I’ve spent the last week in Kerala, and got a nice dose of trying to work online with very dodgy Wi-Fi. I do guest posts and writing outside of this blog, so I’ve decided I will start sharing links to those pieces. I recently was voted 3rd place for top expat blogs in India. I did an interview with that organization about my move to India as well as featured article: Top Ten Difference Between Rural Ohio and Tropical India. Now on to Kerala!
We drove EIGHTEEN hours to get to this city, so expectations were a little high…
My boyfriend had meetings in Cochin last week and I figured I’d tag along, but I assumed this venture would be by train. After tatkal (the last minute ticket system) failed us, and flights were long gone, we realized day-of-travel that we’d have to drive for him to make his meeting. Poor planning at it’s finest. But don’t worry, I’ve got you some Kochi travel tips!
Pumped up on mountain dew, and the guys on booze, our driver, Babu (and friend), drove us to Pride Biznotel Emerald Hotel after what felt like an eternity in the back of a Wagon R. The hotel itself was in an old building with marble floors and toy ships as décor. It is antique and fancy. Rooms were 2,500 with A/C, hot water, and a soft mattress. All seemed well and fine until Ben found this sign:
A Little Bit About Kerala
Cochin (Kochi) is in the state of Kerala. The green jungles of “God’s own country”, range across the west coast below Karnataka & Goa.
Known for its amazing sea views, Ayurveda treatments, and teak wooden houseboat tours along the backwaters, Kerala’s tourism is booming. The state has a great mix of beach and jungle, like Goa, but is a less touristy. Driving near the Western Ghats you’ll see fields of rice paddies, coconut groves, and elephants! There is a national park here and you guessed it: tigers, pythons, panthers, and monkeys to name a few.
photo credit flickr
Not only boasting exquisite nature, but Kerala also maybe the most thriving state in India. Like Goa literacy rates are high as well as life expectancy, and infant mortality rates are at the lowest.
Kerala is a democratically elected communist state. You’ll see the red communist flags all the roads. It may seem strict, but at the same time, Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” is BLASTING from the street-side speakers. Although blossoming in some areas, Kerala has the highest liquor consumption and suicide rates.
You can see the red flags in the photos above & the women cooking over coals on the street side.
Points of Interest:
Fort Cochin, Mattencherry Palace, Chinese fishing nets, Jewish quarter & synagogue, St. Francis Church, Dutch Cemetery
All of these are near to each other. I discuss all these attractions over on it’s own post: Fort Cochin. (To be honest, Kochi is a crowded yet small city that after seeing Fort Cochin area, I agree with the guidebooks that it’s time to move on. Although being less touristy, prices on luxury hotels are the cheapest we’ve seen in India. We’ll be coming back often for Ben’s job, so I’m sure I’ll find more to tell you about Kochi.) Kochi is often advised as only a 1-2 day stopover hub. After spending three days there before headed on to Kovalam beach, I agree.
The Famous Houseboats
photo credit flickr
You can take these vintage houseboats from Kochi, but better to head on down to Alappuzha (Alleppey) These waterways used to be the roads for the city. Houseboats can be luxurious and expensive even though only rice barges. If you pick the right boat tour you will meet locals and walk through the villages. Staff will cook local food for you and make everything comfortable for you sleep aboard. I haven’t got to do this yet, but plan to soon!
I had planned to go on the backwaters my first trip to India, but skipped it because it seemed like it would be lonely to do solo. I think it will be better with a group of friends, family, or significant other to go with!
Kochi Travel Tips (and Kerala)
- Like the rest of India, men here hold hands and walk arm and arm as a sign of a close friendship. I’m used to this and have seen it all over India. It isn’t as prevalent in Goa, a place that has been so westernized, so it was refreshing to see again! Ben’s friends lived in Kerala for a year and while reunited with old friends they hold his hand the whole time they talk to one another.
- It’s much more conservative in Kochi than Goa. Best not to wear shorts here. I spent three hours at the brand new mall and never saw another foreign tourist. Needless to say, a few people wanted photographs, and a handful of teenage boys followed me around for the first half hour.
It can be confusing what is acceptable when girls have midriffs and cleavage showing on the regular (like the girl on the top right)! Here’s a guide for how to dress in India as a woman.
- Ayurveda massages come from Kerala. I recommend either a four-hand massage or a Shirodhaha massage where they continuously drizzle oil on your forehead (third eye). If you have health problems, this is a great place to seek out holistic cures. I personally am waiting until Kovalam for a nice beachy massage.
- Keralans and Tamils wear Lungis. These are little wraps to let the men feel the breeze in this extreme heat (it was HOT in Kerala). Not only are they worn by construction workers, and the everyday man, but even in Lulu Mall I saw them on mannequins in expensive stores. Obviously, we bought a few. When Ben lived in Kerala he used to rock a lungi.
photo credit flickr
- Lots of food in Kerala involves cocout milk and cashews. The most popular dish according to our Keralan friend is the fish fry. It’s SPICY! Of course there is seafood, curries, and juices. My favorite street food was the egg puff and my preferred western food was when I found imported hotdogs!
- High season is November to March. Obviously prices will be higher, but well… the monsoon won’t be happening… Trust me, I’ve stayed through one: although beautiful it’s not a good travel time. Everything will be closed.
- Keralans speak Malayalam. Goans speak Konkani. You might be surprised to know each state has it’s own language in India (over 500 altogether!) and some people can’t even speak Hindi. Technically Hindi and English are the languages used in Parliament. Translating here was really hard for us! Our driver could barely communicate when we got lost. On an eighteen hour drive with dead cell phones (so no maps) you can bet we got lost a couple times.
- Like Goa, there is a Portuguese influence (as well as Dutch!). I recommend taking time to wander through the streets for some photographs.
photo credit flickr
- The police are quite strict. At bars we hide our beers. Strangely, while babu and I were walking along Fort Cochin we were stopped with a series of questions. After later telling my boyfriend about it, we all agree they presumed Babu and I were either up to something or I was in need of help. After questioning all was fine, but it was made clear we were going to continue to get more questions when the two of us went out together. (There is a taxi drive strike in Goa so we couldn’t admit Babu was a driver; he was “an employee for my environmental company…) You just don’t see a lot of western girls with Indian men here. The thought of being questioned in Goa is laughable!
- For all you expats missing home: there are two KFC’s in town, a Subway, and a Pizza Hut. The two main shopping malls are Oberon and the brand new LuLu’s, the latter which has a McDonalds and Costa’s Coffee.
Any Kochi travel tips I should know for next time?If you’re headed toward Kerala, check out this articles on how to Backpack Kerala, the best thing to do in Kochi, tips for the tea fields in Munnar, and adventure in Varkala.
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