Greetings from India! We're currently on a very rural beach in Kerala after spending some time exploring Kochi (or Cochin) and floating around the backwaters on a beautiful houseboat. Finally I have some time to write! It's my first time visiting India, and it's as chaotic and crazily beautiful as I expected. Kerala is a more sleepy and laid-back state than some, so we thought it would be a good place to begin our trip.
We touched down in Kochi on a Monday evening and quickly found our way to our homestay in the Fort area. As soon as our bags hit the floor we were out of there looking for food. Indian food is some of the best in the world, and we were both excited to eat something other than the 'rice & curry' we had ALL the time in Sri Lanka. Our first foodie experience didn't disappoint. There's a Portuguese influence in some of the food in Kerala, and the result is extremely tasty, often tomato-based curries. I'd recommend heading to Oceanos in Cochin if you want wonderful food upon arrival.
We spent a couple of days exploring the Fort area & Jew town in Kochi, most of the sights are religious in nature; it's worth visiting the synagogue in Jew town (which dates back to 1567) and the various (old) churches that are found around the Fort area. Kochi is atmospheric and busy enough to be exciting yet not so crammed to be overwhelming. There's a beauty in the faded grandeur of the colourful, colonial buildings dotted around the city.
There's also a big antique, jewellery and spice shopping scene in Jew Town, so be prepared to part with some money! After exploring the maze-like streets we decided to spend an evening watching Kathakali, a mesmerising Keralan dance that dates back to Shakespeare's time. The dance is very expressive and the costumes and makeup are incredibly elaborate, it made for a good hour of entertainment and we left wanting more.
Other than that, we ate our way around Kochi, one of our favourite restaurants was Dal Roti. They serve North Indian food in a cheery, red building right opposite Oceanos. If you're looking for a glass of wine in Kochi then head to the Divine bar at Malabar House, our wine sipping was accompanied by traditional Keralan music. I discovered that Indian Chardonnay is pretty darn good! I also found a lovely eco-friendly clothing shop called Aambal, to pick up pretty kaftans if you're looking for some...
From Cochin we made our way to Allepey to book ourselves on a houseboat and explore the backwaters. Anyone who knows me, knows I am an organisational freak. I need to have things organised a bit (ok, a lot) when travelling and find it exceptionally hard to just turn up places without a booking... who knows what kind of place you could end up in! But I tried to put this aside and live more spontaneously.
Everyone told us that it's best to go and inspect the boats in Allepey rather than book ahead. I was uneasy about the thought of haggling for a boat, if there's one thing I hate more than a lack of organisation, it's haggling (I might be in the wrong country I know!). So off we went down to the boat jetty in Allepey to try and find ourselves a boat. Let's just say it was even worse than I imagined and my control freak, plan-ahead-self did not leave that jetty with a boat for the next day. Instead I went online, did some serious last minute research and booked us on a one night trip the next day with Karma Kerala boats.
Our boat was a dream, the crew were very friendly and the food was incredible, so I made the right choice (for me). By all means, if you like haggling and want to spend time going in and out of mouldy boats on the jetty then go for it.. but don't say I didn't warn you!
I've wanted to do a backwater trip for a really long time and it didn't disappoint. I would have liked another night, to truly relax, but we went for the luxury option and one night already blew our traveller's budget!
We boarded our boat at 1pm and had a bit of time to settle in before we were presented with the biggest lunch I've ever seen and every dish was tastier than the last... it was just a shame we couldn't eat it all! After a couple of hours of slowly chugging through the palm-fringed waterways we docked out boat and transferred into a small canoe. This enabled us to see the smaller waterways and float past little villages and watch people washing and fishing for their families. It really felt like a little dream world, far, far away from the hectic Indian streets.
Our dinner was also very high quality and we washed it down with some Indian white-wine (bring your own, as the boats aren't licensed to serve alcohol). The next morning we floated back to our jetty after a hearty breakfast. It felt slightly weird to be back on land after only one night on the boat! I highly recommend a one or two night boat-trip on the backwaters, it's definitely worth spending a bit more on a luxury boat if you can, after all you can't switch boats once you commit.
Tomorrow we're heading to Mysore, the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga!