It's not all sky, sand and sea in Kerala. Being the subcontinent's eastern seafront, some of the first explorers from the west arrived here, followed by centuries of foreign contacts. We took a day off from lazying around and went discovering the old port of Kochi.
We took a ferry to get to Fort Kochi—the oldest and most sightseeing-worthy district of the city. We could've taken one of the bridges connecting it with the mainland, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun as joining all the locals—cars, scooters and pedestrians—on this small vessel cruising across the entrance to the city port. I intended to hop out of the car and shoot a few water-side photos, but as tightly as the boat was packed, I couldn't even dream of opening the door.
Fort Kochi is the most tourist-infested area we've been to so far. Seriously, we haven't seen this many white people in total during the whole first week of our journey, as we've seen in a single day here. Needless to say, there's also a sprawling tourist-catering industry, peddling rikshaw rides, meals and souvenirs. We politely but firmly refused all of those.
The “fort” name is misleading. Yes, there used to be a military structure there, ages ago, built by the Portugese in the 16th century. Our guidebook says we should've been able to see remains of it along the shore, but sadly we couldn't find any.
What we did find is a mix of architectural styles planted here over six centuries of trade and colonization, by the Portugese, Dutch and obviously the English. Kochi was (and still is) a popular port with merchants from all corners of the world. The streets are narrow, the houses small and cute. A lot of them are renovated, well-maintained, hosting shops with spices, local crafts, and diverse restaurants. There's even a very decent promenade built along the seafront, attended by throngs of locals and tourists alike.
Being the melting pot that it is, no wonder Kochi's been selected to host a massive art biennale in 2016, that finished just now, in the end of March, days before we arrived. Pity, because the closing concert was played by an eclectic Keralan band called Thaikkudam Bridge, mixing Indian rock music with ethnic tunes from the region.
Other than Fort Kochi, the area to see is the old Jewish district of Mattancherry. Jews came here on board of merchant ships and built a tight bazaar district for spice trade, centered around a simple synagogue.
The main sight in Mattancherry is supposed to be the Mattanchery Palace, also called the Dutch Palace. We came, we saw… we left disappointed. It literally looked like a farm house, turned into a museum, with the entrance fee of a whopping IDR 5 (that's less than €0,01), and not even a separate price for foreigners. No wonder. It looks like it's never been particularly appealing and nowadays it's in desperate need of renovation and repairs.
On the way back to Chameleon Beach Lodge we decided to pass through the mainland district of Ernakulam and visit the LuLu mall. Yes, a mall. We've been told that it's a pretty fancy place, with live performances and an ice rink inside. That… was a mistake.
We didn't realize it was a Sunday—we completely lost track of time here—and apparently on Sundays the whole nation is storming malls around the region. Cars were queuing for two blocks to enter the parking lot. Our driver dropped us off quickly at the entrance and then disappeared. Took us half an hour later to find him after we left the mall.
Inside it was the most packed shopping experience I have ever been through. Worthwhile to get a feeling of just how many people live in this country. We entered the “hypermarket”, what in Poland and elsewhere in the world would've been merely a “supermarket” by size, grabbed a few fruits, some massively expensive toilet paper (no wonder locals prefer bidet sprayers, also known as “bum guns”) and rushed the hell outta there.
Kochi has been a fun interlude from the shores of the Kuzhupilly Beach. I always enjoy visiting towns that historically had a close relationship with the sea, because they usually maintain a cozy atmosphere, and Kochi is no different. It just needs a thorough cleaning—an effort that's already underway, and we'll be holding our thumbs that it's successful.