One day in… Kochi
One of the amazing cities I visited on my first trip to India this year was Kochi in Kerala. The city really is a gem of southern India and is famed for its distinctive Chinese fishing nets, incredible seafood and vibrant spice market. I had an amazing experience doing the complimentary sunset cruise offered by my hotel, the Taj Malabar. I also got the chance to go out and about exploring some of the city, including travelling like a local by ferry and auto-rickshaw. I loved exploring this city and I really want to go back someday and spend more time not just in Kochi, but also the rest of the beautiful state of Kerala.
Kochi or Cochin is the capital of the state of Kerala in southern India. You’ll hear people refer to both names; Kochi is the name more closely related to the original Malayalam name of the city before colonisation by both the Portuguese and the British. It was traditionally a fishing village before it became a larger city and was traditionally the gateway in India for the spice trade. Today, it’s home to over 2 million people and the largest shopping mall in India, LuLu Mall.
How to get there: There currently aren’t any direct flights from the UK to Kochi. Consider routes connecting through Dubai or other cities in India like Mumbai or Delhi operated by Emirates, Etihad or Air India.
Currency: You’ll need to get your hands on some Indian rupees (easier said than done!). The currency is currently restricted, meaning it can’t be sold outside India. I would recommend taking US dollars and exchanging them for rupees in the airport or your hotel when you arrive. 1GBP is currently worth about 82 INR.
Language: The official language in Kochi is Malayalam, which I heard is the most difficult of all the Indian languages. Usually, locals wouldn’t expect people from abroad (or even other Indian states) to speak the local lingo, so you should be fine getting by in English with the vast majority of people on your travels in Kochi.
Culture: Southern Indian cities tend to be more conservative than their Northern counterparts; whilst it may be perfectly normal to see women wearing more revealing clothes in New Delhi and Mumbai, in the south of India there is a lot of traditional dress. For women, bare arms are fine, but I’d recommend high necklines and low hemlines as a general rule.
Getting around: Unless you’re travelling everywhere in a hotel car, getting around Kochi doesn’t have to be expensive. I used Uber for some of my journeys in the city but when you need to get from one side of the city to another, consider travelling by local boat. These work exactly the same way as a bus, stopping off at various jetties and operating to a schedule. The boat I took from Willingdon Island to Fort Kochi cost 4 rupees, which is equivalent to just over 4p!
I stayed in the Vivanta by Taj – Malabar, which is located on Willingdon Island. It’s about half an hour drive away from the centre of Kochi, so if you need to go to meetings in the city centre you’ll need to plan ahead. It’s definitely worth being a little way out though – the hotel is right by the water and you can easily get to the old part of the city to explore. The Taj Malabar has several lovely restaurants, a spa with complimentary morning yoga classes, an infinity pool and a complimentary sunset cruise for all guests (more about this here).
If you’re in Kochi, you just have to try the fish and seafood. The Rice Boat restaurant in the Taj Malabar offers a seafood platter, which includes calamari, king prawns, Keralan fish curry and my favourite, soft shell crab. It’s served with dipping sauces and traditional breads, and you can guarantee the fish has come out of the sea the same day. I’d recommend trying a glass of Indian white wine to round off your Keralan fish dinner. Another foodie highlight of Kochi is undoubtedly the spices you can source in Mattancherry (more on that below!).
As always, I had limited time to explore Kochi, so I decided to head to the old part of the city, Fort Kochi. Although you can drive, this supposedly takes over half an hour from the Taj Malabar where I was staying, so I opted for the local ferry option. This cost 4 rupees one way and took about 5 minutes – much better than a taxi! Once you’re there, you can explore both Fort Kochi and Mattancherry either on foot or by auto-rickshaw.
Fort Kochi – Fort Kochi is the historical part of Kochi. It’s very walkable and full of things to see, such as the Chinese fishing nets, street markets and old churches. You can promenade along the sea front and check out the local street vendors. I also enjoyed wandering the streets away from the sea front. The shops around here were very touristy so I didn’t go in any of them as I just wanted to enjoy Fort Kochi itself. I also visited Santa Cruz Basilica, a beautiful gothic-style Catholic church.
Mattancherry – Mattancherry is adjacent to Fort Kochi, so it makes to sense to visit both in one day or afternoon if that’s all the spare time you have! The hotel concierge recommended that I head to Mattancherry for the spice market. Getting between Fort Kochi and Mattancherry would have been quite a long walk (especially in the tropical heat!) so I took my first ever auto-rickshaw ride to get there. This is definitely a fun mode of transport for short distances when sightseeing, but I don’t think I’ll be forsaking my air-conditioned cars for local business meetings just yet! I wasn’t sure what to expect at the spice market in Mattancherry, and I ended up in a women’s cooperative spice shop. I really liked this because first of all, I didn’t have to haggle (cooperative prices are set), and secondly, my money was going towards helping women working in India. There was such an amazing selection of products other than cooking spices; I picked up some masala tea and sour sweets to bring home. They also showed me soaps and swore by the amazing properties in a turmeric face-mask – although I did end up passing on that!
Have you visited Kochi? What’s your favourite thing about the city? Let me know in the comments below!