It’s been a decent amount of time since my short trip to Kerala, India, yet I remember each moment, each sweat bead, each flavor, and each sound so vividly. I could talk your ears off about it over coffee any day. However, I think the best way to show you my trip is through photos. The cacophony of colors and noises and smells in this complex country are summed up best with imagery.
KOCHI (Fort Kochi and Mattancherry)
Our first two days were spent wandering the streets of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry in the Keralan city of Kochi (or Cochin). As it was off-season, many shops were closed up and western tourist numbers were very low. We did have to work harder to find places to eat, but the quiet and relative peace, especially in a country known for chaotic city streets, was highly appreciated.
The Chinese fishing nets are probably the most well known thing about Fort Kochi and definitely were the highlight for me. Seeing them in action during the day is fascinating as they are complicated contraptions that require a handful of people to operate, but seeing their silhouette in the colorful Indian sunset was far more memorable. It’s an image I had burned in my head from travel blogs and guidebooks I read as I planned our trip, and it was a thrill to be able to see in person. I was, however, a little disappointed in the amount of trash there was strewn along the shoreline and all along the pathway. I mean I know it’s India and that kind of thing is commonplace here – even in Kerala – but that doesn’t make it any better.
In the nearby neighborhood of Mattancherry, the narrow streets are brightened by the chaos of the port and the movement in the markets. Between the spice market (not a ton to see in off-season but it is still interesting as it’s near the port and port shops), Jewtown (literally the old Jewish quarter), the historical museum, and the shopping, it’s definitely worth a walk around.
From Kochi, we transported ourselves away from the big city and landed far away amongst the palm trees and the water hyacinth of the Keralan backwaters.The backwaters – not too dissimilar from the Lousiana bayou or the Everglades – was one of the more unique places I’ve been in the world. It was interesting to see the laid back way of life that exists on such tiny portions of land, all surrounded in rice paddies and waterways. (In contrast to the tight chaos that is the rest of India) The plethora of palm and banana trees as well as the intense humidity (off-season weather is intense and palpable here just like it was in Sri Lanka) are a constant reminder that the backwaters are definitely in the tropics. The bright colors of women’s sari’s and hung laundry are a reminder that this is definitely India.
The most popular way to travel around the backwaters is to book a houseboat. The benefit of the houseboat is that you can sail around the canals to see lots of different areas instead of staying on land and only seeing one section. But the amount of houseboat traffic coupled with the pollution these boats undoubtedly drop into this already overtaxed ecosystem made us decide that a little eco-hotel would be a better fit for us. Sure, we may not cover as much ground, but we’d get to hike around nearby islands, take more intimate canoe trips in the smaller more narrow canals, and we’d feel just a little better about our carbon footprint. Our Lands was a perfect choice for us.
In the morning, we took a walk through the neighboring villages and rice paddies to get a sense for local life and the environment, as well as to get our bodies moving and earning our breakfast.
To make sure we were able to see more of the backwaters than only the immediate area around the resort, we opted to take the local ferry from a nearby village back to the hub town of Alleppey – the place where most houseboat operators and land transportation have travelers meet. Not only did this give us a slow and meandering tour of the backwater area, but it was the most colorful boat ride I’ve ever taken in my life – both due to our fellow riders as well as the scenery outside the boat.
Both of these Keralan destinations were easy to manage over just a few days and I’m glad to have experienced both. While this short trip only made my desire to explore India even stronger, I loved having the chance to experience both the chaos and color of the city as well as the natural. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to India but when I do, I’ll feel just a little more at ease thanks to a soft landing in God’s Own Country.