I hopped a train (meaning I went to the train station, fought with the cab driver as he tried to get me to go to stores where he got commission along the way, waited in my lines, was told I needed my real passport and not my copy, had to go back to my hotel, and then I found a closer random booking office where the supervisor helped me 10 minutes before closing) to Kochi, India in the beautiful state of Kerala. My trip to Kochi (also called Cochin and pretty much interchangeable with Ernakulum) is the product of something unique. Everywhere else so far on my trip has been meticulously planned in advance. What cities to go to, what are the different ways to get there, what places do the guidebooks say aren’t worth going to, etc. Kerala wasn’t on my radar at all until I started traveling. When I would talk with people about my trip and mention India, everyone said that I had to go to Kerala and I decided to listen to their advice.

With the last minute ticket buying, I ended up traveling in general sleeper class, i.e. below third class. This just means that there were three beds bunked, fine, and no AC. Also fine. I had the bottom bunk and I was just about to doze off when I was tapped gently on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and a man politely asked if I could move my backpack on the floor. I kind of waffled because there really wasn’t too much room, it was discreetly tucked under the table, and I always try and request the lower berth so I have the access to my bags on the floor. After making a fuss, he said, “Oh well are you sure you can’t move it? Because it’s in my spot?” They had sold him a sleeper spot for the floor. So I moved my back, he laid down a sheet and promptly fell asleep right there on the dirty floor next to me. India.

I arrived to a rainy morning in Kochi and arrived at my “home stay.” The popular thing to do in Kochi is to check in at a “home stay” but they’re really a lot more like bed and breakfasts. I had a great room at the Bastian Homestay with my two big necessities, wifi and hot water. I took a big nap before setting out to explore the tiny town. I was so glad to have a day just to wander around the streets of Kochi because it really is just a great place to wander. The small seaside town isn’t a beach town per se, but it still has that laid back feel. There are lots of little shops and restaurants and, I know a lot of people hate this, but it really does cater to tourists in a good way. The different districts of the city each has its own unique feel. Fort Cochin is the main hub where I just walked in the rain, had some tea, and looked at a lot of the old Portuguese architecture. If you follow the main street along the peninsula, a 20-minute walk will bring you to the other side of the city, Jewtown. Actually called Jewtown, it’s kind of just like it sounds. There’s a synagogue and stars of David on the walls. It’s incredibly interesting to see the Indian take on Judaism.

A 500-year-old Portuguese church.

So the beach in Fort Cochin isn’t really scenic, but these Chinese fishing nets are oddly compelling and very atmospheric.

 

Jewtown windows.

That evening I took my requisite cooking class. The highly acclaimed Cook N’ Eat cooking class with Leela wasn’t really my favorite class. If you would’ve asked me 2 months ago what my ideal cooking class was, I would’ve said it involved me doing minimal work. Now, I think it requires a full hands-on experience, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing. Leela mostly just prepared the dishes in front of us in her humble little kitchen. We learned that masala isn’t one thing, but just a word that means “a collection of spices” and that chicken masala is different than beef masala is different that fish masala. “We” prepared fish masala, an amazing pumpkin masala dish that I plan on serving at future Thanksgivings, a requisite eggplant dish, and an Indian bread, chapati. Everyone else made beautiful round fluffy ones, but mine turned out oblong and hard. Oh well. I went out for a drink with a pair of British school teachers (whose names I’m not even sure I knew then… Matt? Hmmm They really liked the TV show Suits and uniformly thought most of their students would turn out to be delinquents.).

Leela in her kitchen.

The next day I did the big activity you’re supposed to do in Kerala, I took a river cruise on a “house boat.” There are actual house boats you can rent and spend a few nights on, but I just did a day trip, which was more than enough. Cochin and the neighboring town of Alleppy lock in a bit of a delta and this tropical river system is called the backwaters. I loaded on to a giant covered rattan raft and we just floated on the rivers for the day. It was extremely peaceful just sitting, staring at the lush tropical scenery. I took the time to talk with a lot of the other travelers and get more advice on where to go to India. One group of British college grads had spent a month mountain biking in Kashmir, two other British girls had spent two weeks mostly in Kerala, and everyone had great advice for me.

 

These are the kind of boats we were on. They just floated down the rivers in pure tranquility.

That night, I worked on buying my next set of train tickets to Goa, which is always easier said than done (two train stations in Kochi, both of which told me I was at the wrong one and needed to go to the other…). I spent the night staying up way to late talking with the new residents at my hotel. Another pair of British school teachers spending a month in India who were drinking a lot of wine and an Australian guy who was taking a gap year traveling the world.

Kerala is the first place in India I’ve been that really had a traveler feel where you could meet other people and just relax. Cochin was just what I needed at this point on my trip – beautiful scenery and some great travel advice about where to go next.

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