We were expecting the worst weather-wise as it's still very much monsoon season down here, but were pleasantly surprised to awake on our first morning to a beautiful blue sky, and scorching hot sun! For once the weather was our friend!
Kochi is split up into the main city, Ernakulum, which is quite city-like, (although it's holds a certain feeling of wealth, and cleanliness that we haven't seen in many other cities)
. Then there's Fort Cochin, which is an island off the main land. Here there is a huge variety of people, and very mixed vibes, all set within a few streets of each other. There are some little areas that feel very bohemian and arty. White washed cafes with huge vaulted ceilings decorated with local art-work, with funky waitresses serving organic juices and 'acid jazz' style Indian music playing. Some very wealthy areas, with pristine white mansions and beautiful hotels. 'Local' areas that have mechanics and vegetable markets and the normal Indian shops/stalls, and of course a definite tourist area, a plethora of shops selling (really expensive and flamboyant )souvenirs. It's FAB, and we both immediatley loved it here. We were kicking ourselves that we had held out for so long in Diu for the weather to improve, it couldn't have been better weather, but the BBC website was STILL showing a black cloud with 2 big rain drops. Note to self - Don't trust the BBC!
Fort Cochin is a real melting pot of cultures. It has had a constant stream of European Imperialist presence as it's a port town; from Portuguese, to Dutch and finally British (before regaining a independent Indian status in 1947). The architecture and slightly more Westernised feel of the local people really set this place apart from anywhere we've been so far. The streets are spotless with no cows (the first time we have ever seen that), there is little-to-no staring, very little hassle from shopkeepers and many waves and hellos (even from tuktuk drivers who don't even try to tempt you to be their next fare)
. It's seriously refreshing! The city is largely Christian (more leftovers from Europe and many from Syria), so there are many churches, catholic schools and nunneries around. It's quite bizarre to see a line of Indian nuns walking down the street in their blue robes, and the little girls wearing typical Catholic school little pinafore dresses to school (above the knee),instead of the usual Salwar Kamees. There's a strong Muslim community here too, of course some Hindus, and even a little Jewish community (only 14 members left). They all live very happily within 2 or 3 kilometres of each other, many Muslim children attending catholic school, and with no feeling of racial segregation at all, again, very refreshing!
So, on our first day we bought some fresh fish and prawns from the harbour and had them cooked in a little stall, along with rice and salad. Delicious. We walked for hours in the burning sun through the beautiful markets, and then headed back to our cottage for a nap before heading to a local cafe for some Keralan food. We don't know what it was, as the food's quite different down here, but it was really tasty!
Our second day was spent on a trip through the Keralan backwaters. We drove for about an hour and then boarded a boat which took us through the network of canals that make up villages and islands set among beautiful, lush palms
. The people here farm coconuts, make various produce from coconut husks (we saw a rope making factory which Pete thought was fantastic!) and take sand and mussels from the main river. We went to a primitve factory where they turn mussel shells into Calcium tablets. (Here we also got to eat some lovely mussels cooked by a villager in ginger and coconut. mmmmm.) The day was relaxing, even though the group that was on our boat were a little weird and not the most friendly bunch! We finished off the night with a posh meal in Koder House Hotel.
After another day seeing the local sights (including the tiny synagogue), having a traumatic naked massage (never again!), attempting to do some shopping (although Sunday means day of rest in Cochin), seeing a traditional Kathakali performance, and eating in some fantastic local haunts we decided that we need to keep moving, as we now have less than 3 weeks of our trip left (aaaaggghhh!!). So south to Varkala for some sun and sand. Fingers crossed the weather stays with us!
After a surprisingly smooth and refreshingly simple afternoon of traveling, (Diu - Mumbai, Mumbai to Kochi by plane) we found ourselves in Kochi at 11pm. We took the 45 km taxi ride to Fort Cochin (an island just off the mainland, and part of the city of Kochi), and checked in to our fantastic little guest house (Walton Homestay - we managed to bag the 'garden cottage' for 500 rupees). After a quick mozzie extermination session, we hit the sack for the first of our nights here in the south of India.