Traveling in India is tough. It’s chaotic, challenging, intoxicating, gorgeous, disgusting, fantastic. The one place where I have felt more alive than any other, all senses on full overload at all times. It can inspire and invigorate, but it also often leaves you lying, helpless, in the dust, thinking, how does this strange and amazing place even exist on the same planet as home?
The tales of our first three weeks in India can be found here, and here, and here. When we flew out of Delhi we were on our last nerve, both sick, and seriously doubting if we would last the planned amount of time in this difficult country. But then, we arrived in Kochi, formerly known as Cochin. The moment we stepped off the plane, into the humid, tropical air, I knew things were going to start to look up.
After three weeks in the record freezing temperatures and desert landscape of Rajastan, we had landed in a tropical paradise. Palm trees swayed in the breeze, tropical flowers were in abundance, and the humid air immediately warmed our bones. We had pre-reserved a room at Delight Home Stay and immediately were seduced by it’s charm. We splurged on the huge room with the private balcony and en-suite bathroom. I could feel the tension fading as we enjoyed chai on the balcony and took in the view. Dinner that night was at the extraordinary Dal Roti, just a couple short blocks from the home stay. Dal Roti features amazing Northern Indian food for ridiculously low prices, a friendly staff, and family style bench seating.
Kochi is a smallish town of around 600,000 in the Kerala region. Occupied by the Portugese from 1503 until 1530, it has long been hailed as an important spice trading center. As the main transportation hub of the area, Kochi is also the gateway to those wanting to explore the tea and spice plantations of Kumily or the kettuvallom cruises through the extensive backwaters of Kerala. We took full advantage of both areas, but these adventures will be covered later.
But at this point in time, we filled our days with leisure. Oh, we did the wonderful spice market tour, and checked out Mattancherry Palace and a Kathakali show, but after the long driving days, hours of touring, and attempting to absorb thousands of years of history in Rajastan we just wanted to get back to a more leisurely pace.
We slept in, spent hours relaxing over a book and chai on our balcony, wandered the streets constantly, finding hidden nooks and crannies. Our love of the cuisine of India continued and we ate at a different restaurant for every meal, relishing in the freshly caught fish, complex curries, and interesting vegetables. Lunch at Kashi Art Cafe offered free water bottle refills, excellent coffee, and a pleasant menu, all surrounded by interesting artwork.
Many meals were at cafes and small restaurants whose names we will never remember, but whose friendly service and excellent food remain strong in our memories. One of the more unusual evenings was spent at Salt & Pepper cafe. The food was sub-par but we were there for the beer. Lonely Planet, THE bible of travel, said it was one of the few places in town to get a beer, although you have to ask more than once, and it comes served in a tea pot. We found the whole thing hysterical, and after requesting said beverage three times it did, indeed, come to us in a white tea pot with matching tea cups. Just another example of the humorous but often frustrating insanity of this country – it was in Lonely Planet that they served beer, so certainly not a secret to anyone, and yet the charade continues.
We wandered the walkway along the waterfront, watching the fisherman with their enormous Chinese nets haul in their fish for the daily market. We admired doorways, and wandered backstreets. We were rested, refreshed, and back on our rhythm
India had not defeated us, and, although the months ahead would continue to have challenging moments, once we had surrendered to the chaos, life became significantly easier. The lessons we learned in this extraordinary country will remain with us forever and, of all of the places we have been and all we have seen, this place is one that will never leave our souls.