In the south India is the state of Kerala. It is renowned for its beautiful beaches, backwaters, lakes, historical monuments, food and massages. Here is an overview of my long weekend in Fort Kochi visiting the famous back waters and wandering round the town.
Th Main Language spoken here is Malayalam, with English being second language to most (as with many indian states, they have their own language which which has some similarities but also use English to communicate).
This southern Indian state has started to grow in popularity with western tourists however you may still find locals being a little fascinated by your presence there and wanting to take a picture of your or with you (I got this alot, I'm very pale with very dark curly hair and have blue eyes).
Fort Kochi has a reputation for its Chinese fishing, easy access to the back waters. In 3 nights we enjoyed a tuk tuk tour of some of the key sights including churches, plantations and the Cheenevala. We also did a backwaters tour which was definitely my Kerala highlight.
This was my first trip to India, therfore I purposely avoided the big cities of the north, as I knew I would find it stressful being in crowds. I was in India to do an intensive Yoga Teacher Training Course in Goa (CLICK HERE to read my article on this) but me and a friend who was also working for the same company had booked our ticket to arrive a few weeks before the course started with the intent to relax and also see a little of Southern India. I didn't research Kerala or Kochi too much before visiting as this was something we booked whilst we were in Goa on a whim (I don't think we knew which way we were heading or what we were actually doing at the time, other than the travel agent telling us we'd like it).
Me and my friend took a 15 hour train journey from Goa down to the Ernakulam Jn station in the Queen of the Arabian Sea - Fort Kochi (also referred to as Cochin due to it's history with the British Empire... I was confused too). We opted for a fan carraige overnight (so no air conditioning and open windows all night) where our seats turned into 3 level beds (as you can see above).
To fly to Kerala the nearest airport to Fort Kochin is also called Kochi (Airport Code: COK) and buses are quite easy to find around the place and tranfer to where you want to be in this town or others around Kerala.
Tuk Tuk Tour
I was already familiar with Tuk Tuks from my trip to Thailand a few years before this trip. We organised this trip. But you will see many drivers calling you over as you pass or trying to get you to use them as a driver. Don’t be afraid to say no (adamantly) and at times ignore them if they persist. Also barter, ask a few of them for a price or ask your accomodation host for an estimated price for a few places you plan to go, that way you can stay on budget.
We went on a private tour with a random tuk tuk around the secret sites of the town. This was really amusing more than anything, as we didn’t really see much in particular. We saw a spice plantation, elephants living in peoples larger back gardens, the local outdoor laundry which was actually really cool, men bathing in communal outdoor bath (This we didn’t want to see but did) and quite a few churches and the basillica cathedrals; below are my favourite parts of this informal crazy tour.
We visited a spice plantation It was really interesting to learn about the spice production in the area. It was tucked away behind the fascade of the kochin city buidings. We got called in and given a chance to not only witness the drying processes and some of the processing; but take part it in. And it was tiring, just a few minutes in this heat and each of us started to tire.
Around 90% of all indian pepper is produced in Kochi and approx 80% of the worlds spice production is produced in Kerala.
Our Tuk Tuk driver also told us about the 1957 cultural exchange programme and the role that Kochi, Japan and Kochi, India play (which celebrated a 60 year anniversary since in 2017. Both prime ministers pronnounced the year as a celebration of international friendly exchanges in honour of this tradition).
St. Francis Church
We were taken via an old church named St. Francis Church (pictured above) not far from our homestead accomodation. It is the oldest European church in India with portugese heritage and was built around 1503.
Make sure you cover up your legs, chest and shoulders for this or any other place of workship in Asia. And check wheather you should or should not wear shoes.
We were told about the 1957 cultural exchange programme and the role that Kochi, Japan and Kochi, India play (which celebrated a 60 year anniversary in 2017. Both prime ministers pronnounced the year as a celebration of friendly exchanges in honour of this tradition).
We then had a bit of a party in the pimped out tuk tuk. Listening to music and our tour guide as he explained what life is like in this area. As I mentioned there wasn't a huge amount that we were shown but it was just interesting to hear some of his stories and interesting information about the area and its history from a local. We were finally dropped at a market to finish our tour and advised to wander round and check out the fishing.
In the east of Kochi we wandered around a market and saw the famous Chinese fishing nets being cast out to sea known as Cheenavala. Kochi is the only place outside of China where you will be able to see this traditional set up and technique being used. We sat down for a short while to watch in a bit of fascination and walk between them. It was fascinating to watch and they work so hard.
Stumbled Across Surprises
Following our walk round the market we headed towards our accomodation to find some more filling food than earlier that day (Spoiler alert: A tomato salad is just a plate of tomatoes) and we happened upon a street celebration. This celebration was in honour of the elephants and the service the the elephants provide within the community.
I should have really got a video or some more pictures (these were on my old phone) but after the initial pleasant surprise, me and my frind just watched in awe, listing to the music being played and watching the locals enjoy this honorary celebration.
These are the moments in travel I enjoy the most; where you are swept up in a local tradition and just get to enjoy the unexpected and truly see the culture of a new country.
The Backwaters Tour
We did a trip on a boat taking a trip on the backwaters with a small group exploring the rural life of this area, whilst local people came out with produce, coconuts and beer they had made. Once the boat had was out of the main river and in these backwaters, the local guides (usually two) would take it in turn to punt the boat along the narrow and slightly shallower or more wild parts of these waterways.
As part of this tour we also stopped at a small shelter on an island to have some freshly made Indian cuisine. This was traditionally served on a banana leaf for lunch.
This tour was really relaxing and just beautiful to see the unspoilt areas of south India. We paid on the day about double the price of what the booking could have been if we checked online (See section below for a great budget deal on the backwaters tour).
Other Experiences and My Final Notes
Don't miss Santa Cruz Cathedral Basicillica, we got to see this on our tour also (check out my instagram for more posts from this trip and others).
The backwater tours start from around £20 per person but can cost a lot more (as we and many other fell into the trap when booking with agents there. This isn't always the case but may be worth saving this page or pinning if you are visiting and check the price against booking when already there).
If I was going again via Kerala I would definitely do the Athirapilly waterfall tour. We had a few people staying in our home stay that had booked this.
There are more organised tours that will allow you to see a little more of the town and ensure you don’t miss any of the historical and cultural places (see link below for a greatly priced deal from get your guide).
Get your guide also has a flexible cancellation policy on all tours and trips and has recognised the need for flexibility for travellers following the recent pandemic and the unpredictable state it has left much of the industry in.
Overall I enjoyed my time in this town, it was unlike other places I have seen before and definitely glad I went. However I think I wouldn’t chose to go back again as there just simply wasn’t enough to bring me back to that location in particular. I would definitely like to see more of Kerala though on another trip and i would recommend anyone who loves culture and is interested in the recent history between India and Europe to pop this place as one of your stops but probably for 2 nights rather than 3 or more, and pass on to another part of this beautiful state.
There are gorgeous beaches and islands in this state that are worthwhile visiting. If you are reading this and you have visited other areas of Kerala and India that you would recommend. Please comment below or feel free to get in contact and share your story with our readers.