Solo in India: Christmas in Kochi, Kerala
I’m a big fan of Christmas. I love the family traditions: Making mince pies a few weeks in advance, decorating the tree to the sound of a scratchy old Perry Como record, watching A Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and having a big roast dinner on the day. 2012 was the first year I would be away from my family for the holidays and so I wanted to find a homely place to station myself. I chose Kochi in Kerala.
I spent the Christmas week at a hostel in Fort Kochi. Hostels aren’t the easiest of accommodation to find in India; Guesthouses are far more prevalent, which is odd considering how many backpackers travel the sub-continent. I know there are people who prefer to have their own private room but I personally favour dorm rooms as it makes it easier to meet others, and I’ve met many travellers who feel the same. I was lucky enough to discover the very new Vedanta Wake Up! chain of hostels in Kerala and stayed at both their Kochi and Varkala spots. The one in Kochi is in a fantastic location and the staff made me feel at home from the minute I arrived. I think I must have had free cake every day I was there, which makes it a winner in my eyes! The social atmosphere in the place was just what I needed to get me through the holiday-induced homesickness. It also turned out that Kochi had a lot to offer for my short stay there.
The Chinese fishing nets are a popular attraction in Fort Kochi. I had a walk past them on my first afternoon there and they were interesting to see but nothing spectacular. I was more impressed by all the fish stalls and shacks (so called “restaurants”) set up next to them. Step 1: Visit a stall, pick a fish and buy it. Step 2: Take it to one of the shacks and have it cooked as you like. The sea here smells pretty awful though so I didn’t risk eating anything that came out of it.
The best time to see the nets is first thing in the morning. If you wake up early enough (or if you’re up to go on a day trip only to find your transport never materialises…) you can witness the fishermen working them. It looks like a lot of hard work for a handful of fish!
Whether you do your research using a guidebook, website or just by talking to the locals, you will be told the same thing: You cannot come to Kerala without taking a trip on the backwaters. Some will advise you to hire a boat for a few nights but to be perfectly honest, a day is more than enough. The scenery is beautiful and gliding along the canals is a pleasant way to pass the time but be sure to take a book. Otherwise it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on your beauty sleep…
I spent a few hours one evening at the Cochin Cultural Centre to watch a Kathakali show. I’m not even sure how to describe this dance form to you but what I will say is that the make-up is an art form in itself, and also I never knew it was possible to move your face muscles in the way these performers do. It was certainly worth seeing but I’m not sure I could sit through more than an hour of it at any one time. Take a look at this video for a better idea of what Kathakali is. I bet these people never get wrinkles.
My favourite thing about Fort Kochi was the art. My stay there coincided with India’s first Biennale and so there were mini exhibitions and street art all over the place. I spent Christmas day wandering around the main exhibition; I’m not usually one for modern art but I was actually quite moved by some of the pieces I saw.
Want to take a guess at how much that biriyani meal cost me? … Forty rupees. That’s about €0.60 or $0.75. Gutted that I only found this place (New Ananda Bhavan, River Road, Fort Kochi) the day before I left! They even give the foreigners a spoon to eat with.
I guess this one’s just for the girls. We somehow got roped into ‘visiting’ a shop during a tuk-tuk tour of Kochi so decided to make the most of it by trying on a few saris and drinking as much free tea as we liked. Lovely!
Overall Fort Kochi turned out to be one of my favourite spots in South India and I wish I had stayed there for more than five days. The only thing I would have changed about my stay was the Veg Pulao I had for Christmas lunch. I would have killed for a roast dinner!