Tag Archives: Cochin

India Part Five

A red kites flies with the kites!

Our first experience of Palm Tree Heritage Hotel was sitting beneath the trees on the edge of the beach,  examining the wave action of the Arabian sea and watching the red kites swoop and soar overhead; whilst sipping a mint soda drink.  If this was to be the format for the next few days then it would be fine by me.

We were checked into our perfect little room on the cliff top and listened to the waves pounding the rocks below.  With a beach on both sides we were in a prime position.  Palm trees shaded our little balcony and we enjoyed watching people stroll by along the red tufa path.

At night we could see the lights of around forty fishing boats twinkling on the horizon.

We managed to exert enough energy to walk both north and south along the cliff path and discovered that we were in just about the most perfect spot.  Unspoilt and quiet.  The shops along the cliff to the south were interesting enough and I visited the Varkala Aquarium to while away an afternoon.   I could have seen a 3D film for an extra 25rupees but there weren’t enough visitors to warrant showing the film.  I elected to pay the full amount (£2.50) and sat in the cool of the air-con with all the members of staff who had come in to watch with me.

Every day; the farmers drove their water buffalo between beach and farm, right past our front door.  Every morning; the fishermen laid their nets from the beach using remarkable coconut trunk canoes and lots of enthusiasm.

From about 0730h they began pulling these enormous nets back onto the beach.  One morning, I happened to be there and offered to assist.  The fishermen were amused by my joining in.

After about 45mins the net, and the daily catch was in.  They had pulled in many small fry; all wriggling and shimmering in a fishy mess enclosed by the tiny mesh of the net.  There was also a sting ray and some larger fish.   There was an awful lot of plastic too but that was simply thrown back into the water!

The work was not over yet  The nets were laid out along the entire area of the beach and the men sat down and began the intricate process of fixing any holes.  The huge boat also had to be dragged and spun on its axis to a safe distance up the beach.

Locals told us that the beach used to be a wide curving expanse of sand but after a very severe cyclone hit Kerala in November 2017 (Cyclone Ockhi ) the coast line changed.   The waves at that time were as high as 7m in some areas and there was a deluge of accompanying rainfall. The cyclone claimed at least 12 lives and more than 200 fishermen were left stranded and had to be rescued.  This was a sobering thought as we looked out over what looked like a fairly benign stretch of water. 

Since then, the water level has risen to such an extent as to be a threat to properties along the cliff. The remaining beach was really quite small.   The waves came crashing in full of sand.  Swimming from the beach was quite challenging especially entering and leaving the water. I didn’t fancy it but Sue was brave enough to swim.

One day, we decided to head into Trivandrum, the capital of communist  governed Kerala.  First stop was the Temple, well, after a masala dosa snack!  After that, we felt armed and ready to head out into the heat to walk round the beautiful building.   We wandered the streets and then went to the park intending to visit the zoo and the museum there, but both we closed on Mondays.

The heat sapped our remaining energy reserves and we were glad to get back to the station and thence to the cool breeze on the beach.

The day after we organised a quick visit to the elephant sanctuary near Varkala, where we saw a number of elephants chained up in the shade.  We fed one of the elephants 5 kilos of bananas which he dispatched in about 30 seconds. It was a rather dispiriting experience and not at all what I had hoped for.

After our few days relaxation, we headed back to Cochin on the train.  We met friends on the train and had a good chat with them as we trundled back to Cochin.

We stayed in a lovely hotel on Princess Street and enjoyed wandering around the area.   We had a pleasant evening sampling the delights of the Old Harbour Hotel and The Tower Hotel next door.  We ate at a fantastic waterside restaurant on our last night.  Our visit to the Folklore Museum; housing an incredible private collection of items and antiques  from around Kerala;  involved a wonderful ferry ride across from Fort Cochin to the modern part of the city; Ernakulam.  That was one of the highlights for me as it was a cool and stress free way to travel.


All too soon, it was time to be heading back to the UK.  We have had such an amazing time and have many wonderful memories from our trip.






Til the next time India……

Next:  Back to the boat, Linea in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily.




India Part Two – Exploring Fort Cochin

A beautiful Ambassador car. Very like a Morris Oxford. All curves and nostalgia.

On our first morning in Fort Cochin, at Coconut Grove Homestay, we were presented with a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple juice, masala omelettes; spicy and tasty; toast and chai.  Despite being full from last night’s feast we still managed to eat everything up.

The lovely Mr T.

Promptly at 1000hrs, we met up with Mr. T as arranged.  He was to take us to all the main sights around Fort Cochin in his auto-rickshaw.

He joked about the free air conditioning as we sped through the narrow streets and weaved in and out of traffic, pedestrians and pot holes.

During the day we visited temples, shrines and palaces.  We had a stop at a government shop where Sue succumbed and bought a beautiful Kashmiri carpet.






After that we were in need of a caffeine fix so stopped in a local coffee shop for a very sweet coffee and a basic lesson in Malayalam, the Keralan language, from the charming Mr T.

Next stop, was the laundry or ‘dobi’ business.  Here clothes, bed and table linen is washed by hand, by the dobi wallahs, in the traditional method.  There are cubicles where the washing takes place.  It is then hung out to dry on rows and rows of washing lines without the aid of pegs.  The edges are tucked into the twisted coconut sisal lines.


On our way out I noticed a hut where a man was ironing a huge pile of clothes.  He was using a very old hot box style of iron.  It was filled with burning coconut shell charcoals and was very hot.  I couldn’t resist having a go.  The iron was incredibly heavy but slid over the clothes brilliantly.  My ‘boss’ sprinkled water onto the clothes and they came out sharply creased and smart.  It was very hot work and I much appreciated the patience with which my attempts were met.

Sacks of ginger awaiting transportation.
Nutmeg, star anice, ginger….you name it…they have it!

After a lunch of vegetable pakora, chickpea curry and rice we set off again.  We passed old Portuguese style buildings, ram-shackled spice warehouses and wharfs where spices from the Malabar region of Kerala were transported around the rest of the world in times gone by.

Sue was encouraged to take a turn of sifting the pieces of ginger in order to grade them for size.  She and one of the women from the co-operative each took a hold of a handle on a large tray with a mesh in the bottom.  The ginger pieces were placed on the mesh and the tray was shaken vigorously from side to side to loosen the smaller pieces and then the remaining pieces were thrown in another pile.  This was physically demanding work.  Outside, in the courtyard, women were bent double over the drying ginger and sifting by hand in the blazing sun.  Elsewhere, there where blankets of black, white and brown peppercorn covering the courtyard, giving off a nose ticking aroma as they dried


in the sun.

The gorgeous women of the spice market cooperative who were so friendly.
Just a few peppercorns!

We bought some of the spices and herbs on sale in the higgledy-piggledy old warehouse.

Soon, we were off again, zooming through the streets marvelling at what we saw left and right.

We arrived at the water front where the Chinese fishing nets are deployed; hanging suspended above the water like gossamer witches hats.  The product of their canti-levered workings was being sold on nearby stalls.  We saw the amazing canoes and dug outs along the shoreline.  

We arrived back in the late afternoon and settled with Mr T (INR 800 – about £8).  What a fantastic day!  We totally agreed with the street art down near the waterfront.


India Part One

Back in October 2017, my great friend Sue Lowrey, asked me if I’d like to join her for a trip to Kerala, South West India, in the Spring.  I gave the matter grave consideration for all of two seconds and accepted with alacrity!  It would be about thirty-five years since either of us  last visited India.

Consulting well-travelled friends and neighbours, we soon had a few ideas of what to see and do.

We flew in to Cochin International Airport less fresh after twenty four hours travelling than the brand-new, cleaned and painted terminal building, which was very swanky.  It came complete with comfortable armchairs in which to recline whilst the immigration wallahs filled in forms, snapped photographs and took our digital fingerprints.   Better not misbehave in India.

First question;

‘Have you been to India before, Maam’?

Hmmmm, surely it was so long ago as to no longer matter.

‘No!’ came my unswerving reply!  The least complicated choice of response.

Within minutes we were reunited with our compact less than ten kilogram bags and whisked off in a comfortable taxi towards Fort Cochi and our homely bed and breakfast, Coconut Grove Homestay. 


En route we saw something of the size of the city, crammed with traffic, sail-like billboards and buildings of every conceivable size, shape and design.  There was even a procession of bands and brightly decorated wagons to welcome us.  It reminded me very much of Bangkok.

After a brief rest and our first welcome cup of hot and sweet masala chai, we ventured out of the tranquility of the lush garden and walked around the neighbourhood.    Within seconds, we happened upon wide, open park areas, huge canopied Portuguese ‘rain trees’, sign posts proclaiming this as God’s Own Country, egg yellow auto rickshaws, traditional terracotta roof- tiled houses and fiercely fought cricket matches.  Overall, there was peaceful and calm ambiance compared to the chaos of Ernakulam, the modern part of the city of Cochin.

With homing beacon instincts, we soon found the main shopping area of Princes Street.  Here our olfactory nerves were piqued by fragrant oil perfumes, pungent leather work and powerful drains. At every turn we saw astonishing sights including; colourful powder paints, libraries of folded saris and unusual musical instruments of dubious tunefulness.

By 1800hrs we were straight in to our first experience – a Keralan cookery lesson at the Flavour Cooking School on Queiros Street.


We were welcomed to the home of Meera and her family.  All the ingredients for the five dishes we were to cook were laid out ready. Meera gave us comprehensive recipe sheets. She explained what to do and answered all our questions.  Later in the evening her husband arrived home and took charge of teaching us how to make chapattis.   We were intrigued to know more and soon we had a lesson in how to prepare puri, parottas and parathas.

Needless to say, it was all delicious.  Although we elected to cook vegetarian dishes, the Keralans are renowned for eating almost everything.  Due to the range of religious communities in Kerala there is a wide range of meats not available in other regions of India.  Its proximity to the sea also means that there is an incredible array of sea food, too.

Full as eggs, we found our way back and slept like babies.



Next:  India Part Two – Exploring Cochin.