There’s little that can surpass promenading along the waterfront in Fort Kochi, past the Chinese fishing nets at sunset. Unsurprisingly though, this is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. If you want to get to see a bit more of the city beyond Fort Kochi, then take a ferry across to Ernakulam and find yourself a comfortable spot in Subhash Park, which has been spruced up recently and offers a calming green abode right next to the sea. Also up-and-coming is Kochi’s contemporary arts scene, and if you’re unable to attend the prestigious Kochi-Muziris Biennale Festival then go to David Hall Art Gallery (inside a restored Dutch bungalow) to find out what all the fuss is about over a relaxed cup of coffee.
Bazaar Road, although a wholesale market, is a fine place to start your shopping, even if only to admire the mounds of spices as you walk along the seafront. Although undoubtedly built on the spice trade, Kochi offers much more to shoppers: Kerala is where you will get the finest coffee in India, so if you need pepping up after being lulled by Kochi’s calm then Bazaar Road, amongst many other places, can also help you out. Jew Town is a snoopers’ paradise – nestled within its intimate lanes lie many antique shops. Going to M.G. Road brings you into the heart of modern Kochi; crowded and congested it may be, but the textiles and handicrafts here are definitely worth browsing through.
The cuisine of Kerala is a world away from what is dubbed ‘Indian food’ in the West. When you arrive into Kochi, you leave yourself open to a diametrically opposed, yet magnificent gastronomic experience. Out go the ghee, cream and yoghurt that are the flourishes to North Indian fare, to be replaced by coconut milk and oil and lighter, but still potent chutneys. No naan or roti here either! Fish is much preferred to meat, although vegetarian dishes, served either on a steel thali encircled by chutneys or, more quintessentially, on a banana leaf, occupy the majority of menu-space.
In Kochi, given its maritime location, opportunities for sampling some exquisite seafood are plentiful. For fine dining, book yourself a spot at the Rice Boat (where you can enjoy, as the name suggests, eating inside a mock rice boat) and Malabar Junction. If you’re hungering after some meat, Rahmuthalla Hotel serves biryanis with a Keralan twist. Vegetarians will find immense solace in the food served at Hotel Annapoorna.
* Any Hindi you may have picked up on your travels in North India won’t get you far! The main language of Kerala is Malayalam, which uses an entirely different alphabet. Don’t worry though: English is widely used amongst people of all backgrounds, from rickshaw-drivers to hotel managers.
* If you’re tired of haggling for a rattly ride in a rickshaw, then find your sea legs; getting around the various parts of Kochi by ferry is practical, incredibly cheap, and authentic!