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A one-day trip to Kochi, and eight interesting experiences

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Our one-day trip to Kochi was shorter than we would’ve liked. But we still managed to squeeze in some interesting sights, sounds and tastes.

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Our 12-day holiday in southern Kerala was supposed to start with two days in Kochi before we headed to Thekkady. But because our place in Thekkady wasn’t available on the days we wanted, we had to shift our other dates around. And two days turned into a quick one-day trip to Kochi. We still managed to do some fun stuff, though.

Paradesi Synagogue - One-day trip to Kochi
The Paradesi Synagogue’s pretty clock tower, flanked by shops and cafes.

IQ’s tips for a one-day visit to Kochi

  • It’s a one-and-a-half hour drive from the airport to Fort Kochi, so factor that into your plans.
  • Kochi is actually just the main island. Kochi island, Ernakulam (the city on the mainland) and a few other islands all make up what one generally refers to as ‘Kochi’. Fort Kochi is an area on the northern tip of Kochi island.
  • Even if you’re visiting towards the end of the rainy season, it can still pour at a moment’s notice in the evenings. Try and carry an umbrella.
  • Secret Garden is a great stay option if you’re looking for a cosy little place that has a homely, secluded and traditional feel without compromising on comfort.

Things to do during a one-day trip to Kochi

  • If you’re looking to chill like the locals, Hotel Seagull is a great place to kick back over beer and snacks while watching the boats go by. It tends to get crowded, though, so consider making a reservation. The menu isn’t big on vegetarian food, either.
  • The Paradesi Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace are interesting and worth a quick look, but you probably shouldn’t budget more than half an hour for each. Go at opening time to beat the crowds.
  • If you like arty things with an antique feel, Ginger House Museum Hotel in Jew Town is a great place to spend some time. And walking through their warehouse is like going on a treasure hunt!
  • Walking along Bazaar Road will give you a relatively un-touristy look at how Kochi lives and works. And the spice market opposite the Church of Our Lady of Life is definitely worth a look (and a sniff)!
  • The cosy (and arty) Kashi Cafe just off Tower Road is a great place to chill over some nice European food. There’s no alcohol, though, and it can get a little warm.
  • Taking a ferry ride is highly recommended, just for the experience, especially on one of the jankars between Fort Kochi and Vypin Island.
    • If you time it right, you’ll get a glorious view of the sunset.
    • The ferries are also much cheaper than taking a taxi; we paid an average of Rs. 6 per person per ferry!
  • The charming old Brunton Boatyard Hotel is always worth a visit, even if it’s just to take a look around. But if you’re planning on a drink or a meal overlooking the harbour, be warned: it’s on the pricey side. And you’ll constantly have jankars in your field of view (though that may not be a bad thing).

Vegetarian tips

  • Vegetarian food may not be as easy to find here as in other parts of the country, but most restaurants will have at least a few vegetarian items on the menu.
  • Some local breakfast staples are puttu (steamed rice flour and coconut cylinders), idli (steamed rice cakes), appam and dosa (types of savoury crepes) and idiyappam (steamed rice noodles).
  • For lunch and dinner, we loved the thoran (stir-fried vegetable with coconut), avial (mixed vegetables in thick yoghurt gravy), erissery (lentils and vegetables in thick coconut gravy), pulissery (light yoghurt curry) and the ever-present sambar (a sour curry of lentils and vegetables).

Sustainability tip

  • If you’re looking for a more sustainable way to get into town from the airport than taking a taxi, there’s a shuttle service to Aluva, from where you can ride the metro rail all the way to Ernakulam, and take a cab from there.

Staying at Secret Garden

While looking for a place to stay in Kochi, we stumbled upon Secret Garden. This turned out to be a lovely little boutique heritage hotel in tucked away in a tiny lane in Fort Kochi. The entire place was very tastefully done in traditional Kerala style, and our room – in a wing a little off the main house – felt very cosy and homely. We especially liked our large divan with traditional Kerala mural paintings on the wall in front.

The place was on the pricier side, even including the complimentary breakfast. But the Icelandic owner had obviously taken huge pains to give the entire place an authentic feel, even working with traditional artisans. The result was worth it. The cosy room, friendly staff and homely, traditional feel of the whole place made this our favourite place to stay during our entire trip.

Also read: 35 unique places to stay that we’ve discovered while travelling

Secret Garden, Fort Kochi - Main house
Our first look at the main house the evening of our arrival.
Secret Garden, Kochi - Our room - One-day trip to Kochi
Our cosy room (the mural next to the divan was on the wall on the right).

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Secret Garden - Pool and main house
The main house and pool during the day.
Secret Garden - Courtyard - One-day trip to Kochi
The rear courtyard. There was also a large pavilion used for yoga classes.

A rainy dinner at Seagull

We didn’t have time to do much else during our first evening in Kochi, so we headed out for a quick drink and dinner. Hotel Seagull came highly recommended by a local friend, so that’s where we went. And though we initially thought we’d walk, the it started drizzling mid-way. Luckily, we managed to flag down and convince an auto rickshaw to take us there, because by the time we arrived, it was bucketing down!

Seagull turned out to be more of a local beer-and-snacks hangout than a full-fledged restaurant. But that didn’t bother us too much, because the ambience was cosy and old-school, and the view across the water was nice. The pouring rain even made the giant loading cranes on the opposite island look a bit sci-fi! So we spent a nice hour or so in a corner, sipping beer and watching the rain. The only fly in the ointment was that the chilli paneer we ordered turned out to be Indo-Chinese and not the dry local version we were expecting – not the best match for parotta!

Also read: 13 interesting Indian vegetarian dishes that you should try

Seagull Hotel, Kochi - Jetty
The loading cranes in the pouring rain
Seagull Hotel - One-day trip to Kochi
Another view of the cranes from our table in the corner.
Seagull Hotel - Pretty lights
The lights of the resort next door were pretty in the rain, too.

A quick look at the Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace

The next morning, we thought we’d do a little of the touristy thing. So we visited the famous synagogue in Jew Town, pretty much just because it’s one of the places to see in Kochi. We made sure to get there at opening time to avoid the crowds, so except for a few other early birds, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Aesthetically, this small synagogue was slightly on the kitsch side, but it had a nice gallery depicting the over-1,000 year history of Judaism in Kerala. We were also very impressed by the incredibly detailed, centuries-old hand-made Chinese floor tiles.

Paradesi Synagogue - One-day trip to Kochi
The slightly kitsch interior of the synagogue, with its intricate hand-made floor tiles.

Next, we paid a quick visit to the Mattancherry Palace (also called the ‘Dutch Palace’) next door, another famous place to visit in Kochi. Strangely enough, even though the synagogue and the palace share a wall, there’s no way through. But that gave us the opportunity to make our way through all the interesting little interconnected shops and cafes to the main road on which the entrance was, so no complaints.

The palace itself was a large-ish building, quite nondescript from the outside. It had some interesting displays inside, though. Most impressive for us were the entrance hall’s massive wooden ceiling, and the intricate Kerala-style murals of mythological scenes on some of the walls. Sadly, standalone cameras weren’t allowed, and our phones didn’t manage any great shots in the low light.

Also read: A quick visit to two of the most famous temples in Tamil Nadu

Mattancherry Palace, Kochi - Exterior
The somewhat plain exterior of the palace.
Mattancherry Palace - Wooden ceiling - One-day trip to Kochi
The imposing wooden ceiling of the entrance hall.
Mattancherry Palace - Murals
The best low-light shot of the murals our phones could manage.

Glorious chaos at Ginger House

After seeing the Mattancherry Palace, we strolled down the jetty opposite for a look at the water. And while wandering along the shore, we ended up in what looked like a workshop where some antique woodwork was being restored. It turned out to be just one part of a maze of workshops, corridors and store rooms attached to the Ginger House Museum Hotel.

We spent some time wandering through the glorious chaos of hidden rooms filled with arty, half-restored bric-a-brac, never knowing what to expect around the next corner. Eventually, we ended up at the hotel proper, where we decided on a quick cup of tea in the coffee shop overlooking the water. We didn’t actually go into the hotel itself, but whatever we saw from the tunnel that led from the coffee shop to the street was very interesting. So even if you’re just on a one-day trip to Kochi, a stop here is highly recommended.

Also read: Photo diary: Tibetan art and snow-capped mountains in Dharamshala

Ginger House, Kochi - Entrance - One-day trip to Kochi
The entrance tunnel from the street to the Ginger House Museum Hotel.
Ginger House - Coffee shop
The view from the canopied coffee shop.
Ginger House - Warehouse - One-day trip to Kochi
One of the warehouse corridors.
Ginger House - Warehouse
Who knows what those giant cauldrons were used for?
Ginger House - Warehouse
Window screens and a… birdhouse?

Discovering a hidden spice market in Mattancherry

After getting our fill of antique art and masala chai at Ginger House, we strolled along Bazaar Road back in direction Fort Kochi. The further we got from Jew Town, the less touristy and more authentic everything seemed to get, which was perfect for us. We even spotted some very interesting street art. Eventually, we spied the impressive Church of Our Lady of Life on our left. And while taking photos of the church, we noticed a sign saying ‘All Spices Market’ on the dilapidated building opposite. Intrigued, we went in.

Bazaar Road, Fort Kochi - Interesting street art - One-day trip to Kochi
Very interesting street art. A pity about the rubbish.
Bazaar Road - Church of Our Lady of Life
The beautiful Church of Our Lady of Life.

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It turned out to be a massive wholesale spice market, with a large open quadrangle in front for drying ginger. The quadrangle was bordered by warehouses in which spices would be processed, stored and sold. There was also a small spice shop on the first floor of the entrance arch, up a flight of very rickety wooden stairs.

Sadly, because it was still the tail-end of the rainy season, there wasn’t much going on. But we did see some ginger drying in the sun, and found some ladies sorting nutmeg in one of the warehouses. A few weeks later and the entire place would probably have been bustling with activity, and filled with all sorts of lovely aromas! Definitely something that we’d have loved to have on our one-day Kochi itinerary.

Also read: Churches and more on our 3-day trip to Pondicherry

Bazaar Road - Spice Warehouse - One-day trip to Kochi
The quad only had a small patch of ginger drying in the sun.
Bazaar Road - Spice Warehouse - Old lady
A cheerful old lady sorts nutmeg in one of the warehouses.
Bazaar Road - Spice Warehouse - Rickety Stairs - One-day trip to Kochi
The wonky staircase leading up to the spice shop.

Lunch at the artsy Kashi Cafe

We spent the morning strolling along Bazaar Road, taking in the sights and sounds (and smells) of Kochi going about its business. As we made our way back in the direction of our hotel, we decided we would stop at Kashi Cafe for lunch. This place came highly recommended by another friend, so we thought we’d check it out. It was definitely worth the walk!

Tower Road, Kochi
Tower Road sets the mood with its roadside cafes and magnificent trees.

Tucked away in a lane off the cafe-lined Tower Road, the unassuming outside of Kashi Cafe belied its cosy interiors. The open-air seating was a little warm, but the overall feel was comfy, casual and welcoming, with lots of interesting pieces of art scattered about. And it was obviously popular, because even though we got there somewhat early for lunch, it was already pretty full. Not surprising, in hindsight, because when our food arrived, it turned out to be great!

A word to the wise: Kashi Cafe only serves western cuisine. So if you’re looking for something local, this isn’t the place. Nevertheless, this still turned out to be our favourite meal during our one-day trip to Kochi.

Also read: 11 places for surprisingly good vegetarian food in Hyderabad

Kashi Cafe sculpture - One-day trip to Kochi
The cafe’s most-photographed piece of art.
Kashi Cafe - veg lasagna
The spinach and aubergine lasagna tasted way better than it looks in this shot!

Riding the ferry like the locals

We didn’t have much to do that evening, so we thought we’d take a leisurely ferry ride and experience how the locals commute. We’d also heard that one sometimes spots dolphins, which was exciting, but we didn’t get our hopes up. Still, it seemed like one of the more fun things to do while we were in Kochi.

But first, we had to wait in line at the Fort Kochi Ferry Station. The ticket counters for ferries only open a few minutes before the boat arrives, so it’s first come, first served. In this case, we weren’t first, so the line was pretty long. It was also uncomfortably warm and muggy, and the mosquitoes didn’t help. Luckily, the ladies’ line was shorter than the gents’, so the missus got our tickets quickly enough.

Kochi port authority building - One-day trip to Kochi
The interesting Cochin Port Authority building, as seen from the Fort Kochi-Ernakulam ferry

Once we got on the ferry to Ernakulam – the city on the mainland – it was quite pleasant. The breeze was cool, and we got to see everything from a different perspective while chugging along. We eventually got to the Marine Drive Ferry Station in Ernakulam, and spent a pleasant 10 minutes looking out over the water until it was time to catch the ferry to Vypin island. This was pretty much like the Fort Kochi-Ernakulam ferry, except we were heading towards the horizon. Sadly, we’d missed the sunset because because we started the whole ferry thing too late.

Marine Drive ferry station, Ernakulam
Boats lined up at the Marine Drive Ferry Station
Ferry ride - One-day trip to Kochi
On the ferry to Vypin Island

Discovering jankars

Once on Vypin, we made our way out of the tiny ferry station and through some narrow lanes to the jankar jetty. It seems that the only way to get from Vypin Island to Fort Kochi (if you don’t want to take the long road via the mainland) is by jankar – an open ferry that carries both passengers and vehicles. The jankar ride was nice, but it was already dark by then, so we didn’t see all that much. But if you can time it right (unlike us), this is something you should definitely do, even if you’re just on a one-day trip to Kochi.

Also read: Bali diaries: Peace and crashing waves on Nusa Ceningan

Chinese fishing nets - Kochi
Examples of Kochi’s famous Chinese fishing nets

Dinner at Brunton Boatyard

The plan was to have dinner at the Brunton Boatyard Hotel that night. Luckily enough, that was right next to the jankar ferry station in Fort Kochi. So we strolled over from the station, and walked straight into a piece of history! The lovely old hotel looked like it was straight out of a period movie, with its colonial architecture, antique-looking woodwork and old-world charm. It even had a huge anchor sitting in a corner of the central lawn!

We thought we’d have a drink and some appetizers at the bar overlooking the harbour before heading upstairs to the restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, that day was the first of the month (which, interestingly enough, is a dry day in Kerala), so no alcoholic drinks were to be had. So we contented ourselves with watching the jankars come and go over mocktails and starters in the outdoor seating. And of course, by the time we were done, we were too full for dinner. So the restaurant will just have to wait until our next visit to Kochi!

And that’s how we ended our one-day trip to Kochi. Up next: Two days in the lap of nature in Thekkady!

Brunton Boatyard - Outdoor seating - One-day trip to Kochi
The outdoor seating at the bar. I assume those vertical strings were to keep the seagulls out.

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