15th century Chinese fishing nets, Fort Cochin

A 15th century Chinese fishing net, Fort Cochin

Leaving behind the mound of rubbish known as Mysore with some satisfaction, my next destination was an altogether different class of place. My bus was headed back to the coast to the functional transport hub of Ernakulam, and from there I would be hottailing it to the relative tranquility of the nearby colonial-era island of Cochin.
The overnight bus was far from a barrel of laughs as we headed up into the hills and were thrown around mountain bends at speeds faster than I would’ve liked. Luckily the road settled down once we’d passed the hills and I managed to get a little shuteye to wake in Ernakulam gone 7am.
Too early to head direct to my guesthouse, I wandered to the main thoroughfare, MG Road, to find a place for brekkie. Nothing was open, but off a sidestreet I found a hotel that had just opened its restaurant for breakfast and I enjoyed a trusty Indian-style omelette (filled with onions, chillies and other veg), which had become a staple of my early-morning diet over the last few weeks, and a cup of tea (er, Tetley) with a side serving of saccharine-sweet nineties pop in the form of Hanson and the Spice Girls.
A rickshaw buzzed me the 15 klicks or so out over a series of long bridges spanning the islands off the coast until we entered a leafy, quiet area with grand, white colonial-era buildings. We had arrived at Fort Cochin, and I liked what I saw. The guesthouse I had picked was a homestay run by a German ex-pat, but he was away and so the Indian family who occupied the house with him (presumably his wife’s extended family) sorted me out with a room for the night. It was comfy, cheap (rare for heavily-touristed Fort Cochin) and near the action: a real coup.
I resisted sleep and struck out to pace some of Fort Cochin, heading for the promenade by the sea which was the tourist epicentre and funnily enough the former location of a old fort. I passed a Dutch cemetery on the way. It seems as if everyone has had a crack at Cochin over its history; there are signs of Dutch, French, English, Portugese and Chinese influences on the island, as well as sizeable Hindu, Muslim, Christian and even Jewish communities. It was the veritable melting pot.
Cochin may well be unique in the world in that its pride and joy is, er, some ancient marine apparatus. The centuries-old Chinese fishing nets fixed in the sea just off the promenade are still used to this day, and can be seen being operated by teams of fishermen grappling with their cunningly complex system of counterweights. You would’ve thought that over the centuries the word would’ve got out amongst the fish not to swim in that area, but the fishermen still come up with the goods and deliver their catch straight to the stalls nearby, where tourists are reeled in, making their pick of a fish or two that hasn’t been festering in the sun for hours and buying it to be cooked up in the restaurants ever-so-handily nearby. Unfortunately I chose not to take part in this particular food poisoning lottery, deciding instead to fill up predictably with a vegetable-based curry and naan.
Having completed a loop of the touristy area I proceeded to get lost by wandering inland. The further I got from the grandiose colonial houses, the more basic the dwellings got and the more interesting the smells became. After a while I found myself firmly in a Muslim area of Cochin, next to a mosque. I received a fair few curious stares at my presence, but each and every one that I met and returned with a polite smile melted equally into a heart-warming grin. The people of Cochin were absolutely wonderful.
Some kids queried me as to where I was from, asked in the common way you hear in India (“What is your country?”). They were just about to join a makeshift game of cricket up ahead, and invited me to take part too. I declined politely, feigning old age, not wanting to shame England’s reputation in the world of cricket any more than it has been over the years (if that were possible).
With some relief I popped out at the top of the island and followed the familiar coastal path back around to the now-bland tourist area for a quiet evening spent in and around the guesthouse. Cochin had been a little gem of a destination and a welcome contrast to the depraved filth of Mysore. But with the monsoon drawing ever closer it was time to enjoy my last slice of beach action at a tiny location near the tip of India that had been recommended to me by a good friend.