The train from Goa was three hours late. We waited in the dark on the platform at Madgaon station, chatting to locals and other travellers and drinking chai. It was lovely and three hours flew by. The train turned up at 10pm and there was a mad rush to get on. I guess it doesn’t stop long when it’s running late. We fought our way to our bunks, and then came the usual hassle of making beds and stowing luggage when the trains inhabitants are already in bed and have taken up all the room for their own luggage. We had booked a 3AC carriage, the top beds of the three tier bunks, with one bed in the corridor. Sam slept in the corridor, which was just at the end of mine and Dez’s feet, but we still didn’t get much sleep. We needn’t have worried. Sam slept like a log as usual and whenever his sheet fell off, someone passing would put it back on him. We love train travel and the twelve hour journey was relaxing. The boys read or listened to audiobooks. We took the chai sellers up on their offers of “chai – garam – chai”. We bought snacks from platforms whenever we stopped. Vadas, idlis, and spicy sambar. And before we knew it, we were in Kerala.
Fort Kochi (or Fort Cochin) is a funny little place set on a peninsula, next to a massive modern city with a huge Navy base. It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbour and opened it up to spice merchants. It was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, before India took it back in 1947, and there are many, many different religions here, including Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Jews, and Sikhs. It is busy with locals going about their business. The bus terminal sprawls across a street. Queues of motorbikes wait impatiently for the tiny ferry to the nearby Vypeen island, and then pile on before it has even docked. Fish sellers sit behind wooden roadside stalls. School children play football in the numerous parks and open spaces. Massive, sprawling three hundred year old trees, apparently planted by the Portuguese, line the roads. There are churches, synagogues and mosques. Spice shops fill the air with fantastic scents. But it’s not busy really. Most of the streets are empty other than the odd tul-tuk driver chatting to his tuk-tuk driver friends.
We spent two days here. I’m not sure there is much to keep anyone here for much longer than that. We wandered round the town on the first day, looking at old churches and the famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, but it was really hot and humid and we all struggled with the heat. There are few restaurants so we used the guide book to find food. Dal Roti is a curry house run by a chatty local chap. Excellent food and excellent service, and we all ate for less than £8. The Teapot is a cafe, decorated with teapots and tea chests and tea memorabilia. Excellent tea, fantastic cake and a lovely Indian breakfast. On the second day we took a tuk-tuk driver up on his offer of free air-conditioning while showing us around the sights of the town. We have used tuk-tuks before to cool the boys down. It was a fiver well spent. Several hours later we were drinking more tea at the Teapot having seen all the major sights.
The highlight of our visit was probably Leelu’s cooking course. Dez and I had done a cooking course in Thailand in the past and it was fab. I still use the recipes at home. But this wasn’t so much a course as a demonstration, with the lovely Leelu sitting us down in her kitchen with a piece of paper and a pencil each and showing us how to cook several curries. The only hands-on part was the chapati cooking and the boys were amazing at this. No more pre-packaged naan breads at home for us! Very entertaining evening though, with some lovely people and amazing food. We would definitely recommend it, despite not being quite what we had expected, and we’ll try more cooking classes with the boys in future I think.
What surprised us most about Kochi was the lack of hassle, compared to the northern towns and cities in India. The local people went about their business without giving us a second glance. Weird! I tested this by wandering down a street with my camera around my neck and a guide book open in my hands. I would never do this in Northern India. If we needed to check something in a guide book, we would hide away down a side street. I had taken to using my phone as a camera in cities because it’s less conspicuous than my big camera. But nobody stopped here. Tuk-tuk drivers appeared to charge us local rates. Shop keepers didn’t shout at us. Lovely. But weird. Perhaps all of southern india is like this? Dunno yet! So, Fort Kochi, a bit weird but worth a visit.
Off on a local bus for local people to the hill station of Munnar next. Looking forward to slightly cooler temperatures…..