Thursday, 16 February 2017

Cochin On A Budget - Travels To Goa & Beyond

If you watched The Real Marigold Hotel last night you'll have heard the intrepid band of pensioners marvel at how cheap Cochin is. We got by on an average £22 a day between us - that's all our food & drink, accommodation, transport and sightseeing, pretty much the same as we live on in Goa.


I'm not sure what the budget for the Marigold gang is but it's a world away from ours, after all they're celebrities and we're self-employed market traders. Their accommodation* was just around the corner from ours (so you can imagine our squeals of excitement when we saw it on TV last night) and, by bizarre coincidence, we'd taken a photo of its impressive gateway after we learned that it had once formed the boundary wall of the East India Company offices. We even had a spiced, iced tea in the chi-chi arts café in the grounds of their hotel and got clobbered with "luxury tax", two drinks cost more than most of our dinners did!

*Our 2010 edition of the Rough Guide to Kerala lists the tariff as being between $340-450 a night for a suite, way out of reach for your average British pensioner!

The Real Marigold Hotel gang stayed here

I've mentioned that we'd haggled down the room rate for our homestay. Before we left Goa we'd visited an internet cafe and searched recommendations on Trip Advisor for budget accommodation in Fort Cochin. After checking the room rates we selected a few likely candidates and Googled their phone numbers. As we'd bought an Indian sim card when we arrived in India (around £3.50) our calls were charged at local rate. Although many landlords use internet booking sites, most prefer to cut out the middleman and avoid paying commission to a website so, if you offer to stay for more than a couple of nights, they'll usually come up with a better price - we got a 60% discount.

Paper masala dosa (£1), Mysore masala dosa (80p), cardamon chai (20p) and veg thali (£1) and one of our favourite eateries in the premises of an old pepper warehouse.  

Food prices vary enormously and eating in the tourist restaurants in the trendy bit of Fort Cochin can often set you back more than you'd pay at home. These places are frequented by Westerners and the food is either bland, adapted to what's considered suitable for a foreign palate or the tired old Hakka noodles/fried rice traveller's fare. Who wants to travel halfway around the world, hang around with a load of other Westerners & eat boring food? Not us. We look for places away from the main tourist drag, with signs advertising "homely food" or "Authentic Keralan Cuisine" and if the clientele's mainly Indian we're reassured that the menu's going to be more to our taste. 

Taken from our table at The Seagull Hotel. Surly service but ice cold beers and a great view.

Due to Kerala's higher taxes, beer prices are double those of Goa and only hotels are licensed to serve it. Spirits aren't available in bars and can only be bought in government liquor shops for home consumption. As we'd been to Kerala before we were prepared, buying a bottle of McDowell's white rum in Goa (£2 a litre) and enjoying a glass or two in our room before we went out - Thums Up cola is available everywhere. We'll have water with our dinner and share a couple of large Kingfisher Blues in a hotel bar after we've eaten.

Indian Ferrari, Indian Ferrari.....You want Indian Ferrari, Sir? 
Taxi drivers will continuously stop to offer a whistle-stop heritage tour for around £12 but, if you nip into any of the tourist information points in and around Fort Cochin, you can pick up a free walking map marked with places of interest and do it at your own pace (with plenty of stops for lime soda or chai.)


Here's Vasco da Gama's house - now a homestay and a cafe.





Top of the tourist attractions is the historic area of Jew Town. Get there early before it gets inundated by wealthy, snap-happy Americans straight off the cruise ship.


Jews have been trading on the Malabar Coast since King Solomon's times and settled in Cochin in the Twelfth century. Today only 22 families remain.


The Paradesi Synagogue was constructed in 1567,  and it's the oldest working synagogue in India. 


If you've ever read Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh you'll be familiar with the synagogue. I'd just finished the book when we visited in 2007 but stupidly turned up on a Friday afternoon when we should have know that it would be closed for Sabbath. 


I've waited ten years to see these 18th Century hand-painted Chinese tiles, each one of them featuring a slightly different design, and it was well worth the wait!

Both photos were borrowed from Google as cameras weren't allowed
The Paradesi Synagogue is open from 10 - 1pm Monday to Friday and from 2 - 6pm Monday - Thursday. 

No photos, no talking, dress modestly. Admission £1


The creation of Israel in the 1940s led to a mass exodus from Cochin. Many of the Jews chose to leave their larger possessions behind which lead to a plethora of high end antiques emporiums springing up. Although much of the stock on offer these days is reproduction there's still some incredible stuff. Most places forbid photography and assistants follow browsers round like hawks but looking is free and a wonderful way to while away an hour or so.


Not marked on the map is the Cochin Police Museum which we stumbled upon by accident. Free to visit and staffed by a super smiley and welcoming serving policeman, we admired a exhibition of uniforms throughout the ages, starting with the Raja of Cochin's bodyguard's lunghi to the modern day police uniform of khaki green. These days there's even a specialist Women's Squad, who patrol the streets of Fort Cochin in a Barbie pink van.


The autopsy room wasn't for the feint hearted, 3D reconstructions & gory photographs and case notes of machete attacks, strangulations, garrotings, stabbings and shootings as well as pictures of the unfortunates who'd fallen under trains and been hit by lorries. Particularly haunting was a photo of a family with a pretty young woman in a white blouse and hanging up beside the picture was the actual blouse riddled with bloodstains and holes - her husband had shot her shortly after the photograph was taken.


There's some stunning historical churches in Fort Cochin. St Francis was India's first European church, built in the 15th Century with an ancient Dutch cemetery attached, sadly locked up and no longer open to the public. 



 The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica was built by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and rebuilt in the 1880s.


Both churches are still in use but visitors are welcome between services.








Fort Cochin is connected to the modern centre of Ernakulum via Willington Island by passenger ferry. They run until 9pm, take around 30 minutes and a single ticket costs the equivalent of 5p. There's quite a leap from the launch pad to the boat but the staff are on the jetty to hold your hand and help you across.


Once you've disembarked in Ernakulum you can jump in a tuk tuk and visit the Hill Palace, 14 km south of the city centre (a return journey with an hour's waiting time should cost you around £4).  The royal family of Cochin once owned over 40 palaces all of which were confiscated by the state government following independence.


The Hill Palace (£1 admission) now serves as a museum with some truly fabulous stuff on display including a room stuffed with antique jewellery, bejeweled maharajah's turbans, precious gemstones and antique dresses threaded with gold. Frustratingly, as is often the way in many of India's state-run museums, the information labels on the exhibits are rudimentary to say the least, "Bangle" is the tag attached to an incredibly ancient piece of silver tribal jewellery and "Timepiece, gift from the Prince Of Wales" on a finely enameled & bejeweled pocket watch...Who? When? Why? After re-reading the Rough Guide later we discovered that the wonderfully ornate knife bedecked in decorative bells that we'd admired was used for beheadings.


With the huge groups of schoolchildren , more interested in oogling the funny foreigners than the exhibits, it can all get a bit raucous so once you've done the cultural thing go and wander around the surrounding deer park and do as the locals do, have a picnic beneath the shade of the cashew trees.


That contraption with the cage? That's where the Raja would have his enemies hung and left for the birds to peck to death. Lovely!


Fort Cochin is still very much a thriving fishing port and these 15th Century Chinese nets dominate the skyline, watched by an army of salivating cats. Tourists can buy the day's catch directly from the fishermen and have it cooked at one of the many tiny stalls flanking the harbour. Don't worry, at the end of each day, the cats got anything that hadn't sold.


Typically, with our spur of the moment type travel, when we tried to buy return train tickets to Goa we discovered that there were none available for at least a week but, no need to panic, nothing is ever a problem in India. We saw that there were a couple of tickets available on The Malabar Express and, because it sounded wonderfully exotic, we decided to book two sleeper class seats and slowly make our way back to Goa via Mangalore instead.


 With a history dating back to the Roman Empire and named the Estuary of The Wolf  by Moroccan adventurer Ibn Battuta in 1342, who considered it to be the greatest port of the Malabar kingdom, surely Mangalore had be worth a visit?

See you soon!

See more photos of our walk around Fort Cochin HERE.

79 comments:

  1. I've heard of the movie but never seen that tv show, but I'm not surprised that you were able to travel for much less! Great pics as always! :)

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    1. Try and watch the TV show if you can - it's wonderful to see older people having adventures! xxx

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  2. I WONDERED where you've been! Oh, my! I feel like I've just been treated to a mini-travelogue by the Master Traveler. I'm sure you've only related a tiny bit of your knowledge of this area, but I'm swimming in it! I had NO idea.

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    1. Lovely to hear from you! Hope you're enjoying the travelogue. xxx

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  3. We watched it last night and thought of you two. It's great it came on just as you've come back.
    This year's adventure has been a cracker. I even fancy a look at the police museum. Jon seemed highly amused xxxx

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    1. The policeman asked Jon if he was a British policeman, he was laughing for days! xxx

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  4. Oh gracious, I'm all inspired to open up a psychedelic hippy alternative to the Real Marigold Hotel- howz about the Unreal Marigold Hotel?
    Looks like y'all had loads of fun & sun!
    xox

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    1. That's a great idea? Maybe we should go into business together? xxx

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  5. I'm afraid I totally forgot to watch The Real Marigold Hotel, and unfortunately the iPlayer doesn't work in Belgium. But I prefer reading about your Indian adventures anyway. I love the amazing floor tiles in the Synagogue, the stunning churches, and the Hill Palace's tranquil grounds. Can't wait to hear about your visit to Mangalore! xxx

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    1. Aren't those floor tiles incredible? Amazing to think they've been on the floor for 300 years and still look like that! xxx

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  6. Vix and Jon's Travel Guide to India coming soon?

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    1. I've read some seriously poor travel books of late, I'm almost tempted! xxx

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  7. I find myself checking in for the next installment regularly! It's like a little dose of sunshine. I'm really enjoying the descriptions of how you did it on a budget, it seems so much more interesting, you've captured it beautifully and have seen some fascinating things so far, it's a treat xxx

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    1. I think that's what I find so joyful about India - nowhere is out of reach no matter how small your budget. Even if we can't stretch to a slap-up dinner in a fancy hotel, we can enjoy the same view sharing a beer. xxx

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  8. What a great picture of you two! One of my favorite. Definitely adventure traveling on that train.

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    1. We're typically hopeless middle aged people when it comes to taking a photo - there were at least three previous attempts where we'd chopped a head off! xxx

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  9. You make me want to go and see it for myself :) Thanks for all the information about prices and stuff - fabulous photographs

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    1. You should, Fil - India is amazing! xxx

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  10. I am enthralled with your photos and commentary. Your travels to India have always inspired me and I learn so much through you. Thank you!

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  11. It's no good, you're just going to HAVE to write a travel book. I'd be first in the queue to buy it!

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  13. I love reading about your travels, I'm reading with particular interest as if all goes to plan, I might have the opportunity to visit India myself later in the year so I'm loving all the tips.

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    1. Ohhh, I wondered about your travel plans. I'm excited to hear more! xxx

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  14. You always manage to pack so much into your vacations.

    I'm very impressed how you also retain all of that information and take photos along the way.

    So happy to hear it was another wonderful trip.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. Thanks, Suzanne! I'm such a geek, I carry a note book and scribble stuff down all the time. xxx

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  15. I am going to second Vintage Maison's comment above. Your writing is superb, Vix. I really feel like I am there reading your posts. More stunning photos again. I would love to visit Cochin after reading this. That surprised cow is begging to live in my back garden. :) Xx

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    1. What a massive compliment, Kelly!
      Cochin is fab and the backwaters will take your breath away. I loved that mad looking cow, too! xxx

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  16. Another most excellent post! Tell me, do you consult the Lonely Planet to discover local places to visit or the tourist office or both? You really find interesting, off the beaten track places... but of course I wouldn't expect anything else. xx

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    1. Thanks, Fiona! A lot of the time we stumble on something by accident like the Police Museum, Santa Cruz Basilica and the freedom fighter's jail (forgot to include that in the blog post). When we visited the Hill Palace Museum we'd caught a tuk tuk to see another museum which was unexpectedly closed and the driver suggested it as an alternative.
      The Rough Guide is good for history and train info but pretty hazy on attractions other than the glaringly obvious ones.
      Depending on the state, Indian tourist information bureau are good for free maps and often do really cheap all-day and half-day bus tours which can be a bit rushed but are okay if you're only staying somewhere for a short while.
      Most of the time we'll go to an internet cafe armed with a notebook and a pen and google "things to see", "heritage" or "museum" for the place we want to go and hope for the best. xxx

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    2. Your methods obviously work very well, you must see things other visitors have no idea about. x

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  17. Brilliant post! I watched the Real Marigold Hotel and thought of you straight away! xxx

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    1. We couldn't believe it was filmed around the corner from us. The place were the locals were playing cricket was in front of our homestay. xxx

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  18. Wonderful, I love hearing you travel stories on a budget. Xxx

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  19. I've just watched the programme, it looks great there

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    1. It really is. We've been three times now and absolutely love it. xxx

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  20. thank you very much for that stunning sight seeing tour!! all this ancient beauty, the bright light of the tropics and that charm of modern india...... one day we go there too! huge hugs! xxxxx

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    1. You must! Kerala is magical! xxx

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  21. fabulous post. those blue hand painted tiles were worth a visit and I would love to see the police museum. I am curious to see a glimpse of accommodation you stayed in (on your last trip you had some real gems) and also to know if you bought any perfume whilst there (sandalwood, patchouli?)

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    1. I didn't take a photo of our room at Kapithan, there's only a photo of the outside in my "Mistress of Spices" post but there's photos of the next two places coming up soon.
      We didn't come across any perfume shops in Cochin. There were some excellent ones in Mumbai which we're still kicking ourselves for not visiting when we were there last year! xxx

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    2. I bought rose oil in Mumbai many years ago - it lasted forever and when I wore it, everyone at work used to hang round my desk to inhale my fumes!

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  22. lots of fabulous pics and lots of interesting details!, I always enjoy your comments on the local life, museums, palaces, food, whatever that caught your eye!! You know how to get us into the local atmosphere!
    Thanks for sharing!
    besos

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    1. I'm so pleased that you're enjoying my travel series! xx

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  23. Wow Vicky! Such gorgeous images and what an amazing time you've had. Thank you for sharing your travels with us xx

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    1. My pleasure! I'm delighted that I'm not boring everyone yet! xxx

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  24. You know us well enough to reassure us that the kitties get fed. I like that.

    Cochin looks beautiful, but it feels much more hectic and built up in your photos than the previous places you visited on this trip. That restaurant looks super, though.

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    1. I do worry about the cats. We went back every night just to check. We've been known to buy tins of tuna to feed the street moggies!
      The restaurant was something else.I think that was the best thali I'd ever eaten plus there was a resident cat. xxx

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  25. Hello! I love this type of Guide. So glad you got to see the tiles at last. I would do a guide to Bali if I went back. You can spend a fortune there or you can spend very little like I did! Can't wait to see your next journey!x

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    1. Those tiles were well worth the wait!!
      I'd love to go back to Bali one day. We went there with a couple of friends, one of which was really awkward when it came to food, refusing to eat anything but pizza in some horrible shopping complex! xxx

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  26. Autopsy room? No thanks! That kind of stuff sticks in my memory for waaaaay too long.

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    1. That museum should have come with a warning - it was wonderfully macabre! xxx

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  27. I feel as if I'm taking part in a documentary about India - I can see, smell and taste the places you go. Fabulous, and no wonder you go back year on year!

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    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it, Veronica. xxx

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  28. In 1973 we travelled from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore on a sleeper - I got bitten by a bed bug!

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    1. Don't they live in mattresses? No chance of that in India, the beds in standard sleeper class are vinyl benches that flip down at night. The sheets were so crisp and lovely I was tempted to take one home as a souvenir (not that I did!) xxx

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  29. I started watching the Marigold hotel program last night and I am looking forward to watching the rest this evening. I will be thinking of you and your amazing travels.

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  30. Another fabulous post both visually and informative, thanks again Vix, I am in awe of it all. Truly beautiful.

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  31. You look so gorgeous in that first photo, utterly holiday happy! There's just so much to take in, I think I'd be in a bit of a daze. xx

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    1. Thank you! A lucky attempt at a selfie!!
      I know, it's exhausting! By 10pm we were both fit for bed. The sights of India can completely overwhelm. xxx

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  32. Your photos and commentary are completely absorbing. Thanks so much for taking us along with you xx

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    1. Thank you, TCG! I do worry I'm going to bore the pants off my visitors but I love writing about our travels, it's like being there all over again! xxx

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    2. This is as far from boring as you can get! x

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    3. Phew! That's a relief...thank you! xxx

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  33. Beautiful photos and captivating reading!

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  34. Great post! Love all the details you share. xo

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  35. Another Fabulous post , Thoe tiles are beautiful and i would love to have seen the Antique Jewellery xxx

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    1. Thank you! The jewellery was amazing - I wished that cameras were allowed in the museum so i could have shared it! xxx

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  36. I didn't know there was a Real Marigold Hotel programme so will look out for it in Australia. You've done such a wonderful job as a rival to Lonely Planet here! xx

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    1. I hope you manage to find The Real Marigold, it's a brilliant show and great to see older people portrayed in a positive light. xxx

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  37. Really enjoying all these posts Vix, such beautiful pictures! x

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Love from Vix
xxx