Cochin is fascinating, if you have time to do more than scratch the surface. Intriguing stories hide behind every door, in overgrown graveyards and Hindu temples, old lighthouses that are now hotels, fishermen’s shacks and tiny art galleries. Sitting in the garden of a hotel way over my budget (some fresh grilled fish in the restaurant was all I could stretch to), listening to a tabla player and watching the garlands of electric stars strung around the pool, nothing seemed quite real.
The taxi driver that threaded his way through the hectic swirl of mainland traffic from Ernakulam Junction breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed over the final bridge to the island of Cochin (Fort Kochi). Somehow we ended up on the main stretch of waterfront, right behind the Chinese fishing nets that appear on almost every postcard sent from the tiny post office.
There’s a laidback, relaxed feel to wandering through the backstreets that seems unexpected in a town with so much history. You might think everyone’s up and moved to the mainland, but the streets aren’t deserted, just mellow.
A lazy walk took us past Syrian Orthodox churches, Dutch cemeteries abandoned to the weeds, the original tomb of Vasco de Gama and a cricket oval. Later a quick rickshaw ride brought us to the old town and the Jewish synagogue before visiting a wooden palace in Mattancherry.
As we wandered back down the street from the Pardesi synagogue, a very persistent shopkeeper asked us in. “Where are you from?” he asked. “England? Prince Charles visited my shop last year!” At first I was sceptical but he proudly produced a book of photos and newspaper cuttings. Charles and Camilla had indeed visited on a royal trip in 2013, even buying some T-shirts for Prince George. If you’re looking for the shop it’s called Little Queen Embroidery and supports local families who make beautiful delicately-embroidered linens.
I could have happily spent more than two days in Cochin, hearing the stories of all the different nationalities who came to Cochin over the years, for good or bad. In fact the main advice I can give you is spend more time in Cochin than I did!
Footnote: Two weeks after I came home I opened the BBC website one morning to see this story on the front page, about a new street artist in Cochin. I spotted a couple of these while I was there but never found out any more about them at the time!