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The Non-Touristy Things to do in Kochi
#Kochi, or Cochin, is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state. A port since 1341, it has become known as the 'Queen of the Arabian Sea' and as an important spice trading centre on the west coast of India from the 14th century. It is the perfect place to discover some of #India's rich #cultural heritage, amazing art and tangy #foodanddrink.
“What is Kochi famous for other than the spices and the Chinese fishing nets?” I asked. The man in the spice shop thought for a while and said, “Kochi – It is famous for being the way it is.” That’s where our expedition to discover this town and the tales it had to offer began. And all the things to do in Kochi, but beyond what met the eyes.
Kochi (or Cochin as the locals prefer) has captivated the imagination of travellers and explorers for over 2 millennia. Vasco Da Gama from Portugal, Niccolo Da Conti from Italy, Ma Huan from China, Zechariah Dhahiri from Yemen are some explorers who not only visited Kochi but have also written about it.
History makes it evident that explorers were fascinated with Kochi because it was a hub for spice trade. But if one looks beyond the history and culture, they see a contrast. Walk around and you will know what we mean. This place is what the universe would have looked like when it was made. People from every religion and faith have been dwelling in this town in perfect harmony.
As a traveller when you set-out to explore, you can get immersed in the narrow alleys of Fort Kochi with walls adorned with vivid street art. And though the name endures it, the Fort exists no more. Of course your list of things to do in Kochi is incomplete without the Synagogue, the Chinese fishing nets, the majestic Cathedrals and Churches, etc. But this place is a myriad of cultures which lends a traveller with innumerable places to explore.
But this place is a myriad of cultures which lends a traveller with innumerable places to explore
Speaking of that, the fish market of Kochi is one such destination. It is not just any fish market – it is a market where fish is auctioned. Just by the sea-shore, donning a hat to keep from the bright sun-rays, the auctioneer is constantly at work. Though chaotic in the beginning, you will see economy working at a micro level only when you look closely. Hang around to witness the fluctuation in the price of the fish in a jiffy – the reason being demand of fish in the international market. All this and more – but without any gadgets or screens to relay news from different parts of the world.
If not to understand how the economy runs, this place will charm you with the array of colourful boats. Docked up against the green of the palm trees, the boats add to the charm creating one of the beautiful vantage points for the photography obsessed.
Things to do in Kochi can get better with a ride into the countryside. Take a small canoe. And you will reach a quaint hamlet surrounded by paddy fields also acting up as a fish farm after the harvest season.
Kerala – there is no dearth of water there. And when there is water on all sides, men made equipments called boats to cross over. Here, you can see the artists at work building canoes in the traditional way.
If there is an active Synagogue in Kochi, it definitely must have a Jewish connection. Jews had established excellent trade relationship with Kochi. Legend has it that the first Jews arrived in Kochi during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD and they were warmly received. The neighbourhood in which the Synagogue is presently located is known as the Jew town. And believe it or not, the Synagogue shares a wall with the Palace of the erstwhile King of Kochi.
Talking of the Palace – no it is neither majestic nor grand and the architecture has nothing special. It strikes as odd, isn’t it? Then you may ask why should the Palace be one of the things to do in Kochi? The answer is the Kerala Mural Paintings on the walls of the Palace. And only one word can describe the Murals – stunning!
And only one word can describe the Murals – stunning
You need to see it to believe it.
You cannot come to Kerala and not get a whiff of the spice in the air. The world knows how the humble pepper has transformed the fate of the human race. By a freak incident of nature Kochi turned out to be a natural port and harbour. And this transformed Kochi into the spice capital of the world for almost 6 centuries. The harbour of Kochi was lined with the warehouses holding precious spices. Walking through these streets one can get a glimpse of a bygone era. The streets are now lined with small retail outlets selling spices. Some of the old warehouses have been turned into cosy restaurants and cafes dishing out local delicacies and international flavours.
As the sun goes down, be mesmerized by the sunset on the Arabian Sea. The rows of Chinese fishing nets lend a perfect balance and contrast to the golden hues cast by the setting sun. Go up close and watch the fishermen operate the nets. If they are in a jolly mood you might just hear them sing one of their folk songs as they haul their catch.
As the streets light up, walk up to Mattancherry. It is not just to tick an activity on your list of things to do in Kochi. There is much more to this place. You can see devotees buying garlands of flowers to offer at a nearby temple. And if luck is on your side, the walls of temple will be lit up with hundreds of oil lamps. A peep into the adjoining streets will help you get a glimpse into the life of the locals. You can see families making pappadams/ papads (rice crisps) for more than four generations now.
And chomp said the men!
Coconut, banana, tapioca, fish and beef – what more does one need for a sumptuous meal? A must-try is the Kerala Sadhya (the traditional Kerala meals) – you will definitely have your finger licking after the food. Any trip to Kochi is incomplete without chips made of bananas, jackfruit and tapioca. And one of the must things to do in Kochi is biting into a tasty Pazham Pori (Banana Fritters).
Any trip to Kochi is incomplete without chips made of bananas, jackfruit and tapioca
The local bakery which churns out these delicacies is an experience. They fry the chips in large quantities every single day, and everything gets sold out by the evenings.
After all of this, if you are feeling tired, head for an authentic Ayurvedic massage. But Ayurveda is more than just a massage and Kerala is the abode of this ancient science of healing. Kochi is home to many traditional Ayurveda practitioners who have been practicing for generations. Step into any of the establishments to learn about the ingredients used for healing.
Ayurveda is more than just a massage and Kerala is the abode of this ancient science of healing
You will be surprised to notice that these ingredients are all barks, flowers, seeds, roots and leaves of plants and trees that you come across in your daily life. Of course, you will also come across some exotic ingredients which might just surprise you. It is indeed one of the unique features of India that modernity and rural life are juxtaposed and coexists. And this feature can be experienced in Kochi.
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Kochi has seen travellers from across the globe for thousands of years and hence, has adapted itself to make travellers feel at home. If it was not for that one sentence about Kochi from the man at the spice shop, we would have never explored it beyond what was being told.
And once we discovered what we did, we took a few friends along. Anna from Global Gallivanting also came along and here is what she has to say about Kochi.
If you are travelling to India for the first time, then what better place to start your incredible journey than from Kochi- the Queen of the Arabian Sea! And if you want to explore, meet the locals and make new friends along the way, then join the wolfpack at GoMowgli. We would love to explore along with you. And what we love more are the conversations and the fascinating tales that we share with each other during the journey. So come onboard! We are waiting.