Of late, Fort Kochi has been in the spotlight for its progressive approach to social well-being and neoliberalism. But that’s not all: the town is a hotspot for tourists seeking thrills, adventure and authentic southern cuisines.
Hippies with braided hair and sleeve tattoos, deep religious legacies and exquisite fish curries: these are the three things that come to me when I think about Fort Kochi. Nestled safely in the far end of Kochi – which is one of Kerala’s largest port cities – Fort Kochi not only lives up to its name with magnificent forts but also happens to fuel the city’s time-honoured love for art, religion and cuisine – all unified by a level of authenticity unmatchable by other cities in the state.
But, more of all that in a bit.
It’s almost unbelievable how Fort Kochi never etched itself on the map of the ‘Hippie Trail’ (the overland journey between Europe and South Asia). It fulfils everything young backpackers look for: adventure, culture and heritage.
I’m not complaining, though. Today, Fort Kochi remains one of Kerala’s best-kept secrets, and is slowly gaining recognition as a tourist destination. Nevertheless, those visiting from the west find themselves comfortable, thanks to the widespread use of English. This is partly because the region was once inhabited by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British (in that very order).
Those visiting the region are usually also exposed to the complex British and Portuguese architecture that has stood the test of time. Granted, the lack of public funding means numerous houses are now beaten down, however, the churches, basilicas, museums and squares are all hallowed.
It must also be noted that the renowned Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was buried at the St Francis Church until 1593, after which the remains were transported back to his homeland.
Of late, however, Fort Kochi has been in the spotlight for its progressive approach to social well-being and neoliberalism. This credo has inevitably given birth to a young generation of individuals who express themselves through art and drawings.
This is evident when you walk the streets of Fort Kochi. The walls are bedaubed with striking and creative spray paint graffiti, and every nook and corner entails a tattoo outlet. Some of these artists are over 60 years old, and have much to say. Make sure to soak in the local stories from these knowledge-hoarders.
My favourite place The Vasco da Gama Square is a must-visit for anyone touring Kerala, let alone Fort Kochi. Stand here and you can see the age-old hotels, inns, basilicas, mosques and even the museum. Oh, and while you’re there, make sure to try out the local cuisines, which mostly consist of delicious fish roast and shrimp curry. For those of you who are looking for more adventure, simply head to one of the tattoo parlours and ask for the artists to show you around; they know everything – and everyone – in the region.
Highlights Everything in Fort Kochi is unique when compared to the rest of Kerala. The people are friendly and speak several languages (including English, French and even Portuguese). However, it’s best to go with some local friends that you can rely on. Getting around the region is easy and you can tread on foot. Humidity is high but temperatures are low, as Fort Kochi has a wet maritime tropical climate. The mercury is still unrivalled to what we experience here in Oman. Nonetheless, while there, you can engage in talks with the locals about Vasco da Gama, learn about communism or even try your hand at fishing on the beach.
Lowlights Here’s a little something people will not tell you: Fort Kochi is hub to several black magic activities, and it’s best to stay out of it. Also, be aware of pickpockets and greedy taxi drivers. Make sure your hotel books you a driver or tour guide.
Souvenirs Fort Kochi is the Milan of Kerala. It’s dubbed a fashion hub by tourists looking for cheap and durable clothes and accessories. Of course, the trends may not be up to date but there’s nothing like gifting your friends back home clothes from the 1990s (Oops, I said it).
Getting there Flying to Kerala is easy; hop onto the next flight out of Muscat (which is probably every 30 minutes) and land at the most environmentally friendly airport in the world. From there, Fort Kochi is a mere 30-minute bus ride away. You can also take the (orange) air-conditioned buses to get to the county.
Where to stay If you’re looking to experience the “hippie” lifestyle, try staying at one of the many inns in the vicinity. It’s cheap and safe, and lets you socialise with the local crowds. If not, book yourself into one of the three- or four-star hotels.
Top 5 things to do:
1. Try find peace at the St. Francis Church
2. Visit the Indo-Portuguese museum
3. Learn about local dance routines at the Kerala Kathakali Centre
4. Get spooked at the Mattanchery Palace (!)
5. Irritate your peers by getting a tattoo (if you’re into it)