South India Road Trip Day 14-15: Chennai to Kochi and back via Pondy, Kumbakonam, Tanjavur, Karaikudi, Madurai, Periyar, Gavi, Vagamon, Kumarakom, Wayanad, Coorg, Mysore and Yelagiri.
Most Beautiful Dancer at Kerala Kathakali Center
After breakfast and check-out at 9:30 AM we drove to Fort Kochi and were there about 11:30 AM. We asked around and an auto driver suggested Arches Hotel, on the way two homestays were sold out and none of them provided kitchen (shared or otherwise). Arches usual list price is in the 5-6K range but offered a room for 3K. We nevertheless bargained as the Auto driver had mentioned a price of 2.5K. We were offered an upgrade but we settled and agreed at 5K for 2 nights on their standard room. It is a beautifully furnished and maintained property, air-conditioning, and full marble tiled including marble walls in the bath, of 5 star boutique quality. Breakfast the next two days was excellent, with lots of fruit, choice of eggs made to order, the most tasty masala dosa of the trip, excellent Indian and western breakfast choices (apart from those mentioned like pancakes) and so on. We had a great stay, the best hotel on our one month in South India and one month in Rajasthan, including places we paid 6K and above.
By 12:30 we were well established and refreshed and by 1:30 we headed out, first to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Good fish curry and rice which we shared. It was Rs.280/-, clean home-made style and good. Then we headed to the beach a few steps away and took photos at St Frances Church just short of the beach walk. We walked the sea front walkway, it is about 500 meters of sea front and a couple of little beaches on either side and in the middle. You get excellent roasted peanuts all across Kochi for Rs.10/- for a cone, a must-have hot off the coals at all times morning till evening. From the beach we walked to the Dutch Cemetery (which is closed but you can climb a wall and look in) and then one Kilometer away till the ‘Marine (Navy) Museum’. It was hot and we took refuge in the Museum, an interesting museum and then they showed us a film on the history of the Indian Navy (from the British times). It was 5 PM when we finished and now pleasant weather, so we walked back to the beach, had ice cream and more peanuts and sat on a bench and enjoyed the sunset and travelers and visitors walking by and children playing. I got a tea @Rs.10/- and another, and more peanuts… greedy.
Afterwards we saw the many fish stalls selling fish by the beach in the evening and restaurant reps offering to cook and serve the fish @Rs.150/- per Kg. We also watched fish catch-of-the-day being auctioned and boat loads of fish being brought in boats, sold and carried away on tempos a bit further down. Finally we headed back to Arches for a bit of a freshen-up and then headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Restaurants in this most (foreign) touristy part of Fort Kochi sell a standard fare of tomato paste fish with little or no local flavors or spices, customized to the western palate (taste) and no good for us. The restaurant took more than an hour to serve the bland food but still clean fish curry and rice and not really objectionable. Cost was about Rs.680/- for two fish curries, rice and a nimbu (lemon) soda, not quite worth it. Returned home late and crashed.
Day 15: Fort Kochi
Fort Kochi Cultural Center, Kerala Cultural Center, Greenix Village Theatre, Kerala Kathakali Center, Most Beautiful Dancer
Got up leisurely and had breakfast at 9:30, excellent breakfast at Arches, highly recommend it. It was hot in Kochi so decided to take out the car for local sightseeing, not attempting to walk like the previous afternoon. Headed out at about 10:30. First stop was Dutch Palace about 15 minutes away in Mattancherry area of Fort Kochi. It is one of the top attractions in Kochi. Of note, the two temples on the palace ground are open 7-8 AM (and 7-8 PM) for early risers, but the Place opens 9:45 AM till 4:45 PM with a lunch break from 1-2 PM.
Leaving our car parked at the Palace we walked to the nearby Paradesi (Jewish) Synagogue and the numerous antique shops in Mattancherry. We also saw a new hotel opening, the fantastic ‘Ginger Museum Hotel’, it has an Art Gallery with a full size catamaran (long boat) right thru the middle maybe 50 feet. Each suite of the hotel is filled with fantastic furniture collected by the owner including the roof with mirrors and carved wood (like the ‘Sheesh Mahal and Hawa Mahal rolled into one’ from Rajasthan). We took photos.
It was 1 PM when we finished from the Synagogue and found ourselves outside the ferry station. On impulse we went aboard the ferry and were off to Ernakulum, via Vypin Island. It is a 40 minute boat ride across the bay to Vypin Island, then across and back to Fort Kochi and finally to Ernakulum. Cost is Rs.7/- per head! When we got off at Ernakulum we spotted Federal Bank, took an auto to it Rs.20/- as it was hot. After the bank was sorted we had lunch nearby, went to Sea Lord Hotel instead of the recommended (by the bank guard) Sea Shell Restaurant and as a result got an expensive but disappointing meal, still in air-conditioned comfort. When we exited we saw the crowd at Sea Shell…
The spice market is behind the main road, so we visited a few spice shops. Then took an auto back to the ferry station. The lady at the Tourist Info Booth at the ferry terminal told us that there was a festival starting this evening till 08Feb. Lots of elephants from 5-10 PM daily. We planned to return, collect our car, secure it at the hotel and then return by another ferry, but that was a tall order. Anyways we got the 3:15 ferry back, collected our car about 4:30 and drove to the Cathedral St. Cruz, elevated to Basilica. It is a wonderful building.
From the Basilica at about 5:15 we headed to the Fort Kochi Cultural Center (called Kerala Cultural Center) got tickets at 5:45 PM for a 6 PM performance at the Greenix Village Theatre which is nearby. The guy rushed us outside flagged an auto, paid him Rs.20, and sent us on our way to the theatre so we do not miss the performance. We made it on time, though missed the 5-6 PM dress up show where the Kathakali Dancer is painted, face painted and prepared. From 6-7 PM is the Kathakali performance followed by 7-8 PM Mohiniyattam and Kutchipudi by the same dancer and then the martial arts performance of Kalarippayatu. I loved the Mohiniyattam and Kutchipudi the most as the dancer was really good and a beauty. I managed to take a video of the Mohiniyattam, though the Kutchipudi was better. The martial arts and Kathakali were the first time for me and very interesting. We could see the difference between the professionals and amateurs (at Periyar House). It was a wonderful evening, if in Fort Kochi this cannot be missed. Later after a wash-up at home we walked to dinner at a small unassuming corner cafeteria where we got our best meal of Kochi, a fish curry once again. Later we returned to the hotel and crashed. It had been a hectic day of sightseeing in Kochi and yet a lot more to see and do, something for next time. The dance performance was the highlight by far.