Friday, 11 November 2011

Fort Kochi

Expect this small village to be somewhere you explore, either by foot or on a motorbike, with many locals and few westerners. There are restaurants that rarely serve alcohol and no bars. This is because it is illegal for anyone to sell alcohol within 100 metres of a school or place of worship.

Clothing: Cover up

Shopping: Many stalls selling clothing, jewelry and usual tourist items

Once we arrived at Kochin we booked a pre-paid taxi from the airport to Fort Kochi and paid 760Rs plus 20Rs for the toll bridge. We researched Kerala online for about 5 minutes before we had to leave for the airport, during which we had both decided that Fort Kochi would be our first stop, but we had no idea what it would be like and only 'guess' picked it.

Following advice from the Lonely Planet we asked the taxi driver to take us to 'Hotel Mothertree' although when we arrived we found it was fully booked. The guy at the hotel said he would take us to another place to stay nearby, and kindly offered us a lift in his car. I was a bit apprehensive as we hadn't negotiated a price for the room but it was 10.00pm and everywhere was closed and almost deserted.

For lone female travellers i would probably not recommend getting into a random car with a stranger!

We arrived at a place called 'The Spencer Home' and we were shown to a room. We paid 800Rs (£10) per night (breakfast not included) and there was no room for negotiation on the price, trust me, i tried!

The room was spacious enough, with a mozzy net over the bed and clean sheets. The bathroom was basic with a cold shower and a western style toilet. Outside, each room had it's own table and chairs overlooking a small, yet neat garden area. I immediately felt relaxed and comfortable and looked forward to breakfast the following morning, which didn't disappoint.

The reception area was very large and extremely clean. It had a white stone polished floor that was kept immaculate. This was probably partly due to the shoes ban before entering the building.

For our first day we ventured to the river front where we watched the locals catch fish using these giant Chinese fishing nets.There were also various stalls, with many locals buying fish and spending time with their families/friends. We hired a moped in the afternoon and visited the 'Jewish Town' not too far away. We were, strangely enough, the only westerners on a bike, which of course attracted a few stares from the locals.

Chinese fishing nets

Ian helping out the locals with the fishing nets

If you're hiring a bike my advice would be to stash away your main money and leave a very small amount of cash as a bribe, just in case you're pulled over by the Police. This may sound absurd to most law abiding citizens but i have heard stories of tourists being asked to pay over large sums of money to the Police after being pulled over even if an offence has not been committed. This may not necessarily be the case in this area but we didn't want to run the risk of losing our money.

Snake charmer

For lunch we ate at a place called 'Teapot'. This was a clean and quirky little boutique cafe with a large selection of tea (hot or cold) and coffee, personally i would recommend the Masala Chai. The food was more expensive than our anticipated budget and the chicken sandwich was more like a chicken paste but its well worth visiting just for the variety of drinks on offer.

For dinner we ate at a restaurant called 'Dal Roti' which was about 20 yards away from where we were staying (turn left as you leave, left again at the first turning and its a few yards on your left hand side).
The traditional Indian food served here was very reasonably priced, good sized portions and absolutely delicious. The larger than life owner was warm, welcoming and with a good sense of humour.

After we'd cruised around most of the island we decided to head to 'Cherrai Beach' for some rest and relaxation, as we'd both woken at 2am and could not fall asleep again until 6am, due to jet lag.
We caught a boat across the river for 2Rs (5p) each and then boarded a bus for 13Rs (17p) each to take us the 25k to the beach. The bus was packed with many locals and we constantly got stared at and even laughed at by a group of teenage boys, although this came across in more of a friendly and intriguing way, rather than insulting.

We arrived after over an hour of travelling only to be very disappointed with the beach. It was popular with the locals, but the powder white sand and deserted beach we were promised was non existent, the water didn't look too inviting either. We decided to sit on the beach anyway but the local men stared and took pictures of us constantly, even though i wore my long high waisted trousers the whole time, too embarrassed to even risk wearing a bikini.

Our Cherrai Beach 'fan' club haha

Personally I wouldn't waste any time coming to 'Cherrai Beach' as I'm sure India has far more beautiful beaches to offer and ones where you will feel more at ease and relaxed. Although saying that, maybe i have been spoilt with the stunning beaches back home that Cornwall has to offer.



Current exchange rate 76Rs to the £1

Expect this city to be one of the busiest, craziest places you have ever been to, with no apparent traffic laws, dangerous drivers and car horns sounding every second.

We arrived in Mumbai, very jet-lagged at 10.00am local time. Before leaving the airport we paid 520Rs for a taxi via a pre-paid service that is located near the exit area of the airport. This is the best way to ensure that you don't get ripped off. The only extra money we had to pay was a gesture of 10Rs because our main bags were carried for us (we didn't ask them to!) by locals, to our taxi. I knew that they would want money for this but as we were tired and didn't have the energy to politely decline we felt that we had no choice but to accept.

Insist on carrying your own bags, do not allow for anyone to carry your hand luggage and stay close to the person with your main bag.
Do not pay any more then 10Rs for this so called 'service'. Most of the time they want to be paid in Sterling or USD so the very small amount of Rupee we donated probably wasn't anywhere near what they wanted or have been given previously.

The hotel we stayed at was called 'Chateau Windsor' which is located on Marine Drive. We paid about 5,500Rs (£75) for a deluxe room with breakfast included. This was extortionate for our budget but as we left it until the last minute to book somewhere we found that all the decent budget rooms were already fully booked. I would advise booking 1 month in advance, but still expect to pay higher than average prices for rooms that may not be up to your expected standard of living.

Although the hotel looked very rundown from the outside, the room was huge, with a modern bathroom, very large bed and clean sheets, small balcony area and a flat screen TV. Most of the channels were in Indian of course and i would say that a TV is definitely not necessary.  For breakfast i had two perfectly made poached eggs on toast, a tasty cup of tea and a banana. All of which were enjoyed on the roof top space of our hotel.

For female travellers you will need to cover up, unless you want every male in Mumbai staring at you in a not so discreet way. I made the error of wearing shorts when we first ventured outside and actually felt violated, my mistake i know. I think the only reason i didn't get stopped or spoken to was because i had my 'muscular' (haha) boyfriend tightly gripping my hand.

We wanted to travel on the overnight train from Mumbai to Goa, and tried booking this on the day we arrived but after having difficulties withdrawing cash and feeling out of our comfort zone we decided to organise it for the following day.

After a good nights sleep we headed to the reservation office to book our train tickets. This was located directly opposite the train station, into an unexpected alley, leading to a dodgy building (that looked like it was derelict) with pigeons flapping around overhead and locals loitering.

We were informed that the overnight train service does not run on a Saturday or Sunday. As we didn't want to wait until 11pm the following Monday to leave, we decided that our best bet would be to book a flight directly to Kerala  (Kochin) then make our way North via buses, and finally catch the much anticipated overnight train from Goa to Mumbai.

We paid 6000Rs (£80) each for our flights but justified the cost by not wanting to go in search of cheaper accommodation in the searing city heat and paying for a room that would probably cost the same over 2 nights as the flight itself.