The first thing you’d notice before touching the shores of Kerala are the verdant canopies of coconut trees as they gently sway as if to wave a welcoming hello. The aerial view on board a flight is just breathtaking and adds truth to the slogan: Kerala – God’s Own Country. If you were an omnipresent God observing the affairs of humans, even you’d focus on Kerala’s greenery and ignore the rest. The word Kerala actually means the land of coconuts making it ‘Coconuts’ Own Country’, but that wouldn’t be a good pitch.
There are two main airports at Kerala, one at Kochi and the other at Trivandrum. Flights to Kochi are much cheaper than the ones to Trivandrum (quite a mystery as the latter is the state’s capital). The best way to explore Kerala is to fly to Kochi and exit from Trivandrum or vice versa. This way, you can travel the western coastline from one point to another and visit various spots on the way.
Kochi is the financial capital of the state and is a modern metropolis with malls, corporate centres and other signs of city life. Nestled on the coast of this city is Fort Kochi, a bohemian, culture centre that hosts the famous biannual arts fest Kochi Biennale. Fort Kochi is very Goaesque with its trendy bistros, beach fronts and flocks of foreign tourists.
It also houses churches and museums where one can experience the rich history of Kochi. Cochin as the city was earlier known was once a Portuguese colony. These visitors had sowed the seeds of the zestful spices that are still found here. It was later taken over by the Dutch who built a fortress around the coastal area, hence the name ‘Fort Kochi’ was derived.
A visit to the Indo-Portuguese Museum gives an insight into the shifting landscape of the colonial past. Santa Cruz Basilica, another relic of the Portuguese reign, is a must visit for its architecture and the Lord’s blessings. From morning until the break of dusk, you can watch Kochi’s Chinese nets dipping and rising to fish for fresh catch.
The Fort Kochi coastal belt is dotted with these contraptions that use rocks as weights for its constant motion. These nets were introduced by the Portuguese from fishing villages of Macau back in the day. Pay a small price and you get to understand the physics behind the nets from a local fisherman and also click a few photos from the inside. Shops sell fresh fish and cook delicious Kerala style curries right next to the Chinese nets so you can get to savour the taste of the sea. The prices are steep, but the experience is worth having.
Talking about food, you can enjoy world cuisines and continental food at the cafés and bistros around Fort Kochi. Kashi Art Café is a must visit for its scrumptious food, barmy interiors, hip crowd and make shift art gallery at the entrance. Try the sandwiches, salads, pastas and don’t forget to finish your meal with a chocolate date cake. Similar food joints are tucked in the narrow lanes that serve a quick bite or a hearty meal depending on your appetite.
Cycling is one of the best ways to get around Fort Kochi as the tourist spots are just a few kilometres away from each other. Cycles cost a fraction of the rickshaw fare and also work up an appetite for the beef and parathas. The only downside is the hot and humid weather that hits you hard. Cycling in Kochi is pleasant during early mornings and evenings especially in the latter half of the year. There are guided cycle tours that take you around scenic spots and drop you to neighbouring cities as well. There are budget accommodations as well as expensive hotels and lodges available and one can choose from them according to one’s budget.
Other interesting spots to visit are Mattancherry (Dutch Palace), an erstwhile royal housing that is now converted into a museum. Jew Town is a stone’s throw away from Mattancherry where you can shop for interesting antiques and pay a visit to Kochi’s synagogue. The whiff of aromatic spices of the local market might just draw you out of Jew Town and into its sultry confines. It’s a not-so-touristy spot that gives you a peek at a local’s life.
Kochi is efficiently connected to neighbouring parts of Kerala via ferries. The ferry is inexpensive and an experience on its own. Though locals use it for their daily grind, travellers can go on a pleasure ride to get a fresh, sea-side view of Fort Kochi. The ferries are not well maintained and run on gas engines. You can end your day with a night boat ride to view Kochi right before it gets ready for slumber. The twinkling night lights make for a good spectacle when seen from the waterway.