We spent a hot and humid night on the non-AC sleeper train, the windows closed to keep out the monsoon rains. At 5:30 we arrived bleary-eyed into Kochi, to a pitch-black sky and the soaking wet platform. It was so humid, the air felt dense with moisture even in the pre-dawn relative cool. Most noticeable was the noise, the station we arrived at appeared to be rural and surrounded by watery marsh that must have been filled with millions of frogs as that was all we could hear in all directions. Leaving the station we made our way down a gravel track in the humid blackness. Suddenly the heavens opened. We stood sheltering under overhanging branches but it was now so hot the moisture was coming up as evaporation at the same time. In a series of short dashes, feeling the weight of our huge backpacks increasing with every second they soaked up more rain, we made our way to a main street. We’d found a pure veg cafe that was open from 5am for breakfast, and we enjoyed vada, idly, sambar, coconut chutney and multiple cups of black tea and coffee, for approximately £1! After a short taxi ride we made it to our homestay where we slept off the train journey for a few hours.
Fort Kochi was a culture shock after the relative anonymity and friendliness of the Nilgiris. Here everything was aimed at tourists: all the shops were selling souvenirs, cafes and restaurants were fancy and mostly attached to hotels, everything was expensive. A lot of it was old Dutch and Portugese construction, colonial with a European feel. At the seafront huge breakers rolled grey sand in and out from the shore. Chinese fishing nets stood at the end of jetties and small stands sold fish and prawns. Cats sat under the sellers’ chairs, waiting for their moment to strike. It was off-season so we were continuously hassled by tuk tuk drivers and shop owners, with some even getting angry with frustration when we kept walking.
In the evening we went to the shore for sunset. It was cloudy but we sat and watched the waves crash against the shore. We went to a restaurant with a seating area on a jetty that gave a lovely view of the working harbour at night. As the sky darkened, tiny bats appeared directly overhead, soon joined by HUGE fruit bats that casually glided past. We enjoyed a few beers and had a dinner that was basically chips and curry sauce and staggered back in the dark!
The next day we took the local ferry to Ernakulum. We had hoped to go to a park on the shore, but it was closed for the hottest part of the day and we were told to come back at 3pm – later than we were planning to stay. We found a restaurant that served authentic Keralan meals on banana leaves and went there for lunch. The meal was an experience; a huge number of waiters working in perfect choreography to bring breads, popadoms, chutneys, curries, rice, dhal, sambar and more, each aiming for a predetermined spot on the leaf, and with us just watching and hoping we were eating the right things in the right way! Most of the meal was delicious, but unfortunately our request about dairy didn’t make it to the right waiter, and we each had a huge portion of a coconut and cow’s milk dish dolloped right in the middle of our half-eaten lunch. Unsuspecting, we both ate some and it made us feel really unwell and completely ruined the rest of the meal, tasting like it might have been out of the fridge for most of the day.
To walk off lunch, we took a stroll North along the coast, stopping in the shade of the occasional tree. This was apparently a part of the city where young couples came during their lunch breaks! We took a circuitous route to the Mangalavanam Bird Sanctury, a mangrove inside the city. It was extremely hot and humid and after the long walk we were both struggling with the heat. We climbed a viewing tower that rocked and moved as we went up the stairs, despite its steel frame. From the top we could see into the tree-tops: so many shades of green in the afternoon sunlight.After a bit of a rest to try and cool down we went to explore. The area of the sanctuary that was accessible (the bit that wasn’t underwater) was very small, a short path about 100m long. It was impossible to see across the water as the trees and bushes were thick and dark, providing excellent habitats for the many animals that lived there. Rounding a corner we were aware of a cacophony above us in the trees. We looked up wondering what birds were making such a racket, and stood in stunned silence when we found not birds, but an enormous roost of massive fruit bats. Some lazily flapped between the branches, some stretched out their wings in the sunlight. They were all noisy! It was awesome and we estimated that there were a couple of hundred bats above us.
As the initial surprise wore off, we realised that we were very much not alone. In a mangrove swamp in monsoon season, you are never alone. Mosquitos, hundreds of mosquitos, had found us. As you brushed them off one leg, more landed on the other, and all we could do was run away from the water. We had insect repellent sun cream and although we couldn’t rub it in because we were too sweaty, it formed enough of a barrier to dissuade them. We decided to leave in any case, there were just too many of them.On the ferry back, the air was cool, a welcome break from the stifling city. We were treated to a beautiful display from the kites and eagles, seeing them fishing over the bay, diving down to the water and pulling up at the last second, sometimes with a fish in their talons! Their skill and aerial prowess was a sight to behold, and we stared transfixed until the ferry docked and we had to alight.
Unfortunately it was cloudy for sunset again that evening, but we had a paddle in the bay and watched the sky darken, before we went for some much better food. No booze though, because we had a very early start the next day. Kocki was an interesting place to visit, but the green and the climate of the hills was beckoning, and there was a long bus ride ahead!