I was scheduled to arrive in Kochi somewhere between 4 and 5 pm one afternoon with a 9 am departure the following morning. Ideally one would want more time in Kochi based on all that is listed to see and do in guide books of India. But I’d have to settle for this brief layover as the only way to see Kochi until my next course through Kerala or skip it altogether. Choosing to take the bull by it’s horns, I decided to take the 16 available hours to conquer the laid back seaside port of Kochi with gusto. As I found out, it’s just not enough time.
Many of Kochi’s highlights are located inside the relatively cramped area known as Fort Cochin. Part Portuguese, part British Raj, and part Indian, meandering lanes in this part of the city take pedestrians through a whirlwind of historical buildings which remain if for no other reason then to say, I was here. The quirky mix of architecture works because of the equally funky blend of businesses targeted toward the foreign tourists who frequent the posh accommodations in this area. Cars are permitted on Fort Cochin’s narrow streets, criss-crossing at random intersections with no warning, and rickshaws can be found as well. However, to truly take in the surroundings, to really get the lay of the haphazard maze of roads and alleys, one needs only set about on foot with a crude map provided by most hotels.
I was dropped at my guest house (Cochin Heritage) a little later than expected, around 5 pm. A ticket for the traditional dance performance known as Kathakali, very popular in Kochi, had already been arranged for me and started at 6:30. Yikes! I had just 90 minutes to lay my bags down while finding a second to freshen up before rushing out the door to make the show. Somewhere in there I needed to stretch my legs from a nearly full day of riding in the car between cities. I was grumpy, needed something to drink, sweating from the intense humidity, and far more interested in exploring the town. I’d need to rely on my car and driver just one last time in order to get to the show on time and make a brief stop to see the Chinese Fishing Nets of Cochin.
One of Kochi’s claim to fame is that of the towering Chinese Fishing Nets. It is the only place in India where tourists can view shallow water fishing as it’s done in China. Sandy shore front is adrift in old memories in the shape of forgotten boats just steps from the nets. I was surprised that the views weren’t more spectacular, as if my mind thought there would be some proverbial pot of gold lying in wait for me. This was my first encounter with an ocean in India, and maybe my mind had raced ahead of itself a bit. That’s not to say the water didn’t look inviting nor that the sun soaked beach didn’t offer a calming panorama. Ramshackle tent stalls line the water’s edge to form a daily fish market which drew my attention as it did of local restauranteurs who send out scouts to find the freshest catch; each catch will be snapped up, prepared to order and served within just a matter of hours. A collection of cats assembled near lifeless marine creatures hoping for a morsel. The menagerie of people wandering about the area was fascinating. From Indian families washing their laundry to small children of the fisherman playing in the sand, street merchants dotted pathways with hand carved wood stamping tools and other tourist kitsch.
For one hour prior to performance time, Kathikali dancers sit on stage in full view of any early arriving guests to apply their make-up. It’s a tradition dating back who knows how long, and in order to see it, I needed to rip myself from people watching at the nets a few blocks away from the theater. Within minutes I had walked to one of several theaters offering performances of Kerala’s well known dance. Two hours later, after watching all the pageantry of Kathikali had come alive, and enduring a lot of what seemed like flirting from one of the band members, I was in desperate need of dinner. One has to eat seafood while visiting Kochi. You have to.
Fort Kochi’s relaxed nightlife, which amounted to not much more than a few scooters rushing here or there, was on full display from my seat on the second floor in an open-air dining area at Krishna Kripa Seafood. Cool ocean air finally brought some relief from a sweltering day. In just 12 hours I needed to be packed and ready to leave Kochi. After dinner I spent one of those hours leisurely walking around lost on roads eventually leading back to my room.
The next morning I was ready to finish what couldn’t be done the day before. Sunlight was just peering through drawn curtains as I stepped out of air-conditioned comfort back into already stifling humidity. Khakis, a t shirt, flip flops and my camera were all that was required for this adventure. I set a course for the Dutch Cemetery where I would snake my way back to Cochin Heritage via the city’s other documented spots. The morning air was intoxicating, cleaner than inland India by far. A good vibe surrounding my footventure was unavoidably set back with a flip flop blow out. A plastic strap had given way and was now unrepairable. I’d have to double back to my room in quick step to stay on schedule.
Fortunately I hadn’t taken a shower before setting off that morning. My feet were blackened from walking barefoot back to the guest house, a result of my small roadside tirade which had given a few locals a great show as I cursed the defective flip flops before jettisoning them into the air. Note to self: Bare feet and Kochi roads don’t mix well, bring a spare pair of shoes on next visit. Love Chris.
Donning shoes for round two, I was easily able to make up lost time. Dutch Cemetary, done. Cochin’s Bishop House, done. St Francis Church, saw it. Just like the day before I was half way lost in a maze of streets which didn’t match up to any map. I passed Cochin Club, a cricket field, and an outdoor street market before finding a cut through to water. On my left was Laccadive Sea, on my right was a waterway which led to Vembanad Lake. I walked past an outdoor food court, stopped to admire Thakur House, then watched a handful of locals swimming at a male only beach before joining back to the Chinese Fishing Nets.
Time was ticking away and I had yet to find Santa Cruz Basilica. A left here, a right here, I was smack in the middle of restaurant alley. A battalion of breakfast cafes had their street side doors thrown wide open. Wafts of freshly made bakery was tempting me to stop but I just couldn’t. The guesthouse was expecting me any minute. Hungry, confused, and ripe from sweat, it wasn’t until I looked up from my map to find two barely visible steeples leading a path. A few more turns were all that was needed to finally find the last landmark on my list.
Daylight was in full view now, and I had yet to shower, take breakfast and finish packing. Amazingly it turned out Santa Cruz Basilica was across the street from the Krishna Kripa, a fact that slide past my eyesight in the dark but meant a quick return to my room since I had some sense of direction from before.
Shower, done. Breakfast, too much done. I finished packing in time to meet with the owner of Cochin Heritage a few minutes before heading out. I’d arrived in Kochi just 16 hours earlier. Much was seen, much was missed. Fortunately Kochi and all that I overlooked will be calmly waiting for me to return some day.
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