3 New ‘Things To Do’ in Fort Kochi

Like the exceptionally flavourful food that you find all over Kerala, the tiny region of Fort Kochi seems to have been created by putting together a bunch of wonderful ingredients that were slow cooked over a gentle fire to create a powerful sensorial experience.

Enhanced by an essence of rich cultural heritage that carries influences from the Dutch and the Portuguese colonizers it saw in the past, Fort Kochi has over the years developed into a vibrant tourist destination that entices travellers from around the world. Whether to capture the 14th century Chinese fishing nets against the fantastic backdrop of the famed sunset over the Arabian Sea or to walk through the narrow antique shop lined lanes of Jew Town leading to the historically significant Pardesi Synagogue, tourists have found enough and more reason to ensure that this tiny region remains one of the most visited destinations in India.

What makes Fort Kochi stand out though is its constant state of evolution. The region has progressively added to its already rich bounty of attractions by harbouring and nurturing many new age artists and bold entrepreneurs who have showed their gratitude by gifting it with new layers that seem to merge seamlessly with what existed before. An area that was previously known for its history is now being talked about as a cradle for liberal arts. Historically a centre for spice trade and traditionally a region where you could taste some of the best local cuisine, Fort Kochi is now also known for its beautiful contemporary cafeterias that would put some of their better known big-city counterparts to shame.

Even though I write about the present day Fort Kochi with so much enthusiasm, I in no way am trying to suggest that the region’s heritage can be ignored. When you visit, it is a must to experience the sunset at the Chinese fishing nets and do everything that all those ‘top 10 things to do’ lists tell you to do. It would be well worth your time. I have spent hours doing the same and still relish the thought of doing them again.

But like any experienced traveller would tell you, it always pays to leave your guide book in your hotel room once in a while. Go beyond those lists and only then will you see a side of Fort Kochi that will invite you time and again. Here are my top 3 NEW things to do in Fort Kochi.

1) Create Your Own ‘Art Walk’

Spend an afternoon walking along the streets of Fort Kochi exploring the amazing street art that adorns the walls. You can read my post ‘Fort Kochi, Street Art & A New Dimension’ about the graffiti I saw during my time on the Kerala Blog Express last year. Right at this moment, Fort Kochi is hosting the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 and the city’s fabric is now getting richer with stunning new additions to its street art portfolio. If you can, before you visit, try to read about the artists who have in the past or are presently creating dynamic pieces that seem to have brought in a new vigour to the region. It will add to the experience.

Art on the sea-facing wall at the Pepper House Cafe.

Art on the sea-facing wall at the Pepper House Cafe.

Building wall covered with graffiti in Fort Kochi.

Building wall covered with graffiti in Fort Kochi.

2) Hangout At One Of The Art Cafes

As you might already know, authentic Kerala food is pretty famous and most visitors have marvelled at the complex flavours of the cuisine. But what you might not know is that there is a new breed of chic art cafes that have popped up in Fort Kochi and they aren’t shy about moving away from the taking chances with fare that has generally not been served in the region . You can now find the heavenly chicken escalope sitting comfortably on a menu next to the legendary appam and chicken curry. Cafes like the Pepper House Cafe (which is my favourite), the Kashi Art Cafe, the David Hall Gallery Cafe and the Teapot Cafe have made chilling one of my top things-to-do when I visit the region. What’s there to complain when you can spend some quiet time (in an Indian city!) at a beautiful cafe with some amazing food and some inspiring art to appreciate!

The Pepper House Cafe

The Pepper House Cafe

Art is an intricate part of the experience at Kashi Art Cafe.

Art is an intricate part of the experience at Kashi Art Cafe.

3) Feel Some Musical Vibes At The Springr Cafe

So this one tip comes with a disclaimer. I am a sucker for anything off-the-beat experience that I can find whether I am travelling or not and so for all those of you who think a cafe must have a particular feel or must have great service, ignore this tip!

The Springr Cafe was special for me. It was more like a friend’s home than like a cafe. An old house converted into an art studio like space. The food was good, simple and non fussy. The seating was informal and the chats friendly. The fact that I could, during my time there, walk into the studio and watch a band practice was AWESOME! That is the charm of Springr. It is one of the few cafes were I didn’t feel like a visitor.

I’m sure that there are other similar cafes in Fort Kochi as the music scene is livelier there today than it has ever been before. Try discovering the others too if you have the time.

The dimly lit studio-like interiors at the Springr Cafe.

The dimly lit studio-like interiors at the Springr Cafe.

A band prepares to jam in the music room at the Springr Cafe.

A band prepares to jam in the music room at the Springr Cafe.

Do you have any other suggestions on new things that a visitor could do in Fort Kochi or have you discovered a cafe that you think others should know about; feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Why you will fall in love with Wadi Rum!

It was my second day at Wadi Rum and I had a few hours to kill before my host drove me back to the camp. 24 hours had passed since I had arrived and I was mesmerized by the magnificence of the vast desert. I had spent hours sipping on cups of Bedouin tea in the company of Zedane (my host, the owner of the Bedouin Meditation Camp), explored the majestic rock formations of Wadi Rum during the day and slept under the stars in the night. I was pretty sure I was in love. It wasn’t the first time that I had been swept off my feet by a destination and it sure wasn’t going to be the last. But yet this was special. Almost unreal.

When Zedane offered me a ride to Wadi Musa after our morning tour of the desert, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity of meeting locals and chatting with them. We reached the sleepy village a good couple of hours into the afternoon when the sun was still in a relentless mood. As my host went about finishing the errands that he had set out do, I excused myself to take a walk through the almost desolate looking village. With tall and rugged rocky hills on two sides, the red desert sand on the other two and most buildings in a pretty dilapidated condition, the village looked like a settlement that had been flattened during some fierce intergalactic war years ago on the surface of Mars!

Now that we’re done with the dramatic description of the context, let’s zoom into the scene!

I stood by the side of a tiny shop in the village smoking a cigarette. The shade was a welcome relief after having spent now almost 45 minutes photographing excited school kids who were more than eager to pose for me. An old run down Landcruiser came and parked next to me. The driver, a young lad with a serious demeanor, looked at me and greeted me with a Salaam alaikum. I responded, Walaikum salaam. After we had introduced ourselves, I offered him a cigarette and we began chatting.

A few minutes into the chat, I asked him about what he loved about his life at Wadi Rum. Hamad had just told me that he had spent his whole life living there and had never had the urge to venture out. For someone like me who couldn’t fathom a life without travel, this was the most obvious question to ask. This post was inspired by his answer. He spoke with incredible maturity and he was only 23. His answer was simple and honest. It was the truth.

“My friend, I love this desert. It is very big and it’s all mine. Every night there are many stars. I feel like they are all mine too. I don’t need anything more. I am happy.”

 

Hamad, the man who showed me what it was that made Wadi Rum special.

Wadi Rum and the Bedouin way of life

From the minute you reach the visitors center in Wadi Rum village, you will feel like you have time travelled back to the past when life wasn’t in such a hurry. The Bedouins are laid back to an extent where you with your crazy sense of time and punctuality (which comes from the machine-like existence that city life enforces) might think they don’t seem to be eager enough to extend an enthusiastic welcome. What you might not realize is that your hosts are just being themselves. It’s time for you to relax.

The Bedouin way of life has changed over a period of time with Wadi Rum becoming a major tourist attraction but at the very core, things haven’t changed that much. Though he makes more than what his family needs by catering to a constant stream of guests from around the world visiting his property nestled in the shadow of one of the many sandstone hills that dot Wadi Rum, my host Zedane spent time tending his sheep every morning after making sure the guests had had their tea and breakfast. He, like all the other locals, had managed to hang on to a life that was all that he had known when he was a little boy.

This photo was shot after I had climbed up and settled atop one of the hills to soak in the warmth of the morning sun and I saw Zedane with his sheep. The frame seemed to capture everything that Wadi Rum was about. I could see the sandstone mountains in the horizon, the red desert sand laid out in front of me and the simple Bedouin way of life, all in one shot.Wadi Rum and a Bedouin tending sheep

 

*During my time at Wadi Rum, I stayed at the Bedouin Meditation Camp for 2 nights. I would highly recommend this camp to everyone who plans on travelling to Wadi Rum especially for the great hospitality and warmth that Zedane (the owner) and his sons extended to me. I booked my stay through the Booking.com website but you can also contact the camp site through their website – www.wadirumbedouinmeditationcamp.com

The Jaisalmer Fort in 10 Photographs

Jaisalmer has been a preferred destination for me for years now and for more reasons than one. From nights spent sleeping at the dunes under the sky to chatting with locals sitting on the roof of a bus. The thing about Jaisalmer is that life somehow seems to ease down and everything moves at a really comfortable pace. Leaving the rush of the city and healing the scars left by months of monotony becomes an effortless task.

It might not just be the fort that brings people to Jaisalmer but then once there, you cannot ignore the magnificent structure. The thing is that even if you have been to the fort multiple times, you never get tired of sitting at one of the many cafes inside the fort sipping some amazing masala chai and soaking in the view of the town and the dunes in the horizon. A walk through the narrow alleys inside the fort is an experience like none other. The crowds at times can be quite an annoyance and a visit early in the morning might help you avoid the madness.

On my last trip there, I stayed at the Mystic Jaisalmer hostel (mysticjaisalmer.com) for about a week and ended up having a fantastic time. Though this post isn’t about the hostel and how good a choice it was for me, I still must say that if you ever visit Jaisalmer and are looking for a fantastic place to stay (and the very very affordable rates are not even the main reason!), look no further. Ashraf Ali, the owner of the hostel is probably one of the nicest people I have met during my travels and he will make sure that you have a super chilled out experience! And if you do read this post and do spend some time at Mystic, have a masala chai for me and let me know how the trip was.

*This is not a sponsored post and my stay at Mystic Jaisalmer wasn’t complimentary. 🙂

Here are ten photographs from my trip. The first one shows you the view of the fort from the roof top cafe at Mystic Jaisalmer! Jaisalmer Fort Jaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer FortJaisalmer Fort

10 Videos That Will Make You Want To Visit These Countries!

Vimeo has been my favourite video sharing site for a long time now and it has never failed to inspire me. Here are the ten of the best destination-based videos created by travellers that have also been featured as ‘Staff Picks’ on the site. I can promise you that after you have watched all of these, you will definitely have a longer travel bucket list!

  1. SOMEWHERE IN VIETNAM
    Featured Country – Vietnam
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/95749719
  2. IN OMAN
    Featured Country – Oman
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/95308951
  3. LOST IN INDONESIA
    Featured Country – Indonesia
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/93094247
  4. BUDAPEST CITYSCAPE
    Featured Country – Hungary
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/93199353
  5. AWAKENING | NEW ZEALAND 4K
    Featured Country – New Zealand
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/93003441
  6. TECHNICOLOUR ALASKA
    Featuring Country – U.S.A.
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/91997957
  7. BERN HYPERLAPSED
    Featuring Country – Switzerland
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/92014511
  8. WELCOME TO DOHA TIMELAPSE
    Featuring Country – Qatar
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/91953166
  9. JANUARY IN JAPAN
    Featuring Country – Japan
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/87008050
  10. DISCOVERING VANCOUVER
    Featuring Country – Canada
    http://vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/95384593

Do you know of other destination-based videos that have inspired you? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below so that others can be inspired too! 🙂

Fort Kochi, Street Art & A New Dimension.

A city, like the people who call it home, needs to develop, evolve and grow with changing times. Now, if you have been following the Indian political soap opera (leading to the 2014 Mahabharata/Elections) and believe that the only meaning of ‘development’ would be to have beautifully tarred pothole free roads for miles and glass matchbox buildings lining them, this post might end up disappointing you!

Kerala has been progressive for ages now in its own way and the most enriching aspect of this was that the state acknowledged the importance of its rich heritage, both natural and man-made, and made protecting it a part of its developmental plan. A state that has been a forerunner in making the most of its resources and teaching the rest of India a lesson or two in tourism management, Kerala is known for its dense forests, pristine beaches and a unique cultural heritage. Every tourist who has had the opportunity to visit God’s Own Country (a moniker that most would agree is apt), has been lured by the promise of experiencing nature and cultural vibrancy at its best.

One of the trump cards that helps draw tourists to Kerala by the droves is Fort Kochi, a beautiful heritage hub in the city of Kochi. The St. Francis Church, the Paradesi Synagogue, the Chinese fishing nets and the quaint little spice shops have made sure that a visitor always returns home with great memories.

But 12/12/12 changed the city and how the world would see it in the future. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, launched on the aforementioned date, brought about a dynamic shift; one that would be reflected in every travelogue about the city that has been written about the region ever since. The introduction of graffiti into the cityscape was a well thought out move on the part of the Kerala State Government and Kerala Tourism. Fort Kochi is now on the way to becoming a certain destination for the art hungry traveller. You may think that this is a premature statement but with the massive success of the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the second one approaching soon, the region and it’s graffiti scene is bound to grow.

Pepper House, the Aspinwall House, the walls on Burger Street and some other locations became canvases for the vivid expressions of artists like Anpu Varkey, Amitabh Kumar and Daniel Connolly amongst others. The sometimes contentious art of graffiti has not only gained the approval of the visiting tourists but also the admiration of locals who realize the importance of this brilliant new addition to their area’s fabric.

Okay, so it may not be a Berlin or a London yet but it is getting there.
‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step’ – Lao Tzu

Here are a few photographs of the first steps that Fort Kochi has taken. These were captured when I visited the region as part of the Kerala Blog Express (another fantastic initiative by Kerala Tourism) team of travel bloggers.

The Dragon Fish by Anpur Varkey at Pepper House. Street Art

The Dragon Fish by Anpu Varkey at Pepper House.

At Pepper House, Swiss couple Maya Hottarek and Louis Werder created the Brain Monster as a critique of capitalism and the waste it creates.

At Pepper House, Swiss couple Maya Hottarek and Louis Werder created the Brain Monster as a critique of capitalism and the waste it creates.

IMG_0009_1IMG_9784_1IMG_9926_1IMG_0012_1IMG_0014_1

Political pamphlets disfiguring a wall adorned with a graffiti... For those who don't know what vandalism means, here's a great example!

Political pamphlets disfiguring a wall adorned with graffiti… for those who don’t know what vandalism means, here’s a great example!

If you knew you would be disappointed by Kerala’s idea of development but still managed to stay with this post right till the end, I have some good news for you. KERALA DOES HAVE SOME OF THE BEST ROADS IN THE COUNTRY! 😉

Kerala Blog Express, a Journey of Sunsets.

Okay, so here is a confession. I have never been a big fan of sunsets or sunrises and I’m not really sure why. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy them every now and then, but I have never felt the urge to walk distances or schedule my day specifically with the aim of making it to that special ‘sunset’ point.

Well, all that was true before I joined the Kerala Blog Express and met two special people, the crazy EDIN CHAVEZ and the awesome INMA GREGORIO.

Edin and Inma had two very different personalities and I was fascinated by them both but it was the traits they had in common that in a strange way resulted in this post. Two of the things that captivated me the most was their conversations in Spanish (which I couldn’t understand at all but still enjoyed a lot) and their love for sunsets.

Even if they had gone through a busy day and had seemingly given up to exhaustion by displaying a lack of enthusiasm for planned photo ops, the suggestion of watching the sun come down to meet the horizon and taking a few good shots would make them jump to their feet. To be honest, on the first evening at the Estuary Island in Poovar, I wasn’t really keen on shooting the sunset; I was just following the herd! But I am glad I did, as that ended up being my first step in a relationship with the flaming skies.

After the first evening, the quest became effortless. I just had to follow the crazy sunset hunters! They could sense sunsets and locate fantastic view points to shoot from. I was learning. I was falling in love.

While skimming through the photographs that I had shot during the Kerala Blog Express, I realized that I had made a journey of sunsets. Every photo took me back on the journey and memories flooded in. Here are ten of those sunset moments that made the Kerala experience so magical for me.

Kerala Sunset

Local boys showing off their parkour skills at sunset. Location: Estuary Island, Poovar. Courtesy: Estuary Island Resort.

Staying at the Estuary Island Resort allowed us to soak in this brilliant sunset.

Staying at the Estuary Island Resort allowed us to soak in this brilliant sunset. Location: Estuary Island, Poovar. Courtesy: Estuary Island Resort.

Inma (aworldtotravel.com) doing what she loves the most; enjoying the sunset. Location: The Leela Kovalam.

Inma (aworldtotravel.com) doing what she loves the most; enjoying the sunset. Location Courtesy: The Leela Kovalam.

A fishing boat glides past as the dying sun paints the sky a fascinating pink. Location: Punnamada (Vembanad) Lake. Courtesy: Rainbow Cruises, Allepey.

A fishing boat glides past as the dying sun paints the sky a fascinating pink. Location: Punnamada (Vembanad) Lake. Courtesy: Rainbow Cruises, Allepey.

The sunset turned out to be the icing on the cake after a fantastic boat ride spotting wild elephants, sambar deer and gaurs. Location: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sunset turned out to be the icing on the cake after a fantastic boat ride spotting wild elephants, sambar deer and gaurs. Location: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dramatic giant silhouettes of trees at Wayanad. Location: The Hill District Club, Wayanad.

Dramatic giant silhouettes of trees against the gradient sky at Wayanad. Location Courtesy: The Hill District Club, Wayanad.

The mesmerizing hills of the Western Ghats create a beautiful layered foreground for this sunset. Location: Vythiri, Wayanad. Courtesy: Vythiri Resort.

The mesmerizing hills of the Western Ghats create a beautiful layered foreground for this sunset. Location: Wayanad. Courtesy: Vythiri Resorts.

A favourite of many sunset-chasing photographers, the Chinese fishing nets frame the sun as it rests on the horizon before taking the plunge. Location: Fort Kochi.

A favourite of many sunset-chasing photographers, the Chinese fishing nets frame the sun as it rests on the horizon before taking the plunge. Location: Fort Kochi.

A fisherman at Edakkad beach in Kannur. Disappointed with the catch but not giving up, he made a sharp subject. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: MalabarCove Beach House.

A fisherman tries his luck oblivious to the stunning shimmering water. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

This tiny gorgeous stretch of sand witnesses the most magical crimson sunset every evening. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

This tiny gorgeous stretch of sand witnesses the most surreal crimson sunset every evening. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

So as you may have imagined, by the end of the KeralaBlogExpress road trip, my love for sunsets had slowly developed into an obsession and there are only two people to thank for this transformation, Edin and Inma. What better way to thank these amazing guys than to use the Spanish that I have learnt by listening to them (and a little help from Google Translate, obviously!).

Amigos, gracias por ser increíble.

(I do know a few more words in Spanish but then this isn’t really a post about my incredible command over the language!) 😉