It is difficult to believe that all I spent were measly 4 days in Kochi and the backwaters. I had so much fun in those four days, it feels like I was there at least for 10 days! So here are 10 things I thought were a lot of fun to do in Kochi and backwaters. My trip was on invitation from Travspire.
Kashi Cafe, Fort Kochi
10. Visit the Kashi Cafe: Locals like it, everyone recommends it. It is a nice cafe. They have art works installed at the front. I was however pressed for time and straight went for coffee and a pastry. The pastry was huge, way too many calories I say. It was yum too. When I asked if they had wifi they said no. It has a nice ambiance. People were sitting there with books and e-readers. So it is a place to hang out, no one is in a hurry to throw you out.
South Indian Thali
9. Eat at Krishna Restaurant: Guess what was the cost of the South Indian Thali I had at Krishna Restaurant? It was a royal sum of Rs. 35. And it was eat as you much. They also had a dish listed at Rs. 15. I can’t remember when I paid so less for a meal. My auto driver for the day, Sabu Babu took me there. It is a local place. That coffee bill at Kashi was many more times than the food bill.
Paradasi Synagogue and the Shops, Kochi, Kerala
8. Visit the Paradesi Synagogue: I only walked through the Jewish Street and saw the exteriors of this synagogue as I was there on a Friday. The synagogue is closed on Friday and Saturday. I had an interesting experience in the lane full of shops on the way to the synagogue. Everyone invited me to their shop. I told them I was not shopping. They said I could just walk in and have a look. I parried it by saying- on the way back. And on my way back they reminded me I had to visit their shops. It was all done nicely and in good humor. In the end I bought a t-shirt and dresses for my daughter and niece.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, Fort Kochi
7. Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica and St. Francis Church: Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is ancient and have gone through a lot of destruction and reconstruction (read more about it here). When I visited it, I was the only person inside the church. St Francis Church is also almost as old as the basilica. It is said that Vasco da Gama was buried here before they moved the body to Lisbon.
A Theyyam Artist, Fort Kochi
6. Watch a Cultural Performance: I am not much of a culture person. And yet I was completely mesmerized by the dance performances put by the artists from the Greenix Village (read the complete article on the Kathakali and other dances). It was right opposite my hotel, The Fort House. You can pay only to watch Kathakali or you can pay to watch the entire show. I strongly recommend that you watch the entire show.
Ancient Shiva Temple, Muzris Heritage Trail
5. Go on the Muzris Trail: Muzris used to an important port during the ancient times. It was part of the famous spice route. It can no longer be physically located. One theory is that it got submerged within the sea. But its approximate location is seeped in history. There are synagogues, temples and mosques nearby, all of them a few centuries old. If you are interested in heritage this is a must do (you can read a detailed account of my experience).
The Local Dhobi Ghat, Fort Kochi
4. Hire an Auto and Let Them be your Guide: That is how I explored Fort Kochi. The deal was for Rs 100 per hour and I can avail the auto services for as many hours I wish. It was a lot of fun. That is how I discovered Krishna Restaurant. At one point I asked Babu to take me someplace where I could buy chips. He took me to a local shop and I was really sad when all the chips got over finally. They were quite good. He also took me to off beat places like CTD Temple and the local Dhobi Ghat. Other off beat places were a ginger processing unit, a candle making factory and a local shop which sold nice soaps and tea. We of course did the regular attractions as well.
Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Kochi
3. Watch Sunset Over the Chinese Fishing Nets: The Chinese Fishing Nets lend a unique charm to the sea shore at Kochi. Sunset is when the magic happens and it is a beautiful time to take stroll along the shore. The locals do it too. You can eat stuff from road side vendors. I do not eat fish but they can make it for you fresh out of the water! I wish the area was cleaner though (want to read more about them?)
The Hammocks and My Room at Breeze Backwater Homes, Alappuza
2. Stay at a Backwater Homestay: Forget hotels, I would say even forget houseboats. This time choose a homestay. I stayed at Breeze Backwater Home Stay in Alappuza. It is about 2 hour drive from Kochi. My room was literally 5 steps from the lake. They have only four rooms, so pre-booking is recommended. Their food is awesome. There are hammocks in the courtyard. They own a houseboat and a canoe, both of which are rowed with bamboo poles. They were quick to point out that it was much more eco-friendly. It is a great place to unwind. I would say just put up your feet and do nothing here.
Kayaking in Kerala Backwaters
1. Go Kayaking: If you are even mildly adventurous type, kayaking is one activity you cannot miss. A kayak can go to all those canals where a houseboat cannot. You sit this high from the water, almost touching it. There are bridges that you can cross only after ducking or lying flat on the kayak. It is just too much fun. Put it on your list. Go do it and read more about my experience.
OK here is bonus tip. The good folks at the Breeze Backwater can arrange for a cycling trip for you as well. I say do that too!
After Fort Kochi, Kerala Backwaters were my next stop. But instead of the traditional places Travspire offered me a cycling, walking and boating trip with my base at Breeze Backwater Homes in Kuthiathode. My room there was literally five steps away from the backwaters. Before lunch I had gulped two cups of tea and spent quite some time hanging in a hammock.
Traditional Kerala Lunch
Before cycling I had a big traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf. The stuff was seriously good but the amount of food I consumed was not ideal for a day of cycling. Such unwelcome thoughts were, however, pushed aside and I concentrated on enjoying my meal. Vishnu was my companion for the trip and Appu took the car so that he could bring the cycles back when we went for boating.
The Local Temple
One of our first stops was the local temple where I asked Vishnu if the locals still knew each-other? He said that they certainly did and temples were the usual gathering places for the people. He also said to enter the people have to wear traditional dress which meant sari for women. But a group of women went to High Court and won the right to enter in Salwar Kurta! I was quite surprised to hear that.
The Cycling Route, Kerala Backwaters
The path partially went through the village and then it opened to the backwaters and open spaces. Even in the village lanes people were tolerant of us, they would only honk us out gently out of the way. At no point I thought it was unsafe to cycle around. And in the open spaces it was a lot of fun. At this spot there was a local toddy shop. Vishnu gently mentioned it and I did not pursue it. Now I wish that I had gone and had some local toddy along with fish. I generally don’t eat fish but I can nibble at it maybe once every 2 years. Someone else have to finish the dish for me.
Lush Green Paddy Fields, Kerala Backwaters
We cycled past lush green paddy fields stretching long and wide. It was a sight to behold and the picture above is rubbish compared to the actual scene. I will admit readily that sometimes I do take pictures that can make a place look better than it actually is but this is not one of those pictures. We would stop whenever we came across something to admire. And I stopped for the longest time near the paddy fields.
Cycling in Kerala Backwaters
My cycling adventure came to an end near Chettanam Fishing Harbor. Here you can see Vishnu chatting to Appu (whom you can’t see, he is sitting inside the car). The cycles got loaded to the car in the end. I was glad I could cycle all the eight kilometers without falling off once. At one pint there was a lot of water across the dirt track. I almost fell there but in the end I managed to get through without splashing mud all over the cycle and me.
Chettanam Fishing Harbor, Kerala
Chettanam Fishing Harbor is used by local fishermen. The black curves you see toward the horizon are protective structures made for the ships so that they can enter the sea in comparatively rough weather as well. Vishnu mentioned that sometimes the catch from a single trip could be worth 3 lakhs Indian rupees (.3 million) which would be then shared between all the members of the boat. We walked along the stone structure for sometime.
The Shore near Chettanam Fishing Harbour, Kerala
And as we tuned back I saw this beautiful shoreline dotted with coconut trees, as far as my eyes could see. The sea was rough though. For here our boat trip was a short car ride and even a shorter walk away.
Our boat was a small one. It was rowed with help of a long bamboo pole. The water in the channel was shallow. And the boatman was proud to point out that it was a non-polluting vessel. Also being smaller than the houseboats it can once again navigate through smaller waterways. There were many caretaker huts along the way. Occasionally a lone person would be walking away on the other side of the bank. There were steel bands along some coconut trees which Vishnu told me were meant to discourage rats.
Curious Kids at Kerala Backwaters
At one point I crossed these curious kids all happily playing along the water, no gadgets in site. This was an absolutely quiet stretch and I enjoyed the silence. It is music to my city strained ears.
Houseboats, Kerala Backwaters
In fact this was the only other traffic we encountered. There were foreigners in the small boat rowing it all by themselves! And the two houseboats parked by the side. Soon we were back to Breeze Backwater Homes. It was time for another round of tea for me.
What a beautiful evening it was! I have to take my daughter to the place one day.
Guess what did we do after driving at the Sepang International Circuit? We went cycling at Putrajaya in Malaysia. It had been ages since I went cycling and I was wondering if I would be able to cycle again! But I did fine. Cycling is one activity that everyone can identify with, the bruises sustained while learning to ride, the kindly person who taught us how to cycle or the joys and the mobility it offered once we mastered it.
When I was growing up we didn’t had the cycles kids learn on these days. My daughter for example has a small cycle with two extra wheels so balancing is not a problem for her. I learned on a cycle with just two wheels. And it was a cousin (who used to stay with us) who taught me cycling. I didn’t fall while learning but I did get a few cuts and bruises after I learned. I also used to bicycle to school after 6th standard. I learned cycling when I was in 4th standard. The floodgate of memories one simple event can open! And in my days there was no concept of helmet while cycling, I suspect in my small town no one still wears a helmet while cycling.
I used to have a cycle even when I shifted to Gurgaon and sometimes I would go to market on it. In one of my jobs, I used to cycle to the bus stop and chain it to a tree. I remember coming back one day to find that I had just chained the tree and not the cycle but no one took it away. That was the last I had a cycle.
So coming back to cycling around Putrajaya I was not sure how I will fare. I even thought that I would not do it if there were more Malaysia Tourism Hunt 2012 participants and less number of cycles. But that was not the case at all. So I found myself in middle of a big bunch of cyclists. My cycle had gears, adjustable seat and I was wearing a helmet this time.
We were escorted by the police team till we were on the main roads but once we came on the cycling/walking track we could go as we liked.
The cycling/walking track was well maintained. It was largely flat and went just a little bit of uphill and downhill. I did change gears to go uphill. The path was largely empty with a few walkers sitting around and enjoying the view. There was one guy who was practicing complicated dance moves (like they do in street dancing sequences) and was all concentration.
Soon we would cycle less and click more pictures!
The local cyclists who were assisting us on this day took us through a few short cuts as well. The path goes around the lake with plenty of rest stops. I initially did not take my camera out. But after a while I decided that I can cycle with the camera around my neck.
There was a point on this trip where we could see a lot of birds. I could spot egrets and yellow billed storks quite easily. There was another group of large birds that looked familiar but I could not place it. I was told that they were purple herons and what graceful creatures they are. After this bird spotting point we headed back to the bus and our hotel at Putrajaya.
I don’t think I will ever spend a day again where I get to drive around a car at a F1 circuit and then cycle in the same day!