looks inviting and there is one computer. The only problem is that there are also many mosquitoes. It is therefore better to go to the 'letterless' computer in Bijus.

When the sun is down the children's play ground next to the ferries is popular. Parents, grandparents, children and young couple come to breathe the evening air. They walk around, go to the boating lake, the roller-skating rink, or sit on one of the benches. We joined them and found it a great place to do some people watching.

On Sunday evening the shops in MG Road are closed and the street is very quiet. All activities are on Marine Drive. A large open-air market and numerous food stalls are popular with the locals.

Unusual architecture
Unusual architecture
Mattancherry Palace is further down Calvathy Road on your right. We almost missed it as parked cars concealed it. The palace was built by the Portuguese but enlarged and virtually rebuilt by the Dutch in the 17th century when they came to Kochi for the spice trade. The main feature is the murals painted on wooden walls depicting scenes from the Ramayana. There are more murals in the downstairs bedroom. One of them shows a six-handed Krishna who intimately caresses admirers. Unfortunately photography was forbidden

Further down the same road you will get to Jew Town. The road changes from warehouses to shops selling souvenirs and shop-owners praising their wares. The synagogue is supposed to be interesting, but we did not go in as the queue was too long

Indian Coffee House: excellent coffee
Indian Coffee House: excellent coffee
I can strongly recommend: Indian Coffee House in Canonshed Road opposite Maple Tourist Home. It is a restaurant chain of a worker cooperative society and famous for the pure taste and aroma of its special coffee brand.

It is one of the few places that serves real coffee. We often got Nescafé. They also do south Indian dishes such as dosa, idli and sambars, and western style breakfast: (toasted) bread with jam or cheese

Other recommendations:
Village life along the smaller canals
Village life along the smaller canals
The Tourist Desk organises backwater cruises (see tips). We booked one through our hotel.

At 8.30 am pick-up at our hotel was followed by a 30-min drive to the departure point.

The Kerala backwaters are palm-fringed lakes, canals and rivers linking Kochi with Kollam, some 100 km to the south.

Together with 18 other tourists we enjoy the commanding views of thousands of palm trees along the banks, interrupted by small settlements. Fishing boats slide through the tranquil water, hauling in their catch.

All morning our kettuvallam, a rice barge converted into a houseboat, floats along a wide river and lake. We do not cover a large distance, as we move at a slow speed.

Lunch is a Kerala thali: a mound of rice with side dishes of lentils, curried vegetables and puffed bread.

After lunch we change to smaller canoe-type boats, seating 7 people. This time we cruise through narrow canals and witness village life; women doing the laundry, men taking a bath and children waving.

Published on Saturday April 8th, 2006

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Thu, Feb 22 2007 - 09:41 PM rating by travler

I had a taxi driver in London who said he came from here. He looked Indian. He said he was Jewish and he came from this city.

Tue, Apr 18 2006 - 11:13 AM rating by magsalex

Bucket loads of info and some fab pictures to boot!

Fri, Apr 14 2006 - 03:01 PM rating by kcheepv

Another great report Marianne!

Thu, Apr 13 2006 - 10:13 PM rating by downundergal

Marianne we have come to be spoilt by your high standard of reports and this one is no different. Very interesting and well done.

Thu, Apr 13 2006 - 03:31 AM rating by mistybleu

Marianne, I realy enjoyed reading your report, its just wonderful.


Sun, Apr 09 2006 - 02:25 PM rating by isaacmolina

Your last reports are better than the first ones. You are learning.

Sun, Apr 09 2006 - 06:11 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

Hii Mari ,excellent report and well written.

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 11:54 PM rating by st.vincent

Great report Marianne, I feel I know all about Kochi now, and it makes me want to visit.

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 06:42 PM rating by gloriajames

well written and informative! u do india proud with all your fine reports! 5*

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 02:17 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Well written report

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 12:26 PM rating by terje

Hot weather, hot spices..... Thanks Marianne!

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 11:45 AM rating by eirekay

Marianne, I so admire your skill of capturing a sense of the place while including such wonderful practical details! Great Report!

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 11:31 AM rating by rangutan

Another very well written report but the bit of travel pull and excitement like that in the parallel Puerto Galera report fails somehow. Maybe, i'ts only me?

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 10:02 AM rating by davidx

As always you have filled this with interesting and helpful facts. You and I are like twin opposites, as you know, in our attitude to temperatures but I love reading your reports.

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