|Ferry to Vypeen Island|
The city of Kochi (aka Cochin) is actually sprawled across the mainland suburb of Ernakulum, the peninsular suburbs of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry as well as across the 5 other islands of Vypeen, Vallarpadam, Willingdon, Bolgatty, and Gundu. Frequent ferry services run across the lake between the mainland, the peninsula and the first 2 islands, and bridges also connect all of them although it can be a much slower option at times. It’s a huge sprawl and traffic is a nightmare. Everyone who comes to Kerala usually love Kochi but it’s difficult when you first arrive to see what all the fuss is about.
For the first 2 nights, we stayed on the mainland, where along with visiting its bustling bazaar area highlighted with an aromatic spices market, Jim and I managed to get our 3rd Hep A and Hep B vaccinations completed, which are the last of our last shots! On the second day, we took the ferry (Rs2.50/0.06 cents USD per adult) over to Fort Cochin where we got a lovely room at Orion Holidays Homestay on the recommendation of our tuk tuk driver. This little homestay had all the touches of a boutique 3-star hotel like coordinated sheets, nice curtains, rolled towels on the bed and even a ‘sanitised wrapper’ around the toilet seat. And it had WiFi. The manager was very professional and helpful too. The current low-season rate of Rs600/$15.00 USD for a double room (fan only) made this room one of the best bargains around; we saw many other rooms in this price range, but not of this quality. Also as a result of low-season, the streets were all very quiet too which was very nice. There were few cars and motorbikes and the many big trees made for leisurely walking around town while sightseeing. The pace in Fort Cochin, particularly during low season, is oh-so-slow—it certainly is a nice change to the hectic scene across the lake in Ernakulum. Not sure that we’d want to be here during high season though. Based on the many many rooms available, it seems like it would just be wall-to-wall tourists.
|Our room at Orion Holidays|
|'This won't hurt..!!'|
|Quiet streets of Ft Kochi|
One of the main attractions at Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets at the mouth of the lake where it meets the Arabian Sea. It is absolutely fascinating watching the fishermen manoeuvre the huge Chinese fishing nets which originally date back to 1400 AD, when they were introduced by traders of the Kubla Khan court here to trade spices. They operate on a system of balance and counterbalance in a lever-like manner. In operation, it is smooth and graceful but extremely labour intensive. At least 4 men are required to lower the net by slowly letting go of ropes attached to multiple huge boulders. As the boulders ascend, the net descends deep into the water. When they think they might have fish in the net, the men have to pull the boulders back down to the ground with the ropes while others run expectedly over to the net to see what they may have caught. Even the bystanders look hopefully on. Once as we happened to watch a group of fishermen lower and raise their nets for their first drop of the morning during a torrential monsoonal downpour we were lucky to witness them pull up a rare large grouper. They rushed it to the nearby auction, where they had hoped that it would yield them up to $100 USD /Rs4000. The girls really enjoyed watching the action, which seemed to go on whether it was a driving torrential monsoon rain or a searing hot day. But Sunday was a day of rest.
|Chinese Fishing Nets|
|The men pulling on the ropes to raise the net|
|Netted a big one!|
|This one could get them $100 USD at the auction|
Much of the Fort’s charm is with its many original historic buildings, dating back between the 1500’s to the 1800’s. Two of these are churches. St Francis is noted to be the oldest European church in Kerala, if not India and dates back to 1503 when it was first a Roman Catholic Church. Later it served as a Dutch Reform Church, then Anglican and now it is governed by the Church of South India. The Santa Cruz Basilica is beautifully painted inside and dates back to 1887. And although the Fort is a very touristy area, its saving grace is that many of the shops and hotels are in very historical buildings themselves or at least in well-designed newer buildings; if not for this, it’d just be another tacky tourist strip.
|Princess St, Fort Kochi (main tourist street)|
|Oldest European Church in Kerala/India|
Next door to the peninsula of Fort Kochi is Vypeen Island. After many days of torrential rain that had followed us from our couple of days in Alleppey (to the north), on the first sunny afternoon that we had, we took the short ferry over and checked out Cherai Beach on the northwestern end. We took our first swim in the Arabian Sea here. The long sandy beach had manageable rolling waves—quite suitable for children. The girls enjoyed running up and down on the sand and into the water as the sun went down and marked the end of another of our days in India.
|Cherai Beach, Vypeen Island|
Aside from wandering the Fort’s shady streets admiring its historical nature, drinking chai while watching the fishermen on the giant nets, or riding the efficient ferry network, we also enjoyed walking along the boardwalk, taking in an evening of cultural performances, and playing in the children’s playground located near the centre of the village. We had a very enjoyable 4 days in Fort Kochi and met some very nice people, tourists and locals alike. Everyone was happy to be here.
|Children's Playground, Fort Kochi|
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