“Hey guys, do you have rolling papers?” Pablo asks while we are waiting for the train to Kochi in Mangalore. Pablo is german, but a good example of the European integration project, with a french dad and a half italian mom. He is 22 years old, blond, tall, and he is travelling with no end in sight. The train arrives, and Pablo doesn’t even find his cart, but stays with us in our 3AC cart for the 6 hours it takes to reach Ernakullam, the gateway to Kochi. Pablo is going to Kochi for an art fetsival called Binale. We later meet more people who went to Kochi for the same reason.
Pablo speaks hindi and spent his first months in India during this travel teaching English to orphans or children that for some reason cannot be with their families. So he wants to become a teacher in the future, which resonates well with me, since the teacher gene runs deep in my family.
In Kochi Pablo has a couchsurfing host who lives close to the train station where we get off. Me and August takes a rickshaw to the boat jeti, the ferry that takes you from Ernakullam to Fort Kochi, which was a stronghold for Portugese trade back in the days. In the Goa post I wrote about the Latin quarter in Panjim; all of Fort Kochi is like the latin quarter was in Panjim. It has a very European vibe with churches and these medeteranian-like buildings.
The ferry takes about 20 min and we start walking towards our hostel. We stay in a place called Seashore residency on a cute portugese street with expensive cafés lining the way. When we enter the place the guy at the counter, Zulfiq (who later becomes our friend) shows us a room with a basement vibe. The first thing I see after the double bed is a huge spider running into the corner next to the bathroom door. It is a slender spider, but it coves the whole corner! I yell “Don’t kill it, don’t kill it!” to Zulfiq who is going after the spider, so it escapes and runs under the bed. Zulfiq raises his hands and his sholders in a “there is nothing I can do” way and we stand there in silence for a few seconds until we go and check in. After check in August says he is not going back into that room. Zulfiq shows us another room one story up which is way nicer. It has windows but lacks a bathroom, but the shared facilities are clean and well lit. So August sends me in to get our bags, because he was serious about not going back into that room. The spider, with legs and all, were as big as my hand, stretched out, so I have some understanding for why he reacted like this 😛
In all honesty, the best thing about or hostel was Zulfiq, because our fan was old and loud, we had cocroaches and a carpet that covered the whole floor. It smelled strange and could have been alot cleaner… The small terrace looked sketchy, but was fine to chill on. We paid 400 in total for our room which is very cheap for Kochi, so we got what we paid for!
This first day in Kochi we did nothing.
The Kerala government has decided that rickshaw drivers will get coupons for petrol if they bring tourists to some government approved shops. These shops sell handicrafts, spices and clothes from all over India. I think that these government approved shops somehow are supposed to preserve local crafts, and support the families who are making these carfts… In what way exactly, I don’t know… But if you buy something big in one of these shops, like a statue of an elephant or something too big to carry in your luggage, the government will sponsor the shipment of this product to your home, where ever in the world it may be… If you go to one of these shops with a Rickshaw driver, you will most likely get the ride for free, because they get more out of getting you to a Gov. Shop than actually bringing you from one place to another. And you don’t have to buy anything. They get their coupons regardless.
So the next day we go looking in five of these shops as a favour to a rickshaw-driver we like, because if you do this, you can ride for free. This system is really stupid, and the weird part is that most of these shops are run by people from Rajistan or Kashmir, they are not even from Kerala. The stuff they sell is also produced elsewhere. But they are expert salesmen, and they give you tea when you enter and top grade service, answer all your questions – in fact, all of what we know about the Government approved shops, we learned from the shop keepers.
Kerala is the spice-state of the world, They export spices to everywhere, which was one of the reasons why the state was favored by the portugese and later the dutch, and finally the british. So we get some spices for friends in three of the five shops he takes us to until he finally drops us at the Boat Jeti station, where we are to meet Pablo. The shopping took such a long time we didn’t do any of the sightseeing we were promised when jumping into the rickshaw.
Pablo arrives with one irish guy named Kyle, and one Indian named Shaunak, or Shaun. Pablo had met Kyle on Paradise Beach a couple of days before, and now met rendomly in the que to get ferry tickets.
We go to a café right next to the ferry station. We sit there for hours. They serve good, strong coffee and overpriced raw food meals and kambucha, so you get the picture of what kind of a place it was.
This first whole day in Kochi we mostly just walk around, after we dropped Kyle and Shaun at their hostel we make our way to “Jew Town”. Some years ago this part of Kochi was home to a jewish population and at the end of one street there is a synagogue. Now there are only five jews left in Jew town and the synagogue is a tourist attraction. The street leading up to the synagogue is filled with people selling kashmeri shawls and people selling spices and incense and antiquities. Pablo is very social and very interested in everything it seems, so we go to one of these incense stores and they show us how they make incense sticks. Me and August buy 50 incense sticks, so now we are good for a while 😛
One thing I find very interesting about Kochi and Kerala as a whole, is that they have a communist government. We walked past a place that looked like this:
I asked my friends Joel and Jogita ( you might know them from the Mumbai post ), about it, and first of all, after independence, Kerala was managed as a democratic socialist welfare economy. Since the 90s they have allowed more capitalism in the state, but its still parliamentary Marxist, not revolutionary Marxist, as Jogita explained to me. They have been doing some land reforms but not all private property has been abolished. They have ensured decentralised governance, and given power to local government. Peasant land struggle has been important in Kerala’s history, which originally formed the Marxist Party. The party made sure people became educated, some people then migrated abroad to work and sent money back home, which in turn made Kerala very rich. People in Kerala are generally more educated than the rest of India. From what I have seen, flags and drawings and signs and such, the communist party seems to be very popular. The flag with the hammer and the sickle fly high even in the most remote village.
Back to the story…
We walked north along the water on the east of Fort Kochi, and me and Pablo sees a cafe, sort of, that looks interestning, like “what’s this?” We put our heads inside and then with a “wooow” we just enter at the same time. There are so many beautiful places along whis walk and on Fort Kochi, I don’t know if it is just for Binale or if it always is like this, but it was great at the time when we were there.
That evening, after we leave Pablo at the boat jeti, we went to a decently priced restaurant called Talk of the Town. It was great!
Next day we went to a place for yoga early in the morning. The studio was in the yoga mans home, a very nice home, seeing this man I would never have guessed that he was a wealthy man. All other places for yoga we found in Kochi charged 400-500 rupees for an hour of yoga, but this guy only took donations. He helped me touch my head with my toes – going backwards – and he helped August touch his toes going forward, which is a great improvement for both of us.
After that me and August went to more shops with Zulfiq, as a favour to him, and met up with Pablo at the same café as we went to the day before. At this time, the art festival Binale was happening in Kochi. Binale is like a travelling festival, last year it was in Barcelona. Its huge and very popular in those circles as I understood it. Like I said earlier, Binale is the reason why Pablo went to Kochi at all, so we spent the whole day at Aspinwall, which is an up and coming art center. Me and August liked it a lot, there were a lot of political art, or installations related to feminism, political oppression, and environmental issues, but Kyle, who is a professional painter, said that there wasn’t much art. In retrospect I see what he meant 😛
But still, everything is very political right now, it’s all boiling with #metoo, and Greta Thunberg and the environmentalists, and human rights and dictatorships and war hanging in the air, I think its fair that the art should represent the struggles of today. As I said, I enjoyed it greatly, and I hope it made more people than me think about the current state of the world.
That evening we had dinner with Kyle and Shaun with a few beers and they told us about their plans after Kochi. They were going to a place called Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, and we kept this with us in our minds, as we moved on from Kochi the very next day.
During our stay in Kochi, both me and August and Pablo were feeling that we had to get out of the city. Its a nice city, architecture is nice, vibe is nice but it is so polluted. The water in the bay stinks and the shore is covered in plastic. As far as Indian cities goes, it’s nice, but cities are not for us. The only thing you can do in cities is to spend money. So after only three days in Kochi, we jump on a government bus to go to Munnar, which is maybe six hours drive, into the country, up in the mountains. It cost us 212 rupees in total for me and August 😉
Munnar is a village up in the mountains close to the Tamil border. We had expectations based on a mix of what we’ve read and what we’ve heard, and none of our expectations matched the reality. The road up to Munnar is very beautiful, with a magnificent mountain view and waterfalls and rainforest… BUT its VERY commercialized with huge resorts lining the way on the other side of the road. The new upper middle class in India loves their luxury, as well as the other tourists that come there during their two week vacation..
Munnar has a lot of tea plantations, ALOT of tea plantations, and they are all owned by one company, TATA. They makes cars aswell, and own most of the soft drinks that doesn’t belong to Coke or pepsi. They basically own and in Munnar there are whole villages where everyone works with the tea plantations. (Kyle told us at a later time that he visited a TATA beverage limited in Munnar, imagine if Pepsi would have hospitals!)
We found a cheap room for the three of us, 250 rupees per person in a guesthouse up in Old Munnar, which is the “real” Munnar, like the actual village. Second day we rented scooters to go around the area. Scooter prices are arond 4-500 per day, and petrol is some 10 rupees more expensive because of where Munnas is located geographically.
We headed for a place called Anakullam, which is a really small village down in a valley, and it’s famous for wild elephants that come after dark. We drove on a terrible road there, most of it felt like off-road, through the tea plantations, which was very beautiful. But the highlight was when we went out of the plantations into the rainforest. Waterfalls, huge trees and the mountains, the fresh air… it was amazing.
At the end of the road in Anakullam we found a small waterfall with a little pond where we swam and ate fresh pineapple and coconut. It felt great so swim in clean water, where we could follow the path of the water from the top of the mountain to our little sanctuary, away from heavy traffic and careless tourists.
We left before dark, so we didn’t see the elephants, but we met a ranger on the way which told us about the biodiversity of the place. He said that there are trees in the area which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. He said that the Arch of Noah was build out of trees from that region, how he know this I don’t know, but it’s what he said. He also said what we all where thinking; that this “development” is ruining these places. Some places will not benefit from roads, and when tourists and development come, they bring plastic pollution, traffic and illegal construction with them, ruining the beautiful nature.
The highlight of our trip in Munnar was this restaurant where we got seriously cheap food, a plate of Thali for like 60 rs. Thali is a dish where you get a few chapatis and a few different sauces and chutneys and if you want more of anything you get it for free. Very tasty and the service was excellent.
Next day we tried to enter a nature reserve called Mesapullimala, and we drove for an hour – a very scenic road – but then we reached a checkpoint for which you need a permit to cross. A few months ago there were a big fire and 30 people died inside the nature reserve, and after that they keep Meesapullimala only for organised tours. You have to get a jeep from Munnar and it will cost you about 4000 rupees…
Instead we went to the top station, which was a long drive and when we reached, all the plastic made us sad.It is a great ride to get there, but after a whole day on a scooter your body gets a little stiff. Munnar was kind of a flop for us, except for that restaurant.
So after three days we went to Kodaikanal, the place in Tamil Nadu where Kyle and Shaun went. We had to change bus two times, but apart from that the bus ride went fine and it all cost us maybe 130 rupees per person. First we changed bus in Theni, then Wattalakundo.
We arrived in Kodai on the 8th of February.
Short about the travel community
The people who travel in India tend to go to the same places, so it’s easy to see the same people time after time. The travellers here in India are very approachable and if, say, you arrive to a place in the middle of the night, the travellers will come together and work out a plan that suits everyone as if we already were friends before arriving. If someone has alot of luggage, we will carry it together. Like Pablo, he just kinda showed up and then stayed with us. It’s very easy to make friends with other travellers, you just need one thing in common and you are good to go! And this is a big part of why it is so fun to travel, because most of the people we have met wants to be our friends, and maybe it’s good practice for when we come home. They say it gets harder to make friends the older you get, but that doesn’t apply to travelling.
Lots of love
Linnea and August.