While the bijou state of Goa stole my attention, the City of Kochi stole my heart, and one region in particular—Fort Cochin. Nowhere in India spoke to me more than the impressive colonial and cultural haven, in the tropical state of Kerala—or 'God’s Own Country' as it’s known by the locals.
Throughout history, the British, Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese all left a mark on this very funky spot; many influences seen in the design, arts, food and even the people. So much so it's actually been named 'Mini England', 'Little Lisbon', and 'Homely Holland' by the English, Portuguese and Dutch, respectively.
Wandering about the streets of Cochin, it’s easy to forget you are still in India, in fact, it doesn't feel like the rest of the country at all. The famous port town beautifully encapsulates the magic, culture, and feel of a modern, vibrant and stylish European escape, but somehow retaining an essential Indian-ness. No matter where you drop in India, all travellers somehow become locals; getting to know shop owners, bar-staff, baristas and anyone else they happen to bump into. During my time here, I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the most amazing poets, musicians, and artists. Cochin offers a range of affordable homestays with local families, with plenty to do and see: Kathakali dance performance, Carnatic singing, Sitar concerts, and a plethora of other traditional Indian entertainment. The Greenix Theatre, where all of this entertainment is available, also offers short-long term courses in all of the traditional disciplines.
For two weeks, I took a shot at Carnatic singing—with not-so melodic results. Yes, each morning at dawn I awoke from my bed and made my way through the town where I met Sanad, a jolly, round, Buddha-like character, who, for fourteen days put me through my paces as a newbie Indian songbird. (I think I'll stick to Otis Redding).
But it wasn't all rosy in the proverbial; I may have been, how would you out it, taken for a ride? Well, I can't say scammed but here's the 411: I was sondering around researching the place for a travel article about where to eat, sleep and stare at buildings, when a friendly rickshaw driver pulled up, offering to take me around the city for—wait for it—free. Remember, nothing is free and especially not in this developing subcontinent. My unyielding trust kicked in and I said: "Sure, why not!"
It wasn't all bad. I was driven around by another wonderfully jolly man, who took me to literally every tourist attraction on offer, and all I had to do was stop off at 25 of the quite pricey craft shops run by, what seemed like total snakes and gangsters, and act like a rich white traveler, on the hunt for antique pieces for my mansion in the Hamptons. I played it well though. There was a lot of standing, stroking my beard, asking about what time period some random vase was from: "That would look great in the west wing, but I think I'll keep looking..."
The pièce de résistance of the whole time there came in the form of a random Indian guy named Aahva, who, as I was doing my usual head-in-the-clouds walk around, accosted me on the side if the road and said: "Are you Darragh?". I swear I get recognised wherever I go! Actually, it turns out we had a mutual friend who said look out for a pale Irish man. #SmallWorld.
If you randomly find yourself in Fort Cochin, make sure to check out the Chinese Fishing Nets, the Kerala Kathakali Centre for a simply mesmerising showcase of their local arts, and for a bite, head to the Kashi Art Cafe, which I'm going to say is my favourite place for food, coffee and chilled times in India.
Overnight trains from Goa to Kerala vary in price depending on the season, but whatever time of year you're there you can check out Make My Trip.