Fast service bus to Kochi
After breakfast, I make my way to the bus station on foot. Apparently, Alleppey is accustomed to tourists. A station supervisor asks where I want to go. The next bus to Kochi leaves in about twenty minutes. The man instructs me to wait on the spot. Ten minutes later, there is a bus ready for departure to Ernakulam, the modern part of Kochi. The bus turns out to be a super-fast service, with only a few stops along the way. The service is more expensive than the regular bus, but the price difference is negligible. At 80 kilometers per hour, we race to our destination; it is strange to drive so fast, but I look forward to the arrival around noon, as I will have half a day left to explore the Fort Cochin in the old part of the city.
A conversation about the changing mentality of the Indians
On the bus, an Indian man of 40 years or something invites me to come to sit next to him; my backpack is in the front as usual. The man starts a conversation through the typical questions; country of origin, family situation, work. Afterward, I can question him. He is married, but to his regret childless, fertility problems, it turns out. He works in his sister’s company, which specializes in the rope trade; the ropes are made from coconut fibers. Furthermore, he appears to be Catholic, but whatever religion you follow, for him – Sundar is his name – values such as love, sincerity, and generosity are especially important. The mentality of the Indians has changed in recent years, he reports; many are selfish and only aim for material gain, an unfortunate thing in his opinion.
Not a good idea to drag my backpack in a driving bus
Just before we arrive, we exchange addresses. I doubt whether I will benefit from this correspondence. Sundar will write first, I promise to answer him (if only once, I think to myself). Sundar gets off before the final stop. I actually could have done that as well, because I spot the hotel of my choice a little further along the road a minute later. But then I should have taken my backpack up front, drag that thing backward in a moving bus to get off there.
A bit of comfort in a middle-class hotel
However, five minutes later, we arrive at the end station. I approach a rickshaw driver to bring me to the hotel, even though the distance is only one kilometer. I do not want to walk packed and bagged in the full afternoon sun. Apparently, he does not know the hotel because we drive past it on the other side of the street. He even pauses to ask another driver. I choose a middle-class hotel this time, slightly more expensive, but you get a clean room, with a sofa and a good chair, television, and a spotless bathroom. It is pleasant to have a little more comfort now and then.
Take the ferry boat to reach Fort Cochin
As I still have a full afternoon ahead of me, I leave for the ferry boat. Kochi consists of three parts. On the one hand, there is Ernakulam, the modern district, then Willingdon Island, where the old airport site is located plus some factories. And the next island is Fort Cochin, the old part which houses the (ex-) Jewish commercial district Mattancherry. Here you will find spice trade, old Portuguese and Dutch warehouses and houses, several churches, Hindu temples, and a synagogue. On Fort Cochin, you can also find the famous Chinese fishing nets, located at the head of the island. Ferries fare between these three boroughs, comparable to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
A foreigner trying to run a business in Kochi
Near the boarding place, I first eat a simple lunch. When I have almost finished my coffee, a westerner comes over for a chat. Chris is his name. He has been staying in Kochi for four years. With trial and error, he tries to set up a tourist service annex guesthouse, together with an Indian partner. The hostel closed down after three years. It is quite challenging to run a business as a foreigner around here. He survives by baking cake and bread, not that he earns a fortune with that, but he makes enough money to survive.
Excellent information at the tourist service center
Then it is time to head to Fort Cochin. Near the boarding place is a tiny tourist information service with an excellent reputation. I step inside and can only endorse the recommendations and praise; I receive a timetable with the hours of the ferries, plus a detailed city map. When I inquire about the travel options towards Varkala by train and everything is answered very kindly. Good service.
No discipline at the ferry tickets counter
A different scenario unfolds at the counter for the ferry tickets. Twenty or more people are waiting — polite queuing in line is unknown to the Indians. Tickets are provided only 10 minutes before departure. This happens as follows; when the ticket window opens, people squeeze themselves to the front as quickly as possible to get their ticket. Boarding the boat is the same. Even before it is fully docked, and people still need to get off on the vessel, you do everything possible to get on the boat without delay. Sometimes you experience gross behavior in India.
Fascinating Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin
After sailing for 20 minutes, we arrive. It is busy around here, but significantly quieter than on the other side. Nor am I immediately addressed by would-be local guides; people’s attitude in Kerala differs from Tamil Nadu. At a slow pace, I make my way on foot to the Chinese fishing nets. Along the way, you can notice the Indo-European influence of the buildings. There is also some hotel accommodation at Fort Cochin, especially on the budget side, as high-rise buildings are not allowed in the old part of the city. For the first time, I also meet several tourists walking around.
Visiting a church and some souvenir outlets
It is pleasant to stroll around this place. Especially the Chinese fishing nets are quite appealing, so I spent some extra time there. Then I visit the Church of St. Mary, made by the Dutch and rebuilt by the English. Perhaps interesting from a cultural and historical point of view, but churches are not my cup of tea. Back on the way to the fishing nets, I pass by some tourist outlets. Between a series of statues, I see a dancing Shiva, so I take my chance.
Negotiating by walking away
The sales price is 650 rupees, trained as I am by the experiences in Madurai, I offer 350. That is not enough, according to the seller, so I apply the classic trick and walk away. He calls me back and says I should check how much I carry. In my money bag is only 330 rupee. But he agrees. I play the game a bit further. I look at my coins because I still have to pay the ferry to go back to the city. The man even hands me back 10 rupees. You have to beat them with their own weapons and lie with a straight face. This would not have worked for the Kashmiris in Madurai, they know too well most tourists still have more currency in their pocket. This is one more reason to negotiate preferably with these street vendors.
People are less obtrusive in Kerala
The heat is starting to take its toll, I am exhausted, so I decided to leave Fort Cochin and start walking back to the ferry. On the way, I stop to take a picture of a gate of a mosque. A rickshaw stops, and the young driver approaches me. He asks what I think about Kochi and Kerala in general. Of course, he wants to guide me around, but he also notices that I am exhausted. Without really insisting, he suggests taking a tour with him tomorrow. Markose is his name. I will see about that tomorrow. What I certainly appreciate is the less obtrusive attitude of the people in Kerala.
A vegetarian restaurant housing a rat
The hotel seems to house an excellent vegetarian restaurant, so my choice to eat here is made quickly. When I walk down the stairs, I get another astonishing Indian sample to process. Two meters ahead of me, a rat runs down the stairs and dives into the elevator shaft. Even a mid-range hotel has pets. The food is very decent, rice with vegetables, plus a dish of spicy spinach with peas. Curious enough, I am led to a higher mezzanine for the meal. It seems tourists are not supposed to eat between the Indians.