Cochin/Kochi – Kerela

The first thing I notice about Kerela was the clean station. I’m surprised. Immaculate for an Indian station. This whole ‘clean’ thing continued everywhere I went in this relatively small city of 600,000 inhabitants. No cloud of pollution, no crapping in the streets, no stench and hardly any litter. Welcome to the South. All the hostels were booked out in the modern part of the city called Ernakulam and I’m pretty glad Anton, the token comedian Kiwi with an interestingly ripped t-shirt, suggested we go over to Vedanta Hostel on Fort Cochin.

The tuk tuk driver infuriated us by taking us to his friends hostel instead, which is standard practice as they want extra commissions. However, I wasn’t in the mood and told in a firm and slightly aggressive manner to take us to Vedanta Hostel immediately or I’d drive the tuk tuk there myself with him tied up in the back. He obliged, sulking. The extremes of India continue. The hostel was beautiful, well laid out and had a legendary host called Biju. The weather was hot and sticky, my clothes drenched with sweat. Sometimes you have to shout in India to get what you want.

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I was in a group of five, Anton the Kiwi, Sebastian the Colombian and the two west London lads Rob and Tim. I was due to split with the guys and go to the backwaters alone but plans change. These lads are a good crack.
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Roaming the streets of Fort Cochin we realise the street food offered is amazing in taste and in value. Parotta, fried onion baji and Dahl cakes are clear winners. Unlike the north there is a lot of fish, chicken and mutton available. I love Indian food. Whenever I move to a new part of the country the food changes. Impressed. Bravo.
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Kochin is the gateway to the famous backwaters of Kerela. The city itself is spread across six islands and is connected by a few bridges and a steady flow of boats and ferries. Fort Cohin, which confusingly isn’t actually a fort, it’s an area, like Lewisham is of London, has its shores lined with Chinese fishing nets. Tim, Rob and I were lucky enough to not only watch them in action but help hoist the nets from the sea. When we checked our catch we were disappointed to have caught just the one tiny little flipper. Shame. The fishermen then decided to ask for money due to poor fishing conditions. I made sure he knew I was appreciative for him showing us how the nets work but you can’t help everyone. 
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Fort Cochin has a distinct European feel to it. We pass churches and architecture influenced by the Portugese and Dutch who ruled here a few hundred years ago.
Whilst visiting the St. Francis Church we spotted a film crew shooting a street scene. Tim was talent spotted and cast for a role, with lines, the following day. Sometimes having white skin can have its perks.
The following day superstar on screen gangster Tim, was picked up for a full days filming with food and drinks with the cast afterwards in Ernakulam. His part tests some snake poison he’s been conned into buying, he gets angry and squares up to the lead man. Legendary performance old Tim boy. Well played.

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Meanwhile, while Tim shocks out with Bollywood’s elite, us four skint backpackers head out to the Athripally Waterfalls out in the middle of know where. Initially we wanted to take some scooters but we were stalled by a rather hysterically mental tuk tuk driver. He took us to bike rental places for free but insisted on taking us to ridiculously expensive souvenir shops. His commission for taking us to a shop was a bag of rice. Fair play.
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We didn’t get any bikes but we got a taxi instead as the day started to slip by. A boat ride across to our taxi and a long drive through deliciously lush jungle was worth it, the waterfalls were pretty nice, breathtaking is probably fair. We climbed the rocks and walked the river taking in the splendid scenery  There were only a few foreign tourists at the waterfall, the majority were wealthy Indians. However we did fly past the two English girls we’d met in Gokarna on our AC taxi, small world eh.
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On our first night I thought I’d culture my fellow lad travellers with a visit to a local theatre to see the ancient art of Kathakali acting. The 200R price tag could not be justified. The hilarious facial wiggling was the only enjoyable part. The make up was intriguing too but not when you watch an old man apply paint to his face in an awkward one hour spectacle where not a lot actually happened. Yawn. The entire show lacked anything that could keep our tired eyes awake. Don’t get me wrong, it was unique and I’m glad I witnessed it. But at the time, I fell in and out of consciousness. Entertainment has moved on considerably in the last 500 years, thank God. I hope never to see a Kathikali show again.
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Overall, Kochi is nice, clean and it’s wealth is obvious. I like the south, relaxed and much less hassle than the north. I wish I had more time here. Time is running out though, I have a flight to Thailand booked for the 19th December. I could travel India for years and still not see all I want to.
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