Comfort zone scares me.
Because comfort zone brings inertia with it, and gradually one starts getting clingy to it. And clinging leads to disappointments. Clinging leads to cessation of freshness and adventures. Gradually life becomes a semi colon. And I am not ready to become a semi colon yet. I am still full of words and new ideas. Also when there are so many punctuations in life, why rest at commas and semi colons.
So when I felt myself slowing down to a comma amidst the web of family and work responsibilities, I decided it’s time to rejuvenate the ‘lost’ me. I needed to go out on my own and re-discover the real ‘me’ yet again. That’s when I planned to travel to somewhere either alone or with one of my women friends. And what’s the best place other than God’s own country for a soulful journey
5 Day Trip to Kochi and Alleppey
We reached Kochi in the afternoon, had a quick sandwich after checking in to ‘Hotel Avenue Regent. It is a 40 minutes drive from airport to the city. We took this hotel especially for its central location on M.G. Road, since we had planned for some shopping experience on the first day itself. Our room on the second floor overlooked the Kairali Handicrafts Emporium that was just across the road. However,
Kairali Emporium was a bit of a disappointment since there is nothing much to explore there and whatever little is there is overpriced. You can easily give it a miss.
Thereafter we took an auto to the most famous and biggest saree showroom in Kochi, called as Seemati. It’s a huge 3-storey shop full of reasonably priced clothes. Coming from Delhi NCR, I found the clothes very cheap. Don’t miss this shop if you are a saree fan. It had an amazing collection of sarees. Our evening was spent strolling on M.G Road; we wanted to get a feel of the area and indulge in some window shopping. However the automobile smoke and drain smell all around made our city walk not a very pleasant experience.The day ended with a sumptuous dinner at Hotel Grand, a nice hotel with a traditional South Indian wooden paneling look.
We left for Alleppey next morning. I would like to advise people to book an Ola cab for traveling in and around Kerala since it’s more convenient and cheaper than other cabs. Our cab driver was amused to see 2 women travelling alone without family; he thought travelling is part of our work profile. We had booked a traditional Kerala styled homestay at the side of Vembanad lake for a soothing, cultural experience. The fag-end of our journey to Vembanad House was a narrow road through a small village surrounded by trees on all sides.
This Vembanad House located on the western side of Vembanad lake is run by husband-wife duo. They had converted their 4 bedroom farmhouse into a traditional Kerala homestay. It was simply beautiful. The owner lady treated us to a traditional Kerala; I don’t remember the names of the dishes but they were mouth-watering.
Since we didn’t want to waste a single minute of our stay in Alleppey, we planned to goto Marari beach in the early evening itself. Now this was the biggest con of staying in a place that was out of city. We had to shell out extra money (Rs.350 for one way) each time we left the place. There are no restaurants nearby, so one is stuck at the Vembanad House for dinner. Also, the place and the host amenities are targeted more towards foreigners rather than Indians. The hosts were not very forthcoming with tips and info about the local area. I usually love staying in homestays because I love talking to hosts about their life and culture. I missed that openness and friendliness here.
Marari beach was fun. We hired the beach chairs under umbrella and enjoyed a lively evening there, drinking tender coconut water and warding off ferocious crows that didn’t let me enjoy my snacks! It is always amusing watching others having fun in the sea. I saw a newly married (judging from her extensive mehendi) girl simply rushing towards the sea as soon as she saw it; she seemed too excited to see the waves and the vast expanse of water. Judging by her animated behaviour, it seemed that must have been her first glimpse of sea. It brought a nostalgic smile to my face. My first visit to sea seems to be so far etched in time, that I have forgotten the fresh feel of such an endless expanse of sea for the very first time. And that’s why I really enjoy others’ first experiences of the sea.
Before going back to the Vembanad house, where we had planned another Kerala role play, we visited one of the South styled temples near the beach. I always make a point to visit temples on my road journey whenever I go down South. I simply love the feel of the cultural and religious rituals in these temples. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I can hear sounds of chanting mantras from some corner.
And here comes another Kerala flavour in our trip. My friend and I both dressed up in Kasavu white sarees for our dinner time! Did I tell you that the first night at this house, we were the only guests! Two women travellers staying at a farmhouse styled homestay, in a small village, away from the confines of the city. It was exhilarating! We had fun clicking pictures of our traditional Kerala attire that evening. I would give credit to the host for giving us ample privacy to enjoy the entire farmhouse during our stay.
Backwaters of Kerala
Next day was planned for the backwaters. My friend has admirable bargaining skills. She booked the entire 12 seater boat for just the two of us for full 2 hours at just Rs.1500. It was quite a meditative and scenic cruise. However, it’s best to keep your nose pinched when the boat cruise starts- the boarding point has turned into a large drain and it stinks awfully. The highlight of our backwater trip was raw mango at photo point and the unexpected meeting with ‘Kite’ at one of the stops. Rest of the evening was spent at Vembanad House, on a swing facing the backwaters.
I found this bird at one of our stops in backwaters. The restaurant owner had probably kept it as a pet. This Kite signifies Garuda, the legendary bird in Hindu mythology. You can even see Garuda as a national symbol in many south-east Asian countries including India, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar. It signifies divinity and courage. I felt fortunate to have this majestic bird perched on my arm for a few minutes.
We had planned our program in March considering that it’s a shoulder month for Kerala, so the heat will be bearable. However, it was extremely hot and humid for that month. We stayed at the Jew street, thus the Paradesi Synagogue and Mattencherry Palace were the closest visiting places for us. And we started our tour from there itself. I loved the walk upto the white building of the 4-year-old Synagogue- the shopkeepers luring us to their shops in innovative styles.
One of them was quite persistent and I told him – “We will definitely come to your shop after visiting the Synangogue.” He said- “Keep that smile on when you come back”.
Avoid wearing shorts to the Synagogue. Photography is not allowed inside the premises. Also, do not expect anything grand. It’s a small room with amazing collection of Belgian glass chandeliers.
I enjoyed going through the touristy shops to buy spices and souvenirs for family and friends. But these shops are mainly aimed for foreign tourists. The spices were cheaper at the wholesale market in Alleppey but it was more convenient to shop in Jew town street.
After a short afternoon nap, we took an auto to the farther inside of Fort Kochi area to see churches, museums and Chinese nets, and also to enjoy the evening time hustle bustle of Fort Kochi. All these destinations are at a walking distance from one another.
I loved the silence and greenery around the Indo-Portuguese museum. The museum stands as a proof of the strong Portuguese influence in India during earlier times. It has interesting architectural artifacts that mark the Portuguese traders’ influence in Kochi. Also it was kind of empty of visitors that day so the two young guides there gave us a detailed tour of the museum. When I asked them about the footfall in the museum, I was surprised to hear that they regularly get a ship full of visitors from European and middle east cruises, sometimes around 100 visitors in a day. Thanks to those eager guides, I got a load of information on Christianity.
This was the best hotel of our entire trip. It was situated in a very convenient location on the Bazaar road, in Jew town. The hotel was a museum treat in itself with the grand piano, regal car and old styled scooter displayed among many other things. I spent a lone hour sitting in their backyard sea-view restaurant, enjoying the salty breeze. It was 11pm, past dinner time, when I went to their deck to with a hot cup of tea for company. One of the waiters was nice enough to offer me candle light on my table for a heavenly midnight feel at deck. I strongly recommend this hotel if you are visiting Kochi. Excellent location, view and ambience, reasonably priced and comfortable stay.
Churches, Chinese Nets, Cafes & Corners of Fort Kochi
Next day was spent exploring all the C’s of Fort Kochi. There are some amazing art galleries cum cafes here. I enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets and catching some graffiti on the way. Fort Kochi seems to be a favourite destination for pre-wedding photography; caught so many couples in process of photo shoots. I didn’t capture them in my camera so as to respect their privacy. But it was amusing to see them giving bollywoodish poses and immortalizing their love in camera frames.
I visited the European styled St. Francis Church which has more of a historic significance. It was here that the body of Vasco Da Gama was originally buried, after he died in India. Later his remains were moved to Portugal. The other church named Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica built in Gothic styled architecture has an impressive arcade like all the Gothic buildings. The interior of the church is no less grand. The paintings and stained glass windows transport one to Europe. There was some major renovation work going on there at the time of my visit, so I couldn’t capture the majestic grandeur from inside.
We spent our evening leisurely at Chinese fishing nets. It took me half an hour to find a good spot and an extra Rs.50 to a fisherman who let me in on his Chinese net. I not only got good photography shots but also a leisurely hour to sit and enjoy the sunset right over the chinese net. It was so surreal and meditative to simply sit there, enjoy the sea breeze and watch the sun fall into the chinese net.
I was able to catch the sequential bits of sunset. These pictures are taken from my iPhone and not modulated or edited in any way at all. No filter has been used. I felt proud of my photography that day. Enjoy these pictures of the descent of fiery ball, how it gets stuck into the nets like a basketball, and splashes the skies with red hues, before drowning into the sea.
The last day of our trip was full of quick strolls amidst the streets of Fort Kochi one last time. Then we took an Ola cab to the airport. Since we had some extra time at hand, we asked our cab driver if he could take us to Adi Shankaracharya’s temple that is close to the airport.
Adi Shankaracharya in God’s Own Country
Thanks to my friend, Sonali who had suggested and made it possible to visit the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya an 8th century Indian philosopher and a proponent of Advaita Vedanta. A tower depicting the story of Adi Shankara and a small temple are located at Kalady, the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya. It is also known as Sri Adi Shankara Keerthi Sthamba Mandapam. This is just 7km (15 minutes) from Cochin International Airport, and can easily be visited while going or coming back from the airport. The tower and temple visit takes just a few minutes. The ashram facing the Periyar river is 1 km away from the temple. It’s a place where one might like to spend more time to imbibe the serene atmosphere.
How ironic is that my soul-searching trip ended with an unplanned visit to the abode of Adi Shankaracharya, whose life and writings have always inspired a wisp of an idealistic thinking and determination in me.
To culminate this blog post, let me share some personal pointers with you:
- Best time to visit Kerala – November to February
- Better place to stay between Fort Kochi and the city – Fort Kochi, of course. It is the hub of culture and history.
- Get an Ayurvedic massage
- Must watch Kathakali and Kalaripayattu
- Buy spices, tea, banana chips, yam chips, tapioca chips, south indian cotton and silk sarees
- Ola cabs are cheaper than the travel company cabs
- If you are a book lover, visit the small bookshop in Cochi airport- it has a superb collection
- Try authentic Kerala cuisine
- Take a sunset cruise on backwaters
I hope you enjoyed this virtual trip to Kochi and Alleppey. I would appreciate if you can drop a line or two about it.