India: Fort Kochi

February 3 – 8, 2017

kochi-beach-scene

Evening Beach Scene

Practicalities

Accommodations:

Fort Garden Residency; 900INR/night; through booking.com; the first place we’ve ever given a 10 point rating to!; Thomas, our host, was friendly, helpful and informative; his wife Susan makes delicious Indian breakfasts (and has a cooking course); the location was near the seafront and the historic centre but down a small lane so very peaceful; they have two chill areas – one inside, one outside; our room was clean and we had a shower with hot water (if needed!).

kochi-homestay

Fort Garden Homestay

Food: Kochi is tourist friendly and has a good selection of restaurants. We recommend:

Kashi Arts Café: terrific breakfasts with real thick toast; wonderful juices and lassis; good coffee

The Teapot: heaven for tea drinkers

kochi-teapot

The Teapot

Tibet House: rooftop cool; their mint lassi is to die for; tasty momos

Mary’s: super busy but worth the wait for this small rooftop, family run spot

Bharat Coffee House (Ernakulam): the real deal; old style; many options and inexpensive

Malabar: had a set-up at the Kochi-Muziris Bienalle; great coffee, snacks and juices; reasonable prices

Transport:

train from Madgao to Ernakulam; we travelled Chair Coach (850INR for 2)

auto-rickshaws around Kochi and Ernakulam; metered

ferry boats between Kochi and Ernakulam; cheap and refreshing to be on the water

… and we walked and walked (auto-rickshaw drivers shook their heads)

Reflections

kochi-boats

View from the Seawall

The allure of Kochi (Fort Cochin, Fort Kochi etc.) with its proximity to the backwaters (lakes and canals), its seafood and spices caught our imaginations early in the planning stages for this trip. However, one thing I missed while researching was that we were arriving during one of the world’s best art events: the Kochi-Muziris Bienalle. No less than the Tate Modern has stated that this Bienalle is one of he world’s top five. And so our supposed three day stay turned into a six day stay, as we visited the KMB and toured the historic town.

kochi-text-painter

Artist at Work

We arrived via train, disembarking in Ernakulam. From the train station we caught an auto-rickshaw to the ferry terminal. Ahhh… to be on the water again. It felt like home. From the Kochi ferry terminal we took another auto-rickshaw to the Fort Garden Residency Homestay, an oasis in the midst of the touristic old town. Some guidebooks recommend staying in Ernakulam to keep costs down but we found our accommodation costs reasonable and the peace and quiet of Fort Kochi wonderful (especially compared to the traffic chaos of Ernakulam).

kochi-tree

Giant Tree and Sports Field by the Homestay

We soon discovered the pleasures of walking along the seawall, especially in the evening when the sea breezes cooled the air (early February and the temperatures were in the mid-30s and humid). An eclectic variety of shipping passed through the channels; everything from small fishing boats to huge container ships and, one evening, a glowing P&O cruise ship dominated the waters. We also ventured into some of the narrow, tiled backstreets and saw some tiny homes and goats wandering along.

kochi-back-street

In the Back Streets

We met, and hung out with, several of our fellow homestay people. Two young Keralan men doing a course to finish their engineering degrees, an Indian artist from Mumbai and a UK woman escaping her former TV career made up our little gang. We’d go out for dinners, hang out in the chill zone, exchanging stories and information. Arti, a woman print maker from Mumbai, had come to Kochi specifically to see the Bienalle. We’d often walk with Arti to the various Bienalle venues and collaborative galleries, then stop for refreshments or to look at antiques. It was great chatting with Arti about the art and gaining some insights into Indian life in general.

kochi-fisherman

Fisherman Casting a Net

kochi-fish-cemetary

Public Artwork: Fish Cemetary

The Bienalle was truly amazing and very inspiring. Set in a variety of venues it was great being able to wander in and out of buildings and catch a cooling sea breeze in between exhibits. There was an incredible variety of art: international, national and regional; conceptual, abstract and representational; the latest in technology and work based on ancient traditional techniques. I photographed much of it and bought the exhibition catalogue and other print material relating to the shows. I’ll share a photo of a piece that Sue and I agreed was one of the most powerful in the Bienalle:

kochi-syria

The Sea of Pain by Raul Zurita 

This work addresses the fate of Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore, and is dedicated to his brother Galip Kurdi. This image does the impact of this artwork little justice. When we did a guided tour of some of the works on a return visit our guide told us many people left visiting the installation in tears.

Many of the venues where located in old warehouses which gave us an interesting look at the old Kochi, traditionally a thriving port city. The colonial powers (Portugal, Netherlands and English) all latched onto the incredible wealth of trade of Kerala: spices, tea, coir, fish… These days we discovered that, although the port and the fishing still factor in the local economy, tourism is the growth industry. Also many locals move to the Gulf states to work, sending money home. Despite the changing times Kerala retains its left-wing politics, standing against the right-wing swing of India’s national politics.

kochi-communist-office

Local Political Office

Although touristic Kochi was quite chill. The people of Kerala are super friendly and we found ourselves often engaged in conversation with locals. There were sales people pushing their products but it was always friendly and easy to disengage if we weren’t interested. Sometimes though they proved irresistably charming…

kochi-sue-drum

Sue Buys a Drum

kochi-spices

Spices for Sale

Personally I’m hoping to return here in two years time. At best… to exhibit or, at least, to volunteer in the Bienalle and to experience again the warmth of Kochi.

kochi-bienalle-store

Bienalle Volunteers in the Gift Shop

kochi-namasthe

Namasthe Art Centre

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