We’re spending out first 10 days in Incredible India resting up in Fort Kochi. We have to figure out a route for the next 6 months, find an Indian SIM card, try and get a camera fixed.
After two nights of waking up in the mosquito-filled kitchen at the Francis Homestay, we moved on to much better things at the fabulously friendly Das Homestay. After that our Indian experience started to improve immensely.
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Not only did we have a much better room. It even came complete with it’s own natural alarm clock with the next door rooster, but the owner also had THIS! Seriously A lovely, gorgeous Royal Enfield.
Fort Kochi was an easy into India for us (after that first day). The town is used to western tourists and caters to them, well, in a way that India can. We’d chosen Kochi because of this and because of a cheap flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka of course..
The town has a long history of trade – although our hoped for Portuguese influence was long gone, apart from a few restaurants claiming Portuguese heritage and the house on Vasco da Gama corner, where the legendary explorer allegedly stayed and of course the Indo-Portuguese Museum.
The Indo-Portuguese Museum, Fort Kochi
The Indo-Portuguese museum promised details of the historic trading links between India and Portugal, but delivered little more than a few religious artifacts with poor signage, a few dates and not much more than a friendly manager with a lot of postcards to sell, plus some semi-submerged stones in the basement from the original fort. Oh and no photos are allowed (hence the postcards for sale..)
Fort Kochi Beach
The beach here is Kochi isn’t one you’ll want to sit on, or possibly even walk on. It’s garbage strewn and watching where you step is necessary unless you want to be cleaning your shoes for sometime afterwards. This was in a lot of ways a rude but honest introduction to India.
The Chinese Fishing Nets
Check out the historic Chinese nets – that make a great foreground for a sunset, but which aren’t used anymore here. You’ll find them in use if you head off into the backwaters of Kerala.
Taking a Tour of Fort Kochi
“Tour of Kochi?” came the refrain as we wandered the streets. After a day or so, we capitulated and took a 140 INR (GBP 1.40/ USD 2.18 ) tour in a tuk tuk. We quickly came to realize, they’re auto-rickshaws here in India.
A quick detour took us past the Indo-Portuguese museum before he realized we’d been there. Then we quickly headed to the Maritime Museum. They wouldn’t allow us to take bags in so we ditched that (as we had passports, wallets, laptops and just about everything in them!).
The temple was next, first the temple pond and then, moving on.
Temple elephants and baksheesh
A dilapidated looking building that strangely our driver took us round the back of.
“They’re washing the elephant” he said, do you want to see?
And so we were introduced to our first Baksheesh. For 200 rupees we bribed the men washing the elephant to let us in. We watched them cut the elephant’s nails and took photos.
Another 500 rupees and they would have let us sit on his back.
We declined and moved onto another type of cleaning, this time the famous Dhobi Khana laundry.
The Dhobi Khana Washing Collective
It’s here that it seems that all the laundry is done in Kochi. When you hand over your socks and knickers to your hotel or home stay, its highly likely that they’ll farm it out here. It’s busiest in the morning, so of course we were there in the afternoon.
Washers can rent a “station ” – essentially a huge concrete washing area – where all your dirty stuff goes in, is churned around and rinsed out.
It’s then dried out in the open, on huge twine lines. No pegs. just gripped by twisted twine and dried by the sun. The dried clothes then come into the ironing area and while some irons are now electric, they’re massively heavy.
Others are still heated by hot coals.
Our clothes have been managing with our Scrubba bag and now the buckets in the bathroom that we have here in India, so we’ll stick with that.
Cochin Spice Market
Everyone who comes to India has to visit a spice market. Every tourist – apart from those of us with a small backpack and limited space – wants to take some home. And so it was on to the spice market, where we watched women sorting ginger. We, of course, paid them a little baksheesh for their photo posing. We, then, headed upstairs to the women’s cooperative where we sniffed spices appreciatively and declined the bargains that we could apparently resist.
Jew Town, Fort Kochi
On, next to Jewtown – where the Jewish traders set up shop in previous centuries and now, where, here and in Mattancherry you’ll find endless clothing, cloth and souvenir shops.
At this point our driver started to get agitated when we wouldn’t go into the shop. He didn’t understand that there was no point, as we wouldn’t be buy anything at all. So, to keep the peace, we visited one shop. We looked at shirts that cost the equivalent of 80 GBP (US$130) and decided enough was enough. Our patience with Indian commercialism was done and we were dropped at the ferry.
Ferry Fort Kochi to Ernakulam
It’s here where men and ladies stand in separate lines for tickets (but each person can buy 3 tickets, and the ladies queue is always shorter…).
Tickets to go to the mainland – to Ernakulam are 4 INR each. That’s 4 UK pennies, or about 7 US cents.
The trip takes about 20 minutes in a ferry that would be condemned anywhere in Europe. It wasn’t over crowded any time we took it. I suspect if the worst were to happen, I wouldn’t have made it out of a window. I could see life jackets stuffed in a slot above my head, but couldn’t reach them.
The ferry takes you to stinky Ernakulam. Here you have to navigate a rubbish strewn wasteland to get to the noisy, dirty streets. It’s here we walked to pick up an Indian SIM card and made our first failed attempt to fix the broken Panasonic camera.
Broken Camera, Broken International Support
IT systems must be slower here in Kerala. It took them 3 days to tell us that our camera wasn’t covered by warranty, despite not even looking at the problem it had. Beware a worldwide warranty that isn’t backed up with an effective worldwide support organization. Our camera saga continued all the way through India and was still unresolved after the warranty had expired.
Ferry Back to Fort Kochi
Fleeing stinky Ernakulam we took the ferry back past Dufferin Point to Kochi. We drowned our sorrows in the Fort Cochin Hotel. It’s one of the remaining places where you can drink beer in Kochi, which announced a state wide ban on alcohol. (find out here how and where to drink beer in Kochi)
Kochi was a good week’s introduction to India for us. We had good food, a relaxing time and a lot of planning for the first 6 weeks of our time in India. Our next stop would be more relaxing visiting the backwaters of Kerala. Eventually, we’d do this on three different types of boat, just to ensure we covered all the bases!
Here’s our no engine trip through the Kerala Backwaters, then there’s the ferry from Allepey to Kottayam, and also our trip from Allepey to Kollam.
We’ll leave Kochi to the goats, which freely roam the streets.
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