First Weeks in India: Kerala

June 23, 2018India, John Standard

We flew to Kochi, the largest urban centre in the state of Kerala with a population of 2.1 million, from South Korea. India is unlike anywhere we have travelled so far on this trip, completely chaotic and full of life. Here we have sensory overload but in a very different way from South Korea.  Stunning jungle plant life, endless honking, the smell of Indian spices and burning trash – here you get it all. Getting around is easy because most signs are in English and Uber is cheap as long as you have a local SIM card, which we do – 3GB per day for $7/month. And the food, absolutely perfect, is our favourite so far. A feast for two can be enjoyed for about $4 and Kerala’s quasi-alcohol prohibition reduces the health impact of my no-exercise regime.

After a couple weeks we started to adjust to the traffic, which makes Vietnam look orderly. Here, busses compete with cars, compete with rickshaws, compete with pushcarts, compete with cows for precious street real estate – not leaving much room for pedestrians.

The locals seem laid back and extremely warm and friendly. The four women operating our local grocery market greet us with warm smiles, curiosity and giggles every time we go shopping. A fellow driving by on his moped invited us to dinner at his home, our Airbnb host treated us to dinner, and most people seem genuinely interested in who we are and where we come from. We met many people, from Uber drivers to fellow bus passengers, that spent time working in the Middle East to send their families money.

Our neighbourhood was actually much poorer than we expected given what we had read about Kerala having the highest literacy rate, Human Development Index, and life expectancy in India. Our high rise apartment  (take a left at the coffin store off Golden Street) along the beautiful backwaters stuck out like a sore thumb among the huts and bungalows. Watching the nightly trash burning and neighbours collecting water from the communal tap drove home the conveniences we take for granted in the West. Our ninth floor balconies were perfectly situated for watching the daily lightning storms and beautiful sunsets and, after the sun sets completely, fireworks in the distance. Local children take full advantage of the afternoon downpours, playing soccer in the streets and swimming in the backwaters, screaming and shouting at every thunderclap. It was a wonderful, colourful, friendly and delicious introduction to seven weeks in India.

 

Our first morning in India we stayed at a budget hotel. The owner’s wife brought us this fine breakfast.

 

Biryani, a delicious Indian food that must be eaten with hands.

 

We stayed on the top floor of this building near the backwaters.

 

Our amazing three bedroom condo – bigger I think than all our other Airbnb’s throughout Asia combined.

 

View over the backwaters from our deck. Chinese fishing nets are visible to the left.

 

This is what $3-4 gets you, and it was enough for both of us, and so delicious.

 

Our street, filled with lush greenery like everywhere in Kochi.

 

Wearing clothes I purchased at FabIndia, a really neat store but with almost Western prices.

 

Our colourful neighborhood.

 

Coconuts for about 80 cents. How this guy still has all 10 fingers is beyond me…

 

Walk along the backwaters, more Chinese fishing nets.

 

Our local restaurant, where we ordered takeout and Horlicks (a delicious malt drink I’ve never seen before) almost daily.

 

Empty lot near a church. We stayed in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood.

 

Goats everywhere, hard not to pet the little guys.

 

Kochi passenger ferry, which we ended up on after an Uber mixup. But it ended up being really beautiful and a great local experience.

 

Beautiful reconstructed Santa Cruz Basilica in Fort Kochi, the touristy neighbourhood. Originally built by the Portuguese in the 1500’s.

 

A serene park amidst the chaos of downtown Kochi.

 

Beach with Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi. Lots of hawkers and tourists and so much energy.

 

We passed on the camel ride.

 

Sarah posing on the Fort Kochi beach.

 

John on the beach.

 

Freight ships passed every few minutes, one was headed to Egypt.

 

The Chinese fishing nets are mostly for tourist’s enjoyment. Still fun to watch. The rocks made us nervous though, so we didn’t stand too close….

 

Local women enjoying the beach.

 

Fort Kochi water tower complete with grazing cows.

 

Jew Town in Fort Kochi, famous for beautiful synagogues and antique shopping avenues. It was settled by Jews possibly as early as the 12th century.

 

I love the pride truck drivers take in their vehicles.

 

Farmers Cafe, Fort Kochi.

 

Living the high life at the international Grand Pavilion Hotel.

 

A cricket game is never far away.

 

Sprawling, larger than life trees.

 

Kerala is known for its strong communist party.

 

The colours.

 

Signs protesting the recent rape and murder of a small girl that made international headlines.

 

Seems safe.

 

Part of our daily walk, notice the hammer and sickle.

 

Typical local flat.

 

Taking the rickshaw around town.

 

Down by the Backwaters.

 

Amazing fields with cows grazing. This was outside of Kochi in a smaller town, Aluva.

 

The local Zoo.

 

People enjoying/teasing the animals.

 

We could have watched these monkeys all day, so fascinating and cute.

 

Sometimes I thought Sarah and I were the biggest attraction at the zoo. We had several families stop to take pictures of us and follow us around. We went along with it and had a blast.

 

Oh, English signs, yes please.

 

Lonely elephant. This is in the city of Thrissur, a two-hour bus ride from Kochi, where we spent a day and ended up at the zoo.

 

Thrissur drivers hanging out.

 

Catholic rally in Thrissur.

 

Kochi’s Infopark. Epicenter of IT work for the state.

 

The trains come blasting through, no crossing, so beware!

 

Lulu Mall, largest mall in the country.

 

Ice rink in Lulu Mall.

 

Lulu mall, fantastically modern and Indian.

 

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