Kochi: The Heart of the Kerala Region
When I originally saw that we would be docking in Kochi, India, I fully expected that there would be nothing to see in Kochi. I had never even heard of the city, so I had no expectations whatsoever. As you might expect by the way I am starting this paragraph, I was pleasantly surprised by what I did find in Kochi.
Kochi is the largest city in the state of Kerala, located in southwestern India. It was actually the first part of India that was settled by Europeans, when the Portuguese colonized the area around the year 1500. You can still see the impact clearly in Kochi just by seeing the religious buildings in the area. Whereas most of India is Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, 35% of Kochi is Christian. You see this with the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches around the city. I also heard that whereas most of India does not eat beef, as the cow is a sacred animal, many people in Kochi do.
I had about one day and a half to explore Kochi, including the first day on arrival and the last day before departing. All the time in between was spent on the Field Program to northern India I wrote about in the previous post.
The main part of Kochi is split into two different parts and islands: Fort Kochi and Ernakulum (the city center). Our ship was docked at Willingdon Island, which doesn’t have too much, so the easiest way to get around was by ferry. Our first day, Chika and I went along with several others to explore Fort Kochi.
Fort Kochi was once a small fishing village until the land was given to the Portuguese by the Rajah of Kochi (King). That’s when the Portuguese started to build, including building the actual fort in Fort Kochi. Later on, the British and Dutch built homes during their times of rule, and this has created a nice mix of architectural styles and traditions in the city.
To arrive to Fort Kochi, we simply walked about a ¼ mile from the ship to the ferry station. We all got on this old rickety boat that held probably 70 people. At a cost of about 25 cents, the twenty minute ferry took us to the station in Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is the area of the city that is most visited, so there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and shops in the area.
Some of the main sites included the Santa Cruz Basilica (a rebuilt version of the first church to be built in south Asia), the Chinese Fishing Nets, and the Dutch Fort. The Chinese Fishing Nets were especially cool to see. I will let Wikipedia tell you how they work:
“Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen. While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are mostly found in the Indian cities of Kochi and Kollam, where they have become a tourist attraction.”
We watched them in use, though it was mid-day when I imagine they wouldn’t be catching too much compared to the early morning or late at night. Just as Wikipedia describes, a team of several fishermen worked together to raise this large fishing net out of the water. They do it as quick as possible to pull up everything that is in the net at the time. The fishermen were selling the fish they caught right on the spot there, as they kept the unlucky ones in buckets. Just down the way was a market right along the water, where one can pick out a freshly caught fish and have it cooked right on the spot. I’d seen this in restaurants, but never in an open air market.
Being our first day on land after quite a hull from South Africa, we just wanted to walk. And walk we did. In the afternoon, I think we walked a total of about 8-10 miles, exploring all areas of Fort Kochi. We ended with dinner along the harborfront and watched small fishing boats come in with their catches, right alongside massive container ships bringing in goods from outside the country. Our first day was a fun one, simply walking around to see what we would see. The next morning, very early, I had left for the Field Program to northern India to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, and Delhi.
I arrived back in Kochi the night prior to the ship’s departure, so I had one more day to explore Kochi. I decided to explore the area of Kochi called Ernakulum, the busiest area of the city with markets, plenty of stores, government buildings, Hindu temples, and more. One food I knew I had to try in India was called “dosa”, an Indian crepe used to dip into various sauces. It seems to be more of a dinner thing for most people, but with dedication, I was able to find it for lunch. And it was as good as I imagined, so I ordered a second one.
In Ernakulum, I found a local market for produce, fresh fish, meats, and more. I arrived somewhat early, so most of the vendors were still bringing in their products for the day. I enjoyed this, because people were too busy to really notice me walking by. Walking through markets as someone who is obviously not from there can be intimidating, so this was a nice change.
I wandered around the city, saw the local courthouse and its surrounding facilities, saw a colorful Hindu temple, and eventually found myself looking at a statue of the country’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, in the middle of a traffic circle. Throughout the day, I kept eating and eating. My only regret is that I didn’t have a larger stomach to try everything I wanted to try (this has been a pretty common theme from every country on this voyage)!
Next up, Myanmar.