In May 2018, we finally managed to go on our much needed 11 day Kerala holiday in India. Our focus on this holiday was to base ourselves in Kochi and relax after a very hectic work schedule and do a little sight-seeing.
Things to do
As part of our relaxation, we booked to have ayurvedic treatments. Ayurveda is an ancient system of natural healing in India where your body type is analysed and your concerns treated accordingly. We wanted an accredited Department of Tourism service provider who validates the standards operated by the Ayurveda centre and used the Kerala Tourism website to select a venue. There are two certifications granted by the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala (i) Olive Leaf and (ii) Green Leaf. Olive Leaf certification means that the centre meets the basic minimum standards set by the government for ayurvedic centres in Kerala. They will be a qualified ayurvedic physician, trained ayurveda therapists for men and women, good quality equipment, adequately spacious treatment rooms, transparency in the treatments provided and medicines used, hygienic rest rooms and clean surroundings. Green Leaf certification is the higher certification and has higher quality furnishings, a picturesque and quiet environment with abundant greenery, adequate parking in the premises, steam bath in the bathroom, herbal garden attached to the centre, and a separate hall for meditation and yoga.
We selected Ayurdara which was ‘Olive Leaf’ certified. Dr Subhash and his wife, Jancy run Ayurdara on Vypin Island and they also have a guest house, Albin’s Glory, where you can stay with free transportation between the two venues. Ayurdara is a warm homely venue and Jancy is particularly welcoming as the rest of their team. Since we were there for a short time we could only do a daily 5 day relaxation treatment and not the detoxification treatment called Panchakarma which needs at least 3 weeks to do. Each day started with a consultation with Dr Subhash before he would determine what treatment we should have. On the first day we also had to complete a questionnaire which helped him determine our body type otherwise known as doshas so that treatments can be tailored.
For our massage, we had to take all out clothes off because of the specially made oils that stain our clothes. Two women would attend to female clients and two men would attend male clients. We were given daily disposable blue underwear to wear which you had to adjust the front and back sections to cover yourself. Tony had the male therapist hold the underwear for him to step into which made him feel awkward however Immy changed in the en-suite without assistance. After our treatments ended our skin was smooth and glowing.
As out of shape, unbendy novices, we booked evening personal yoga training sessions for 7 days with the lovely and very patient, Geetha Pai from Moksha Yoga studios. It was less than 10 minutes away from our hotel by Uber and Geetha was both encouraging and patient with us. We can now touch our toes with our legs straight and to the side, do the plank for a minute when we could barely do 15 seconds and we have slimmed down a little (not that you can tell but we can!).
The best way to see Fort Kochi is to walk around although it is hot and humid so you could also hire a tuk tuk for an afternoon. Here are some sight-seeing highlights.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica: The historical church was originally built by the Portuguese in 1505 and when the Dutch conquered Cochin in 1663 it was used as their arms storehouse. The British took over and destroyed it in 1795. However, it was rebuilt in a mix of Indo-European and Gothic architectural style, consecrated in 1905 and Pope John Paul made it a basilica in 1984. It is one of eight basilicas in Kerala and is still operating supporting the Diocese of Cochin. Next to the basilica is a small, eye catching bright blue shrine dedicated to the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima.
St Francis Church: The original church was built in 1504 in wood and was dedicated to St Bartholomew. The Portuguese explorerer, Vaso da Gama was buried here for 14 years from 1524 before his remains were repatriated to Lisbon.
Beautiful interiors in Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi.
Mattancherry is an area in Fort Kochi with its markets, religious sites and cuisine. This was our favourite area in Fort Kochi. We really enjoyed the Jewish Quarter, also known as Jew Town, a historical part of Fort Kochi where Jews began trading spices. It is now famous for spices, antiques, furniture and other small shops. Below is the colourful decorative powder for Holi, the Festival for Colours. Holi is a two day Hindu festival marking the arrival of spring, celebrating fertility, love, colour, and triumph of good over evil. On the second day, called Rangoli Holi, people throw coloured powder at each other while getting drenched with water. Sounds fun!
Ginger House Museum Hotel: An interesting and eclectic mixture of local antiques with a cafe-bar by the river.
Fort Kochi Street photos
Subhash Park: In the evening when the weather was cooler, we went for a walk along the water in Subhash Park. Do cover yourself with mosquito spray!
Lulu Mall: This is the biggest mall in India and easily accessed using the metro (Edapallay metro stop). There is a food court where you can have lunch or dinner, a hypermarket where we bought snacks and bottles of water and bathroom products; and of course clothes shopping.
Backwater cruise in Alleppey (Alappuzha)
Our taxi (Kochi 24×7) arrived at 8am to take us to Alleppey. We started early to miss the heavy morning traffic and arrived 1.5 hours later. Our driver, Faisal, helped us choose a boat since we did not pre-book during the low season. There are 3 main types of boats that you can choose from in Alleppey.
i) Houseboat: This is the largest type and most expensive. You can sleep overnight in these.
ii) Shikara: Smaller than a houseboat that offers seating for up to 10 people comfortably to cruise the remote backwater villages that are not accessible by houseboats.
iii) Canoe: This is the smallest vessel and cheapest that you can hire.
Because of our evening yoga glass that we had to get back to, we hired a 3 hour shikara cruise with Alleppey Shikara Boats. It was very relaxing and enjoyable. We recommend you doing at least a half day backwater cruise or better still a full day if you do not want to stay overnight on a boat.
Here are some pictures from our backwater cruise showing village life. Seeing how tough their lives are makes us feel grateful for ours.
On the way back from Alleppey to Kochi, we saw cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that looked more impressive than those in Fort Kochi, gorgeous clean beach, fish sellers and Catholic churches.
Athirapally falls are located in the forest near Chalakudy. It is nicknamed the Niagara falls for India and the similarity can be seen during monsoon season (which we missed by two weeks!). It is about 80 feet high and has 4 drops. There are 2 paths you can take to view the waterfall. The first path is what we took as the second path takes you down to the bottom of the waterfall and is slippery.
Along the main path section there are a LOT of monkeys. They are very good at taking your food and drinks so put your things in your bag and zip it up.
Many children enjoy playing in the shallows of the falls. While the air quality is much better up here, it is still humid so do bring mosquito spray. As were were taking photographs of different parts of the falls, we were asked for selfies by the Indians who were visiting there. So we have ended up in family photographs somewhere!
Vazhachal falls is only approximately 0.7km from Athirapally falls near the Sholayar forest range. It is 42 metres high.
Thumboormozhy (Thumboormozhi) Dam and Garden
The Thumboormozhy dam is used to divert water for irrigation. It splits the river into two canals that aid the nearby villages. It’s not the most exciting place to visit but it is visited by families and school children. We were also asked for selfies here from families and particularly by children.
The butterfly park / garden is right next to the hanging bridge. It is home to approximately 148 species and the biggest butterflies visit early morning and during monsoon season.
When we travel to different countries, we try to have local food cuisine as much as possible. Here are our dining experiences.
i) Daily breakfast, Kerala style at PGS Verdanta Hotel. Every morning our hotel offered Kerala buffet breakfast or various curries and western breakfast of toast, jam and mini muffins, plus cut fruit of cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple. It was a great way to start the day!
ii) Our first lunch was at Kashi Art Cafe, Fort Kochi. It had an airy tropical garden where we ate and was surrounded by sculptures and an art gallery out front. The chicken and mushrooms with couscous, potatoes and carrots was delicious.
iii) Since we arrived early in the morning and started to feel tired, we headed back to our hotel to have dinner at Arabella Restaurant where we enjoyed a light dinner.
iv) Pai Brothers. This is cheap and cheerful street food dining. It offers 36 types of dosa and more than 180 combinations of these! We chose the salt and pepper dosa and the special four in one which was like an omelette. The salt and pepper dosa was the winner for me. It may not look pretty but it tastes great! The surroundings are very basic (no air conditioning) but if you want to have cheap, casual delicious southern Indian street food, you must try it!
v) Sree Krishna Inn: This is a vegetarian restaurant recommended by Jancy from Ayurdara. We enjoyed the kadai vegetable, kadai mushroom, butter kulcha, paratha, pineapple and watermelon juices. This is a wallet friendly, casual dining venue with air conditioning.
vi) Fort Kitchen Kerala cuisine at Lulu Mall food court. We had the fish and beef briyani. Can you tell the difference?
vii) Maharaja Bhog, Lulu mall serves premium vegetarian thali. There were no English speakers there so we did not know it was unlimited buffet until we sat down. The service was good but it was more expensive than other food court options and actually we preferred the food at Fort Kitchen.
viii) Ginger House Museum Restaurant, Fort Kochi. This was one of our favourites. It was more expensive than the previous dining options but the water view and tasty food was worth it.
ix) BBQ Nation: unlimited buffet and worth every penny. You select either the vegetarian or non vegetarian option, and then the skewers start coming. Our tip is to eat your heart out on the skewers. When you have finished the skewers you move onto the curries and desserts. This venue is for hungry foodies with big appetites. It cost 839 rupees plus GST and is cheaper during lunchtimes. Highly recommended!
x) Kochi Kitchen, Marriott Hotel: We selected the unlimited buffet dinner rather than a-la-carte as it had the most options offering Keralan, Sichuan and arabic cuisine. The quality was the best in this restaurant over the other places that we tried which was reflected in the price (approximately around 3600 rupees for two). You should leave this to the end of your holiday.
xi) If you want something other than curry, The Burger Junction is a good option. We chose the TBJ special chicken burger, large seasoned fries and home made ginger ale and it went down a treat! Look at that tender chicken with melted cheese on light toasted egg bun topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, jalapeños and house special sauce. We could have eaten another one easily.
xii) Our last dinner was at Sky Grill Lounge Bar & Restaurant, Crowne Plaza. We were excited as we had read about so many positive reviews about it with the roof terrace bar and dining. As we went on a Wednesday night in low season there was no one sitting inside, a only a few people were sitting outside. Unfortunately the rain shortly after arrival meant that we all had to move inside. We were offered a complimentary mushroom on toasted bread to start before our chicken lollipop and skewers arrived. While the service was good it was not a patch on Kochi Kitchen.
There are a lot of options that you can select from airbnb, homestays and hotels. We picked PGS Verdanta because it had a gym and a pool. However, we only used the gym once to do yoga after our personal yoga training finished and never used the pool! The hotel was next to Lisse metro so, depending on where you want to go, this could be a convenient option if your destinations are close to the metro station (e.g. the cricket stadium, LuLu Mall). The service was excellent and we enjoyed the food (albeit there wasn’t much variety). Be warned it is on the main road so you are in the thick of the city and it’s traffic but the double glazed windows cut out most of the noise.
Uber: This is the easiest way to get around. We used this to travel between the airport and hotel, to yoga class, and ayurvedic treatments. The rates were very reasonable – top-tip: make sure you have a local sim with data to connect to Uber app for your return rides!
Tuk tuk: You will need to negotiate fares with the driver. The size of the tuk tuk means that it will zip in and out of spaces that you did not know it could fit!
Kochi metro: The metro is very cost effective, very clean with air conditioning and mobile charging ports (you need to bring your own cable though). There is a lot of security at the metro stations so after you buy your ticket at the counter you will need to go through a body scanner which has a separate line for men and women. Your bags also go through a bag x-ray scanner. We found the staff who worked there all very helpful in then directing you to the correct platform.
Bus: The buses can be very colourful and is cheaper than the above transport options. We took a bus from Fort Kochi to our hotel and it was an interesting experience. The driver and conductor were constantly horning and ringing the bell but with the open windows, it gave a lovely refreshing breeze.
Bicycle: You can use the Kochi bicycle for free for 100 hours but navigating through traffic was scary – so not for the faint hearted. The bicycle pictured is just outside Lisse metro and next to our hotel. However, we did not try this option.
What to bring
Some things to bring with you but if you forget anything, you can buy it from the hypermarket at Lulu mall.
- Mosquito spray
- Tiger balm or alternative for your mosquito bites
Visas: Tourist visas are needed for non Indian passport holders. As our flight landed at Cochin International Airport, we could apply for electronic visas and we got ours from ivisa. It took 48 hours to come through. Simple!
Flights: There are no direct flights to and from London to Kochi. We booked Etihad airline, an airline we have not taken before so we did not know what to expect. The staff were great from check-in at Heathrow Terminal 4 (Thank you Paul!), at Abu Dhabi when we landed at 1:55am and guided us to our transfer and check-in at Cochin International Airport (Lino).
Telecommunications: When we landed at Cochin International Airport, we bought our Indian SIM card from the Airtel counter which is located on the left after exiting with our luggage. It cost us 500 rupees for 2 GB per day with unlimited local calls and texts and was valid for 1 month. They will take a picture of your passport and they can set it up for you straightaway. It takes about 10 minutes to do. The Vodafone and Idea counters are next to Airtel so you have a choice of telecoms providers.
Foreign Currency: There are 4 foreign exchange counters in Arrivals at Cochin International Airport (i.e. Thomas Cook, Weismann, State Bank of India and Federal Bank). The rates are about the same and are not as competitive as outside the airport (try MG Road, Ernakulum) but you do not have a choice but to change some money when you arrive because non-Indian nationals are not allowed to bring Indian rupees into India.