OK, just back from our 4 weeks in March, travelling around Kerala and had a great deal of wonderful help here and from IndiaMike (were this is also posted). I promised to do a trip report as a thank you and hopefully to help others who follow in our footsteps. So here goes.
I will split into parts, as I tend to go into a great deal of detail and people may want to eat or get some sleep !!
Some background info. I am 56 years old and my wife is 42 (yes I’m very lucky) and we have travelled quite a bit. We like to think we are fairly adventurous and tend to travel more in a backpacker style, but do like some home comforts, at times. Also we prefer to spend our time travelling, just in one country or just one part of a country, as opposed to rushing around trying to see everything. Whenever possible, we prefer to try and get away from the main tourist places and do our own thing (this was to provide us with some narrow escapes and unique experiences, in Kerala). We also like walking even if it’s hot!!
Food – my wife is vegetarian and doesn’t like spicy food, me, I’ll have a go at almost everything if it’s not moving, and have a passion for chilli.
Our initial ideas are posted here - (tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g297631-i5501-k258…) and we more or less did most of it.
I will try and do reviews of the accommodation separately in the Hotel section.
Days 1 – 4 COCHIN (Photos here http://www.flickr.com/photos/37260265@N03/sets/72157616587558144/)
We flew with Etihad Airlines from Manchester to Abu Dhabi and from there onto Cochin. Cost us £357 return (from Trivandrum) and was excellent. Arrived into Cochin at about 03.50 in the morning and cleared customs with no problems. We had pre-booked our accommodation in Fort Cochin at Micky Villas (1,500 rupees per night, Air con, Hot water, very clean and new, quiet, no food options apart from free tea, coffee and biscuits) and had arranged with them to send a car to meet us. Cost 850 rupees, which is a bit much, but we didn’t want the hassle of dealing with the taxis and trying to find the accommodation at that time of the morning.
Went straight to bed for a few hours and then ventured out into the heat. Micky Villas is a 10 minutes walk and is slightly out of town and down a quiet backstreet. We walked down the street to the main road and immediately saw a temple elephant in a yard, having its lunch! Great start. Russell (who is English/Indian) the owner of Micky Villas had told us, at night there was a festival going on, just down the road. So this is where it was from.
We wandered into town and started to get our bearings. Took the compulsory photos of the Chinese fishing nets and fended off the rickshaw drivers who wanted to take us on their 50 rupee tours (I’m sure this didn’t involve any trips to their friends shops!!). “Go today as Dutch Palace is closed tomorrow” yeh, yeh heard it all before, thank you very much. But they weren’t lying – it was closed the next day!!
Walked all around the main part of Fort Cochin exploring the back streets and took photos of the kids leaving school. Found an ATM (only use the Nationwide Flex Account card when we travel) and drew out some money. Back into town and had lunch at the “Elite Bakery, Princess Street”, which was to become our regular place to eat.
We tend to try and eat as local as our instincts allow us and this usually means eating where there are a lot of people already eating, as the food tends to be turned over quicker and not left standing all day. The “Elite Bakery” ticked all these boxes
Visited St. Francis Church and walked to the Dutch Cemetery and then to the small beach where we watched the local fishermen casting their nets out. We also spotted some dolphins swimming out just beyond the rocks and watched them for some time. Then it was back along the promenade to the fishing nets and a rest under the shade in the park.
Our impression was that the fishing nets are a bit touristy and they only seem to work them for this purpose. The fish they have on sale, I’m sure comes from further out at sea. But it still remains a good place to visit, if you don’t mind being somewhat pestered by the local sellers.
Returned to our place to sit on the veranda and relax before walking back into town. Had dinner at “Chariot Beach, Princess Street”, which was OK. Sat outside at the side of the road with mozzie coils under the table, but later found out this was one of the places you could get Kingfisher, if you sat inside.
On our way back to Micky Villa, we could hear the drums and music coming from further down the main road, so we walked a bit further and experienced our first festival. It was just great, with a big stage with lots of dancers. Then the elephant comes past with its headdress on and goes into the temple. The drumming gets louder and goes into more of frenzy. We stayed until about 11.00 and it was still going on. It’s hard to describe a festival, but if you ever get a chance, go see one.
The next day, I had to get my priorities right and I found out where the liquor shop was, three blocks further down from where we had watched the festival. So we set off walking, as we got to the area of the festival, we heard drumming again. The elephant was again in the temple and the drummers were still hard at it. Found the liquor store and got 5 bottles of Kingfisher and a litre of “Old Cask” rum (really very good rum) There was a large fridge at Micky Villa which you can use, but Russell (the owner)said we needed to keep the receipt for the liquor, just incase the police think he is selling it to us. We then walked into town and found a place to buy a SIM card for our phone. We knew we needed a passport photo and our passport. They took copies of the Indian Visa also. Bought an Airtel (Lifetime) card for 99 rupees and about 450 rupees of credit. Shop around, as one place on Princess Street wanted 240 rupees just for the card.
Must say, I later on in the trip had to laugh about trying to buy this SIM card. I asked at a lot of shops if they had the card and most shook their head from side to side, I said thanks anyway and left. It was only later that I realised the head shaking kind of meant Yes or Of course. They must have thought I was mad asking for the card and then walking out after they said yes!!
OK, it was time to start seeing the remaining tourist sites. We decided we would walk over to the Dutch Palace and Jew Town area, so we set off and walked along a canal. People looked at us out of curiosity, as maybe not that many tourists head that way (was a bit smelly – the canal). At the end we turned right and walked down through the spice area which was packed and interesting. Went into a large courtyard area were they were drying ginger and in side rooms they were bagging it. The smell was great. Upstairs was just a shop, so only worth it if you want to buy stuff.
Down to Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace), but as mentioned it was closed on a Friday. But we did notice a lot of locals suddenly go into a shop opposite the bus area and palace. We hadn’t eaten breakfast and this looked promising, even though there weren’t any signs outside. So in we go. Everybody gave us a good look as we sat at a table and we wondered what we were in for. No menu, so when a guy said Thali we went for it. Well I was OK, as it was fish curry and quite nice. The wife managed to get by on rice and some of the sauces. But it just kept on coming. Every time I managed to finish a dish, it was topped up. By the time we were due to leave, there was as much as when we had started!! This was to be our cheapest meal of the trip – 50 rupees for both of us.
We then walked further down the road into Jew Town. This was a bit of a wake up, as we had been totally local until here. Everyone trying to get you into their shop, it wasn’t for us. Went up to the Jewish Synagogue, but again we had bad luck, it was now 1.00 pm and it was closed until 3.00 p.m.!! Not to worry – the Jain Temple was on the route back into town. This isn’t mentioned in the Lonely Planet South India book, but is in the Rough Guide to Kerala. So, we set off walking and after asking a few people, we eventually found it. Guess what.... it closes in the afternoon!! Not the best of luck today. Gave up and walked back to the main town and bought some cakes from the “Elite Bakery” and then back to Micky Villa to sit on our veranda, eat the cakes, cold Kingfisher and a rum and coke. We were pretty tired as we had not really sat down all day. But after a shower, we went back into town and thought we’d try the rooftop restaurant at the “Elite”. Went upstairs, but it was hot and there seemed to be a lot of mosquitoes, also the prices seemed dearer than the ground floor, for the same food. Back down to sit with the locals at the formica tables and a fan. Food here was very good. Then back towards Micky Villa and the festival was going on again. More people were spilling onto the main road and the sound system had been cranked up a notch or two. Then there was a procession with some Theyam dancers and drummers. More dancers with large floral displays on theirs heads went swirling by. Then came some motorised floats with large animated models of deities on them. Wow, we so lucky to see all this. There were some other tourists about, but not many. Seemed like not many tourists in town knew about it. Again we stayed until gone 11.00 and they were still going strong on the stage
We still had two days left before we had to leave Fort Cochin and head north to the Pooram (see previous post here http://www.indiamike.com/india/kerala-f39/pooram-in-march-t72718/). We had originally intended to possibly stay at Cherai Beach on the last night. But after talking with Russell at Micky Villa, he had got to know what we liked. He suggested that it was going to be a bit of journey with our luggage, just to lie on a beach for half a day. His recommendation was to just visit the beach and then come back when we wanted. OK, he got another nights payment, but it did seem like the better idea.
So what to do? We decided to hire a scooter for two days!! Now, I’m no motorbike rider, but have hired Hondas and scooters in Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and the Greek Islands, so felt reasonably confident. Russell said that if we headed south along the coast road, he’d heard there were good beaches and small fishing villages. Just around the corner from where we were staying were a couple of bike hire places, so we went and got a Honda Activa for 300 rupees a day. Hired it from Sam Mike Tours who is opposite the Santa Cruz Basicala. Tried bartering, but they just tried to give us a worse scooter. No forms to sign, just left my passport, as security. Got two crash hats and the first stop was the petrol station up by the jetty. I reckon that all bike hire places siphon any remaining fuel off for their own bikes and just leave you enough to get you to the nearest station!! Filled the tank and it cost about 240 rupees.
We headed south and to be honest once we got out of the main part of Fort Cochin the traffic became much lighter and it was a joy to chug along at our own pace. We simply kept following whatever road was the closest to the coast. This was more us – independent, and off the tourist main route. But there is a problem to this. Which we soon found out. Once you are off the beaten track, there are no facilities for tourists i.e. we couldn’t find anywhere to eat and we hadn’t had breakfast. Also no toilets!! There were some stalls selling biscuits and water, so we got by. But just be aware. There may well have been places to eat, but we didn’t see them.
Anyway, we took some side detours and into the backwaters, where again locals seemed surprised to see us. But they were so friendly, smiling and waving all the time. The places were really peaceful and pretty. Stopped at the side of the road when we saw some men making new canoes in their yard. They were quite happy to let us watch as they planed the timber to shape using basic hand tools and you could see the way the pieces of wood were held together by stitches of presumably coir string.
Further along the road we came to our first fishing village located on a really pretty beach. So we drove down and plonked ourselves on the beach to top up our suntan lotion and to chill. Wasn’t going to happen!!. We were something unusual. Some men came and stood right in front of us and just stared. I had read that this could happen, so it wasn’t too surprising, just a bit strange. Anyway after a few photos of their highly colourful boats and a couple of them (which they seemed happy enough with), we set off again. We knew the sea was to our right but couldn’t see it much due to all the rock walls. We were later told these were installed after the Tsunami. So we pulled into a clearing and climbed over the rocks. No beach – just sea. Then the kids appeared. This was to become a regular occurrence. Anyway they were just happy to try and talk to us. Just the usual “Where you from” “What’s your name” etc. I asked them if they could teach me my first word in Malayalam. I said what is the word for “hello”, they looked puzzled and then simply said “hello”!!
Off again and after some more backwaters side trips, were we saw local Chinese fishing nets, we passed the security guarded gates of Marai Beach Resort. We travelled a little further on and again into a clearing and climbed the rock wall onto a beautiful beach. It was completely deserted as far as the eye could see. Superb.
By now time was getting on and we had travelled about 60 km from Fort Cochin, so we set off back. It took about 1 and half hours to get back, but we’d had a really great day. Parked the scooter up at Micky Villa and walked into town, visiting the Santa Cruz Basicala on our way. Tonight we tried the upstairs “Talk of the Town” restaurant. Seemed very popular and we had to share a table. Unfortunately we got there just at the wrong time, as we placed our order and then 5 minutes later there was the power cut. It then took another half hour after the power came back, to get our food. We were ravenous. Food was OK, but liked the “Elite” better. Plus, quite a few mozzies here.
Next day was to be our last in Fort Cochin (and very eventful it would turn out to be). We decided that now we were mobile and I was more used to driving in traffic, we would visit the Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue and Jain Temple again, but by trying to keep off the main roads (at least until I could get my Last will and Testament printed!!!). By foul means or fair we found the palace and somehow entered via the rear entrance. It was interesting to walk around, so much to take in. Then down to the synagogue, where I had to have a pair of fisherman’s pants provided. (stupidly only had shorts on). Again it was interesting to look around. We now knew the road to the Jain temple and were there about 11.00. After stopping at the local food place (again) opposite the buses and palace, were we bought some buns/spicy cakes?? As you would expect, you have to remove your shoes to walk around the temple (but shorts were OK here). Be warned it gets very hot as the day progresses and the bare earth can burn your feet. Get there as soon in the morning, as you can. There appeared to be some sort of ceremony going on in one of the side buildings and there were lots of people. One man asked us if we knew about Jainism (which we didn’t) and he explained it simply to us. There were big celebrations that day, at one of their main temples in Gujarat (I think) and that was why they had a large scale model of it in this building. Those that couldn’t attend at the main temple had to make do with the model. They feed the pigeons each day at midday (according to the Rough Guide) and the pigeons where waiting. But today they weren’t doing it until 12.30. We had a lot more to do, so we gave it a miss, signed the visitor’s book and set off into the traffic.
Next we were going to visit Cherai Beach. This involves taking the scooter over on the ferry. This is quite an experience in itself. You park up at the motorbike area (it’s a bit like a funnel with 10 bikes at the back but only one allowed through at the front) and then go and get your tickets (think it was 5 rupees for the bike and 2 rupees for us two). Then you wait for the ferry. This arrives and all the cars have to come off, then the bikes and passengers. In the meantime all the waiting bike owners have appeared out of the woodwork and you are now sat in the midst of a Le Mans type pack! One glimpse that they are about to load up and all the bikes fire up and start inching forward!! But first the cars load, along with all the foot passengers. My wife boarded and I sat there eating exhaust fumes. Then it’s the bikers turn. The pack turns ugly and you are almost sitting on the bike next to you, he is so close. Inch by inch you move forward, but somehow someone has found a gap a mouse wouldn’t fit into, and he’s in front of you. As I got nearer to the front it was becoming obvious we weren’t all going to get on. Lots of shouting and horns blaring. But six from the front and they put the chain across. Waved goodbye to the wife and sat there waiting for it all to happen again!
Did get onto the next ferry and did see dolphins as we neared Vypin Island and did meet up with the wife!
Set off down the road and soon came to another festival area. It must have just finished as people and fully loaded rickshaws were leaving, piled high with decorations. Saw the road down to the lighthouse and took it. Went past the refinery and got to the lighthouse. Can’t say it was worth the trip. The temple opposite was more interesting. Anyway the lighthouse was closed, so we continued along. The road soon disappeared and turned into a track. But we kept on going and exploring. Went quite a way along the rock wall passing houses where people would come out and shout hello. Eventually the track turned into soft sand and we couldn’t go any further. Climbed the wall and found a small deserted beach, which was good. Turned back and found a side road that took us all over the place until it ended where they were making a new bridge across the canals. Thought we were stumped until a local pointed out a detour alongside some houses, very narrow. This led us to a small wooden footbridge which didn’t seem strong enough. But a local went across and didn’t die, so I gave it a go. Eventually we found our way back to the main road and carried on towards Cherai.
But we were soon tempted by another side road to the left and more backwaters. Now I should point out that these side roads aren’t paved they are just compacted bare earth or stone and are potholed and rutted. But if you take it slow you are fine.
So there we are trundling around the backwaters, taking photos and everyone is so friendly. We stop to take some pictures of some small children who seem delighted when we show them and their parents come out and say hello. We set off and it happens! A woman comes out of a house and waves hello to us. I take one of my hands off the wheel and wave back, we hit a big pothole and crash!! Typical English, we immediately pick ourselves up and say we are OK . But it was obvious we weren’t. We were covered in dirt, I had badly grazed my arm and foot and my wife had blood running down her leg from a bad graze on her knee. The whole village comes out and they take us into a nearby house were they sit us down. Someone gets some water and they start to clean our wounds. Then someone goes and gets some iodine and puts it onto the grazes. A man arrives who can speak a bit of English and we tell him to thank everyone. He asks what are names are, I tell him my wife’s’, and that my name is “Stupid”!! Everyone laughs. They insist we go to hospital, whilst we don’t think it’s that serious my wife thinks we should get checked out especially in case we get an infection. Luckily we were only travelling slowly when we crashed and the bike is still driveable. It’s got some scratches but nothing that will affect us driving it. So we set off to try and find the hospital. Getting to the main road, we ask and are pointed towards a building further along. We go in and a nurse says there isn’t a doctor until 5.00pm. Ok, we will wait. So we sit there for about 20 minutes with people looking at us strangely. Then another nurse who speaks a bit better English arrives and explains to us that we are in a Nursing Home!! She gave us some more directions to another hospital, so off we went. But this one turned out to be a Mother and baby hospital!! However after asking a few people at the roadside, we eventually got correct directions and found the proper hospital. It was really new and looked impressive. We even had patients leaning out the windows and shouting hello to us, as we parked the bike. This hospital is nothing like in the UK. Here you would have to wait possibly 4 hours to see a doctor. But in Kerala, we walked straight in and got treatment straight away. We did get some awkward questions, like how it happened (told them a dog ran out in front of us), also what street it happened on? We didn’t even know where we where? Still they cleaned our wounds and dressed them with bandages and told us we could take them off the next day. All very efficient, quick and free!!
So, that was our day over. We never did get to see Cherai Beach. We drove back towards the ferry and stopped at yet another festival that was going on at a roadside temple (3 elephants at this one and the usual drums, flutes and horns etc). The trip back over on the ferry wasn’t as chaotic and we got back to Micky Villa to review our wounds. We were so lucky to both have had crash helmets, as we could have hurt ourselves more. Apart from the main grazes I had a belter of a bruise on my thigh. But nothing that was going to stop us from enjoying the rest of the holiday.
Then it was time to take the bike back!! As the scratches on the bike weren’t too bad, we decided to tell them it had fallen over and we had scratched it pulling it up. We knew we were in for some pain over damages, but thought this excuse may minimise it. We wore long pants and sleeves to cover our injuries and handed the scooter back. We pointed out the scratches, as it was dark. He looked horrified and took it for a quick ride and said it was badly damaged. We knew it wasn’t as we had been driving it for about 30kms after the accident. He never believed that it had happened just falling over (and he was right!). But then we had to enter into protracted negotiations. He rang someone up and said it was going to cost us 1,750 rupees for the repairs. He even said the indicator lens would have to be replaced, which had the smallest of a scratch on it. We said look we know we have to pay for some compensation, but we doubt you will even get anything done to the bike. He said he would have to take it in tomorrow to immediately get it repaired. We pointed out that there were other scratches on the fairing that had rusted and never been repaired. But he insisted our scratches were worse (which they weren’t). We pointed out that there was still about 150 rupees worth of fuel left in the scooter, to which he said we could take it if we wanted!! Anyway we kept pointing out that we knew he was never going to repair it, but were willing to pay some compensation. Eventually,( in order to get my passport back) we just gave him all the money we had, (less 100 for dinner) which totalled 1,440 rupees + 600 for the hire. He said he thought I was robbing him and I said I thought he was doing extremely well out of the deal. He said that we should get Micky Villa to come and look at the bike in 2 days time and he would be able to confirm the repairs. He obviously knew we were never going to do that.
This saga has a slight twist which will be revealed later in the holiday.
Our last night was spent at the “Elite” and the festival. But our injuries were beginning to hurt and the day had taken its toll. We went back and started packing for the next day’s departure.
The next day we walked back into town and had our first breakfast of the holiday at “Chariot Beach”, it was just toast, butter and jam, but it was food. Last walk around Fort Cochin and back to finish the packing. Russell, had arranged a taxi to take us to Ernakulam Town railway station (250rupees). He had also, prior to our leaving the UK, rung the hotel in Ottapalam for us to reserve a room and confirm the Pooram was on March 10th.
We had enjoyed our time in Fort Cochin and had some scars to remember it by! But we were now looking forward to the Pooram and wondered if it would be that much different to the festivals we had already seen. Boy, were we in for a surprise.