Sunset cruise in Kochi, home of the Indian spice trade
Kochi (or Cochin) is a city located in the state of Kerala, which is in south-west India. I took advantage of a complimentary sunset cruise offered by my hotel to see more of this fascinating city. It is located on the coast and is characterised by a series of intricate waterways that flow out into the Arabian Sea. It was historically the major port in India for the spice trade, and as such a popular tourist attraction today is the spice market in the Mattancherry area of the city. There’s also a lot of fishing in Kochi, so seafood dishes here are not to be missed. Everything you eat will have been caught fresh the same day.
Population: 2.5 million
Language: Malayalam, English. Malayalam is widely considered to be the most difficult Indian language (out of 22 official languages!)
Climate: My trip to India was in May, which is generally considered the worst time to travel there climate-wise (although the best time in terms of a lack of tourists). However, if you can handle the heat, it’s not too bad. Wear loose, cotton clothing that wicks sweat and you’ll be away. The climate in Kochi is quite tropical and humid. It’s also by the water so be aware of quite a few mosquitoes flying around. Temperatures in Kochi don’t change much throughout the year, ranging from around 23°C to 31°C.
How to get there: There are no direct flights from the UK to Cochin International Airport (COK) at the moment. You can either connect through Dubai/Abu Dhabi or fly direct to another city in India such as Delhi or Mumbai to fly on to Kochi from there. There are also quite a few flight connections with the Middle East.
Getting around: Although it can be extremely cheap and somewhat of a novelty to travel by auto-rickshaw when in India, remember that space is limited and there’s certainly no air-conditioning! They’re great for short journeys, but for business travellers and getting to and from the airport I recommend Uber. The prices are still really cheap (relative to the cost of travel in Western Europe and the USA) but you’ll probably have air-con! You can also avoid having to try and explain a complicated address to your driver and will be able to pay by the credit card that’s linked to your account without faffing around with rupees.
Culture: Southern India in general tends to be fairly conservative culturally. This means that you need to be sensitive with your dress (ladies, pay attention). T-shirts are fine, but make sure you’re wearing long bottoms that aren’t too tight-fitting. Try either loose trousers, a long skirt/dress or even pick up some native Indian clothing if this makes you more comfortable. I personally liked to cover up as much as possible, especially standing out being so fair and blonde. It’s not necessary, but I also took a pashmina out with me to cover my head when I was drawing more attention than I was comfortable with.
Other: Kochi was historically ruled by the Portuguese and the Dutch before the British colonial era from 1814-1947. The state of Kerala is currently governed by a Communist coalition, so you often see Communist party flags bearing the hammer and sickle out and about on the streets. Kochi is also home to the LuLu shopping mall, which is the largest shopping mall in India.
The sunset cruise experience
I was staying in the Vivanta by Taj Malabar Hotel, which is located some way out of the main business centre of Kochi on Willingdon Island. However, it’s definitely worth the drive out of the city. The hotel is situated right at the water’s edge with great views of the harbour from the terrace restaurant. My favourite part of my hotel stay was definitely the complimentary sunset cruise that’s available to all hotel guests. This was an excellent way to see the local culture (as so much of it is water-based) in a tranquil setting. We also had a very helpful staff member on board who gave us some information about what we could see around the waterways.
The sunset cruise took about an hour and a half to complete and went past the huge new container port, some traditional fishing boats where fishermen were cleaning their brightly-coloured nets, the distinctive Chinese fishing nets that are a big part of Kochi fishing culture and the former East India Trading Company building.
I love water activities so I found the sunset cruise to be very enjoyable. It was so relaxing being able to take some time in the evening to just sit back and watch the locals go about their daily activities whilst also learning a little bit more about the culture. I’d highly recommend doing this if you’re staying at the Vivanta by Taj Malabar; the cruise leaves at 5:30pm every day, and if you get there a little bit early the staff serve tea and biscuits on the terrace before you board the boat. Once you’re back on shore, there’s still some daylight so you can make your way to a bench to sit and watch the sun set fully – I also did this and the view was beautiful.
During the few days I spent in Kochi, I also got the opportunity to visit Fort Kochi and Mattancherry on the opposite side of the river to my hotel, which involved a local ferry experience (for the bargain price of 4 rupees or less than 5p) and my first auto-rickshaw ride! I’ll be writing more about that soon, so follow me on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest updates!