Kerala, India: Making the most of Kochi

3rd June 2014

High on the list of my favourite places to visit in India, and a very popular tourist destination with those who visit Kerala, Kochi is a wonderful blend of tropical, south Indian atmospheres and European colonial heritage (ie. Portuguese, Dutch and British).

Being so rich in history and having lots to offer, there are quite a few sights to take in. But history ain’t the only thing – with the Kochi-Muziris biennale which launched in 2012, the city is developing an intriguing arty spin. As my friend Vijay puts itit may not be a Berlin or a London yet but it is getting there”.

So if you want to visit Kochi and make the most of it, why not spend a few more days there and give yourself enough time to make it justice?

Kochi Street Art. Photo by Caroline Lohrmann

You can find lists of Kochi attractions in guidebooks and websites all over the Internet, so instead of making another of those orderly list, I just asked a few people who’ve been to Kochi, including friends of mine and fellow #keralablogexpress bloggers, to tell me what was their favourite thing to do and what they enjoyed most, so you can get ideas and some useful tips on what to do after you’ve ticked off your sights list. I also added some of my own bits and pieces of advice.

Hire a rickshaw to show you around

Fellow #keralablogexpress participant Gaia spent a few more days in Kochi, before flying back to her home in Brazil, after the end of our blog trip. She’d seen all the main sights as part of our blog tour, so she hired a rickshaw driver to take her to some place new. Saneesh, her driver, took her to theDharmanath Jain temple and the old spice bazaar, which she enjoyed. She recommends hiring a rickshaw guy like she did – “It was good to speak with someone who lives in the city and knows its streets” she says.

Old spice bazaar in Kochi – Photo: Gaia Passarelli

Romana and I also hired a rickshaw driver on our first visit in 2010, and although the guy gave us a good personalised tour, he also tried to get us into shops where he’d get a commission on our purchases. But we told him we weren’t interested in visiting shops and buying stuff and he was alright with it. Finally I can second Gaia’s tip, and I can add that hiring a rickshaw driver is a good idea whether it’s your first day and you’re looking to get a good introductory tour, or you’re a few days into your stay and want to go beyond the main tourist attractions.

Buy Hindu and India related books

Gaia also recommends the Idiom Bookshop in fort Kochi. “The Idiom Bookshop – she says – has tons of India and Hindu related volumes. It’s a place to get lost and spend a few hours, if possible. There are two shops and the owner will send your books via snail mail if you don’t want to carry them along on your trip.” Location here and here.

Pick an authentic and comfortable hotel

When asked for a tip on where to stay, Gaia has no doubts: Brunton Boatyard. “I got to stay there after the tour ended and it’s a hell of a place, incredibly beautiful, set inside a restored old boat house. It lacks the high-end luxury of some of the resorts we’ve been staying [during our Kerala Blog Express Tour], but was the most authentic and comfortable hotel of all my Kerala trip.”

Get fat-burning ice cream and a pizza

Indonesian blogger Gio, also a fellow #keralablogexpress participant, says “You should try some homemade cardamom ice cream at the Taj Malabar hotel”. The Taj Malabar hotel hosted a part of our #keralablogexpress group (including me), so we were able to taste their ice cream and I can vouch for it – it is really good. Gio continues “Taj Malabar serves the best ice cream in town. It’s not only cardamom, they also have pepper, nutmeg, and ginger ice cream” But he adds that cardamom ice cream is special – “Mr. Gagandeep Singh himself [the sales manager at Taj Malabar] told us that cardamom ice cream is perfect for people who’s on a strict diet because it burns fat.” Now, I don’t know whether any type of ice cream can actually burn fat, but Mr. Singh is certainly an outstanding salesman!

In terms of dining options Gio recommends David Hall Art Gallery & Cafe where he had a gorgeous pizza – yes, he needed a break from spicy local food after our two week trip.

Chill out at Pepper House

Inma from Spain, also a fellow #keralablogexpress blogger, loved “chilling at Pepper House with a fresh mint lemonade and some good company. Apart from some nice and quietly played tunes, you can barely hear anything else”.

Chilling at Pepper House – Photo: Inma Gregorio

Soak up Kalvathi Road

Caroline, our only German #keralablogexpress travelmate, recommends walking through Kalvathi Road, where all the tea vans are unloaded. The smell is so good, she says, and you can watch local merchants and shopkeepers, sitting in their shops in front of their rice bags, looking at sheets and making calculations. She also enjoyed the colourful doors everywhere, the graffitis and the baby goats all around.

Goats and Street art in Kochi – Photo: Caroline Lohrmann

Hang out with the locals for toddy and home-made food

My reader Manu, a Keralite living in the UK, says “if you are a food connoisseur who wants to taste some authentic seafood delicacies in a local setting try out Mullapanthal. I think its the only toddy shop in Kerala where families feel comfortable to go.” He adds that all the masalas for curries are grinded on the spot and chefs at Mullapanthal adopt ancient cooking methods, which gives their food a true home-made feel.

Experience ‘Pure culinary indulgence’

More food tips come from Indian food blogger Roxanne, our Mumbai girl, who was also part of the #keralablogexpress crazy bunch. “If you’re looking for a luxury trip then go for the Taj Malabar hotel” – the hotel is on Willingdon island and affords great views on Fort Kochi. However, Roxanne says, even if you’re not staying at the Taj Malabar, you should try to get there for a meal at their fine dine restaurant ‘ The Rice Boat’, which is pure culinary indulgence – “It’s one of the best meals I had on the trip” she claims.

Roxanne goes on “I would also recommend a meal at Malabar Junction, the restaurant at Malabar House Hotel which is an adorable restaurant serving some great food. The menu is a mixture of cuisines, featuring local treats as well as continental fare, and if you do go there please do not miss their mango and chocolate filled samosas.”

Try a cup of ‘Serenitea’

Anita, another Indian blogger with whom we had the pleasure to travel during our recent #keralablogexpress trip, says “My little corner of serenity(/tea) in Fort Kochi is a cafe called TeaPot. I discovered it on my first trip there and have been going there ever since. It’s a quaint teashop, with kettles all over the place. And lots of tea memorabilia. and some of the tables are made from the wood from tea chests. And then there are dainty tea pots in one of the cupboards. I love sitting there, reading, watching life pass by or writing.”

Get a bicycle and eat Italian

My friend Shailey, from Delhi, visited Kochi a few years ago and enjoyed cycling her way through the various sights in Kochi. She rented a bike and went on her own, but here are two places to start if you want to take a cycling tour:

She also enjoyed Italian cuisine at Upstairs, a restaurant run by an Italian expat. That’s another option to keep in mind if you want to take a break from spices.

A bicycle in Kochi

Learn traditional Kerala cuisine

This tip comes from me – my friends know how much I love food, and how eager I am to try local cuisines wherever I go. I also am passionate about cooking and therefore visiting cookery instructors Nimmy and Paul in their home, and watching them cook traditional Kerala recipes was a real highlight of my last trip to Kochi. The good news is you can do that too – Nimmy and Paul offer various options, from cookery demonstrations to multi-day home stays. Foodies visiting Kochi mustn’t miss out on the ‘Nimmy and Paul experience’!

Cookery instructor Nimmy during a cookery demonstration in her home, in Kochi.

So, that’s all for now, folks. I hope you get enough ideas from this post when you visit Kochi.

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