Every once in a while, hop on a trip with no itinerary. Allow the place to judge you, get comfortable with you and slowly unravel parts of itself to embrace you, surprise you, leave you fulfilled or wanting for more.
Around 16 kms from Ernakulam in Kerala is the water front town of Fort Kochi — a place we were heading towards to attend the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art. Little did we know the joys it held for us.
Basking in the morning sun, Fort Kochi was coming to life. The hopeful fishermen cast their Chinese nets along the coast. We were hunting for our homestay that was booked half an hour before we reached our destination. Every turn into a narrow street welcomed us with brilliant graffiti and illustrations. For every Indian face we came across, there were at-least 5 foreign ones. It was then that we realised this was not going to be like the other town and cities of Kerala we had grown used to. A promise of diverse art, culture and people lay ahead of us. By the time we found our home stay, it is fair to say we had gone from hmmm to woohoo!
Our home stay owner, a staunch catholic as he kept reminding us, showed us our room. Soon we realised by catholic he meant ‘I do not want unmarried couples to share a room under my roof!’. My loving husband managed to convince him his fears were needless. Soon after, he was very helpful in mapping out the local hit joints for us.
When we stepped out again, the midday sun shone bright and air was humid. With a map in hand and some recommendations from the home stay, we decided to start our exploration with an authentic Kerala lunch. We headed to Koder House, a heritage boutique hotel and I swore to a sea food diet during my stay here.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale had several venues across the city including many Art cafes. The primary venue was Aspinwall House where we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying some mind boggling art and creative installations. The place was a visual treat for artists, creative enthusiasts and designers. We ran into a few familiar faces and friends.
Alfredo Jaar’s beautiful interpretation of the 5th Century Indian poet Kalidasa’s famous lyric poem ‘Meghdoot — the cloud messenger’. He created reverse type with neon signs which looks like clouds hung on the wall. The actual text can be read on the water reflection below.
As the place shut by 5pm, we decided to take a walk along the waterfront. There were shops selling freshly caught fish, shacks selling sea food, gypsy women from Rajasthan selling beaded jewellery and a very interesting comb maker who migrated from Kanchipuram. He carved intricate designs from dead buffalo horns and he was glad to walk us through the process. It was a special interaction and we bought a few combs to remember it by. We did some more shopping at a few local and Kashmiri shops. We walked down to David Hall Gallery, where Krishnamachari Bose’s personal library of art and design books, collected over years was displayed. We dined at Oceanos, a popular local seafood restaurant and we decided to call it a day, a very enriching one at that.
We started the next morning early. Our first stop was breakfast at Kashi Art Cafe, a lovely place setup in a traditional Kerala style house. The cafe was also an exhibiting venue for the biennale. We spent couple of hours there before heading to the Chinese artist and film maker Ai Weiwei’s documentary screenings at Rose St Bungalow. We watched the documentary ‘so sorry’.
We then headed to the Mattancherry Palace, popularly called the Dutch palace. This had Kerala murals as well as art, portraits and exhibits of the Rajas of Kochi. As we crossed the Mattanchery spice market, the strong incense of spices and interesting sights beckoned us. We promised ourselves that this would be a must visit during the next biennale.
On our way back, we stopped at the Fort Kochi Jail, now a heritage site that had once housed eminent leaders of the struggle for Freedom of the nation and the St.Francis church.
As we walked down the road a bit tired with the day’s activities, we saw a pink Fiat 1100D parked in front of a cafe, called The Teapot Cafe. This was a quaint, high ceiling cafe with yellow walls and a loft with teapots hanging all around. An instant hit with us — even though we both are not big tea drinkers — we were enamoured by the ambience. We ordered cake and ginger lemonade and lazed around watching people who dropped in.
Refreshed we set forth for the evening performance at the Folklore Cultural Theatre run by the Government Of Kerala. There was demonstration of Kathakali makeup followed by Kathakali expressions, which when shown without the context of the dance brought a few giggles from the audience. This was followed by performances of Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Kalaripayatu. It was a wonderful evening that lived up to our expectations.
On our last evening at the fort town, we took a stroll along the backwaters and sat down quietly to enjoy the sunset and the city lights across the shore while the fishing nets were being taken down.
Info + Links
Ernakulam — FortKochi: Public Transport Bus Rs.40
Spice Holidays Rs.650~ /day