Sometimes the unplanned moments make the best stories.
Jessica and I had not gone anywhere since our trip to Hampi in October. Both of us have a family trip planned in May, so we could not take any leave. Our only option was to go on a weekend trip to some place. We met the previous weekend and started searching for a places we could go on a weekend. Jessica found out about a trip planner called Plan the Unplanned. They had a weekend trip to Karwar (₹5000/- per person approx). It included travel from Bangalore to Karwar & back, Stay, veg food, boat & kayaking fee. So we booked it.
DAY 0 – 16 MARCH 2018
We had to leave on Friday. We did our packing and went to office early. At around 11am I got a message from Plan The Unplanned saying the trip had been cancelled due to less bookings. I immediately called Jessica and told her about this. We were already in the vacay mood. So we decided to go to Kochi. Jessica immediately booked the tickets to and from Kochi and a Hostel in Kochi.
I left from office early and went to Majestic metro station from where I got an auto to the bus stop. While I was on the way to the bus stop, it started raining heavily. By the time I reached the bus stop my luggage was totally drenched. Jessica was already waiting for me there. The bus to Kochi was a semi-sleeper bus (both of us prefer sleeper bus). We had booked it only because while booking one of the drop location option was Fort Kochi (where our Hostel was). But when we asked the conductor bhaiya about it, he said the drop location would be Vytilla which is approx 20 km from our Hostel. Basically it was bad start to our trip. Everything that we had planned had gone wrong. And we hoped that our stay would be better.
DAY 1 – 17 MARCH 2018
We reached Vytilla at 6am and booked an Uber to our Hostel. The name of our Hostel is Zostel. Zostel is India’s first and largest chain of backpackers’ hostels. The company was started with a vision to promote travelling as a way of life. We had read many good reviews of this Hostel so when we decided to go to Kochi we booked Zostel. One of my bucket list was to stay in travel hostel and it was finally checked off. We reached Zostel at 7am. The check in time was 12pm. So we sat in the shared lounge for a around 1 hour to relax as the semi sleeper seats were not comfortable.
While we were sitting in the lounge we met Aayushi Sharma and Jad Bennani. Aayushi is from Himachal and she works at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in Mumbai. She had come to Kochi for some presentations and decided to extend her trip. So she shifted to Zostel after her official trip was over. Jad is from Morocco. He has been travelling since June when his college got over and he started working at Tramigos.
The reception people told us we could use a washroom that was outside. We decided to get ready, have breakfast and head to the beach. We planned to be back after lunch and visit all the other tourist places. While we were getting ready, Aayushi asked us about our plan and she decided to come along with us to the beach. At around 10:30am we were allotted a room Pepper (here the rooms were named after spices). It consisted of 3 bunk beds and an attached bathroom. The room had lockers where we kept our luggage. The beds were still getting fixed and they said it would be ready by 12pm. We did not wait for the beds. Our roommates were not in the room that time.
By the time we left the hostel, it was already 11am. We walked to the ferry place and took the ferry to Vypin (ferry ticket was for ₹3/- each). From the ferry point we got into a bus to Cherai beach (ticket price ₹19/- each). All 3 of us were wearing shorts for the beach. And we soon realised that not many people wear shorts because people were staring at us in the bus. While on the bus, Aayushi sat next to a girl called Maria. She talked to Aayushi and asked her whether she could come along with us to the beach. So 4 of us got down at the Cherai bus stop and from there we took an auto to the beach (₹40/-). The road leading up to the beach had backwaters on either side and was beautiful.
Cherai beach is one of the best beached in Kochi. The 15 km long golden Beach is very clean. It is an ideal place to spend a laid back, peaceful holiday amidst enchanting surroundings. There are rocks at one end of the beach which reminded us of the rock beach in Pondicherry. We climbed down the rock to the sandy part of the beach. We clicked a lot of pictures. Groups of local boys and girls approached us and wanted to click Selfie with us. I guess it was because we were wearing shorts. I told one them that we were Indians and her reply was “Anglo-Indian?”. We tried to ignore them, and continued clicking pictures of our own. We later joked about the incident that Kochi made us feel like a celebrity. Maria then took us to Mango stall and we ate sour mangos and pineapples with spices. Maria told us that she was from Munnar and had come to Kochi to go to St Marys’ Church. It was her 18th birthday the next day. We were impressed how gutsy she was that she ditched her church plans to go to beach with some strangers she met on the bus. Her grandparents lived nearby, so she covered her face with her dupatta and avoided getting wet on the beach. She had to catch a bus back to Munnar so she left by 1pm.
We wanted to play and get wet in the sea, so we kept our bags at the Mango shop. The waves were little strong so we didn’t go too deep. We enjoyed the waves a lot. After around 1 hour in the water, we finally came out and tried to wash off extra sand. We then collected our bags and continued walking along the beach. We wanted to take a boat ride. We enquired about the price of various rides, and felt it was a bit costly. So we sat down near by and tried to convince them to lower the price. Instead of us convincing them, they convinced us take the costliest ride of them all. Catamaran sailing costed ₹500/- each. We paid the amount by card since we did not want to spend our cash. Catamaran sails under light to strong wind without any motoring power. We sat over a trampoline and sailed far from the shore. It was an exciting experience.
We finally left the beach at 3:30pm and went to nearby beach facing restaurant Baywatch Village. The waiter informed us that lunch was served only till 3pm. We were very hungry by then. We asked him to get anything that was remaining in the kitchen. After 15-20 min of convincing he finally agreed to take our orders. Rice was not there, chapati was the only option. Since Aayushi is vegan, she ordered Dal Fry (only veg option available). We ordered Prawn masala. After eating there, we finally returned back to get an auto back to the Ferry point. The auto bhaiya demanded ₹450/-. After asking a few auto and getting the same answer, we finally booked an Uber. We reached the ferry point at 6pm. We had planned to watch the kathakali show in the evening which starts at 6pm. We were already late for that. So when we reached the fort kochi side from the ferry, we decided to stay back and watch the sunset instead.
We went to Chinese Fish Net area of Fort Kochi beach and waited for the sunset. Chinese Fish Net is an ingenious fishing technique that allows one single fisherman to operate a 20-metres-wide fishing net by himself. The different net structures are at least 10 metres high and each one gets its net to a different level of deep to allow fishing different kinds of fishes. The system is a balance. On one side a wide open fishing net and on the other, big stones are hanging as counterweights. In order for the Chinese fishing net to sink into the water, the fisherman only needs to walk through the structure. His weight is enough to get the net submerged. The beach is very dirty but it is considered as one of the best sunset spot in Kochi. The Chinese fishing nets look pretty mundane and oversized laundry hanging on the poles in the day. But as the Sun starts to get ready to set, the sky changes colour and the Chinese fishing nets show their true colour. The view is mesmerising and it definitely proves that its worth the hype.
After the sunset we were so tired that we decided to take an auto for 900m or less. We sat in an auto and asked the driver bhaiya about Kathakali performance. His wife worked at on of these centres so he took us there and convinced us to get the tickets so that we would get the front row seats. The show was from 5pm to 7pm. We had our bus at 7pm. When we told them about it, they talked to the bus services in Malayalam and finally told us that they would pick us up at 7pm from here. So we could definitely see the show. The tickets were for ₹350/- each. We bought the tickets and went back to our hostel. When I opened my luggage all of my clothes were wet from the rain in Bangalore the previous night. I took out all of my clothes and hung it wherever I could in the room. Only 1 of my dress was not wet. I took a long bath getting rid of beach sand from my body. I wore my only dry dress. Then Jessica took a bath. She was faster than me since she had recently cut her hair short. When we got ready we met Aayushi in the lounge. Jad was also sitting in the lounge. So he also joined us for dinner.
We walked to Pizza Italia for dinner. Aayushi had been there the previous day so she took us there. It was a half open restaurant under some tree shade. It was decorated with fairy lights. Aayushi ordered Vegan pizza, Jad ordered Pizza Napoli, Jessica knew that I wanted sea food so she ordered a Kerala style fish masala and tiger prawn fry. The fish was very tasty. We were full and we couldn’t finish the prawns so we got it packed. When we went back we stayed at the lounge for some time talking and exchanging pictures. Then we went to our rooms to sleep. Our roommates were already asleep. I did not not switch on the light and tried to do everything with my phone light. My night wear was finally dry. After changing I went to bed. The bed had a charging point and a reading light. The bed and the comforter was very soft. It was exciting to sleep in a bunk bed even though I was sleeping in the lower bed. My childhood dream of sleeping in a bunk bed, like the shows in Disney channel, was finally realised. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep for a while.
DAY 2 – 18 MARCH 2018
I woke up at 7am by the sound of rain and sunlight on my face from the window. Everyone was asleep so I slept some more. I finally got ready by 10am and woke Jessica up. Both of us were ready by 11am. We met Aayushi & Jad at the lounge and went out for breakfast. We went to Passage Malabar for Brunch. It had few pastries on display too. Aayushi & I ordered Masala Dosa and Jessica & Jad ordered Lebanese platter. I also ate a chocolate pastry and Jessica ate Lemon Pie. When they gave us the bill, we were shocked by the price. They had applied 18% tax and the price of the food was already very high. Masala Dosa was for ₹300/- each. It was good but not worth ₹300/-. We talked to the manager and they did not agree to reduce the price. We didn’t argue much and paid the bill since we were already very late for our city tour.
Our first stop was Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace). A former residence of the Maharaja of Kochi, Mattancherry Palace, is now a small but interesting museum. Mattancherry was presented as a goodwill gift from the Portuguese in 1555 to the Raja of Kochi, probably to sweeten up trading privileges. It is also known as the Dutch Palace after it was renovated by the Dutch in 1663. The wooden palace is simple in design but stands out thanks to its spartan rooms overlooking green surroundings, royal artefacts on display and the exquisite murals depicting scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has beautiful wood-carved designs on the ceilings. The palace also houses many old portraits of the royal family, giving the visitor a glimpse of the life in the ‘good old days’, including the fashionable hairstyles. It’s indeed humbling to learn that the royals of Kochi lived a simple, austere life sans any ostentatious display of wealth and frills associated with royal lifestyle. The beauty of this palace lies in its simplicity, quite unlike the other grand palaces across India. Photography was not allowed inside the Palace, so I just clicked the picture of the wooden ceiling at the entrance.
Next we went to Antique Museum in Jew Town. Though this museum is small in size, it is loaded with wonderful specimens of things from 18th century. The entrance is free and it also has a shopping located inside. I clicked a few pictures here and walked to Paradesi Synagogue. It was closed and the opening time was 3pm. So we decided to come back later.
We then went to Santa Cruz Basilica. It was built originally by the Portuguese and elevated to a Cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. It was spared by the Dutch conquerors who destroyed many Catholic buildings. Later the British demolished the structure and pt: João Gomes Ferreira commissioned a new building in 1887. Consecrated in 1905, Santa Cruz was proclaimed a Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1984. Santa Cruz Basilica is beautified with two lofty spires, greeting all even from a distance. Its exterior is white-washed and amazingly vivid while the interior is colored in pastel. The interior has antique architecture of medieval period that is overwhelming with its arches and an amazing altar. The stained glass windows and intricate wall carvings are other main attraction of the church that adds grandeur to its beauty. We clicked a few pictures here and Aayushi decided to go for a body massage. It was one of her things to do in Kerala Bucket List.
We proceeded to St Francis Church, originally built in 1503, is the oldest European church in India and has great historical significance as a mute witness to the European colonial struggle in the subcontinent. The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.
By then it was 3pm, so we went back to Paradesi Synagogue. It is a small but enchantingly beautiful over 400 year old Jewish synagogue in Fort Cochin features a small exhibition of paintings describing the role the Jews played in Cochin. Featuring an ornate gold pulpit, hand-painted Cantonese floor tiles and sparkling Belgian chandeliers and laps, the synagogue is a spectacle to behold. We were not allowed to click pictures inside.
Then we went back to our hostel. Our roommates were in the room, so we talked to them for a while. They were from the UK and they had been travelling for 3 months in India. They had visited Delhi, Agra, Rishikesh, Rajasthan, Mumbai and many more places. We packed our bags, clicked a few pictures in the room and wrote a message on lounge wall before leaving. We had to go for the 5pm cultural program. When we came out of the hostel, it started raining which reminded us of bangalore rain when we were leaving for Kochi. We somehow managed to get an auto.
We reached Greenix Village at 5:15pm. We kept our luggage in their office and rushed inside. We were seated in the 1st row since we had booked a day before. The evening had started with the makeup of a Kathakali dancer. Part of the make up the artist did himself and part was done by another person. At this point, people were moving around and even climbing the stage to click pictures of the artist.
The first show was Mohiniyattam. Before each performance they ran a short commentary about the dance. For Mohiniyattam they said it was a lot about mudras, and eye expressions. And the dancer could indeed speak with her eyes and face without ever uttering a word.
Next the dancer dressed like girl for Kathakali came to stage and demonstrated various mudras and facial expressions used in Kathakali. The dancer then called me on stage and made me sit on the stool and did some more mudras before sending me back to my seat. I was surprised that she called me. It was a new and exciting experience sitting on stage and watching “her” perform beside me.
Finally, the Kathakali dance was performed by the guy whom we saw getting make up done on stage and the “girl” who demonstrated the mudras. The story was explained in advance so it was easy to follow once the actual performance started. Basically a prince (the green faced man) was being seduced unsuccessfully by the demon (the lady) and then the prince killed the demon, once the demon revealed her true self. After the performance, we clicked pictures with the artists.
By that time, it was 7pm. So we called the bus agency to find out about our bus. They told us that they were sending an Uber to pick us up from the Greenix Village. Aayushi & Jad decided to watch another show that was about to start after our show. The came out to buy tickets and we clicked pictures with them before bidding goodbye. We waited for a few minutes near the reception before the cab picked us up. On the way, they also picked up a Swedish couple who were going to Bangalore too. They had been travelling in South India for a month. After Bangalore, they were planning to go to North India. They were interested in culture and food, so we suggested them a few places to visit and foods to try in North India. When we finally settled down in our seats in the bus, we ate our prawns that we had packed the previous night.
We met so many wonderful people on this trip and also checked off a few things off my bucket list. This trip made me realise that even though I prefer planning the trips, I can enjoy spontaneous ones too!