The train ride from Cancona to Kochi is nothing short of epic. If you’re planning on doing a cross-country India trip then you have to do a train ride. Oh, and the whole fuss over the tiering system? That’s nothing more than a ploy devised by the British to perpetuate class inequality and keep people apart – as I’ll explain shortly.
As things go in India, trains get booked up quite quickly, so even though we booked 2AC tickets on the Indian Rail app, we were placed on the waitlist. To sort things out, we head to the station the day before and buy guaranteed 3AC tickets instead, cancelling the 2AC tickets.
We were a bit intrepidated by the thought of the train ride, but by the time we reach Kochi we fail to see what the fuss is about. You’re basically sharing a space with two people above or below you, depending on where your bunk is. You’ve got enough space to sleep and once people start getting off the train, space starts freeing up for you to sit more comfortably. It’s a pretty chilled arrangement and everyone around you observes all due protocol.
The views are quite breathtaking too – you’re going through some of the lushest vegetation and endless river crossings.
Ernakulam Junction is one of the main stops on the Mumbai to Trivandrum route, so it’s easy enough to navigate to the exit. Not having eaten anything for the past 16 hours, we navigate our Uber to the nearest McDonald’s before getting to our next Airbnb listing.
I’m not too sure what to make of Kochi on my first impression. It seems… Average. One thing that stands out is how modern the city seems compared to Mumbai. Whereas Mumbai is regal, legacy architecture packed into a few square kms, Kochi is a sprawling metropolis with new ventures popping up all over.
Monday is mall day. LuLu Mall in Kochi is supposedly the second biggest mall in India. We figure the familiar feel of capitalism will give us a sense of home – and we are right. All the name brands have their own stores, and we can’t help but feel like we’ve been transported back to Sandton. The food, of course, is a different issue. You’re not likely to find kormas and masalas at the Sandton food court, at least not for so cheap.
After a couple of hours exploring this air-conditioned shopping mecca, we call it a day and catch an Uber back to the apartment.
As we near the end of our Indian expedition, it dawns on us that we still need to get our loved ones something special. So we decide to explore the Spice Market of Kochi. The gloomy weather is foreboding but this doesn’t stop us from heading out.
The day starts with a breakfast at a highly rated Fort Kochi cafe called Kashi Art Cafe. It seems like a hive of activity and packed with tourists, so we struggle to find a table. Really nice space though, with decent food and less-decent service. After finishing up brekkie we meander through the Fort area, past the Chinese fishing nets, and then get our bearings to see where exactly the Spice Market is. 3.5kms seems to be fine with us so we hightail it on foot through the narrow Matancherry streets.
When you’re walking through a city that has 90% humidity, rain really doesn’t cool things down. Anyone who knows me knows that I sweat, a lot, and by the first km into our trek the beads were pouring down my face.
Nevertheless, we endure and come to a touristy looking area that is supposedly the Spice Market. It seems quaint but we still didn’t know where to start, or what to get. We find a tuktuk driver called Shiva who is kind enough to guide us and show us the hidden spice sellers along the road. With a bit of bargaining, we leave with all the spices we came for, and learn about some history in the process. Shiva has all the connects, and I mean like all the connects. He was asking us just to browse shops so he could earn Rs 200. Naturally, we oblige.
After successfully navigating the Spice Market, we catch an Uber. One of the things I desperately need to get is a storage device to free up my iPhone. (Don’t even bother taking a 16gb iPhone on holiday. It’s pointless.) The Uber driver recommends that we try Marine Drive for reliable electronics stores, so we make that our next stop.
The Mobile Bazar on Marine Drive puts any tech retail hub in SA to shame. I’m not talking Incredible Connection here – this is four storeys of just cellphone shops. So we set off trying to find this elusive storage device. Most places try to sell me a dodgy generic pendrive that seems to get terrible reviews online, so I hesitate and just compare prices. The real McCoy is way too expensive and may as well pick up back home. That is, until we find a shop that sells a SanDisk Wireless Stick. This device allows you to transfer files from iPhone (or Android, for that matter) to the stick, and then to view or back up those files on the stick to another location. I’m pretty much sold on the stick and pick up the 16gb for about R150 less than listed in SA. More iPhone space makes me happy.
Cheers Kochi, or at least Infopark. We’re booked into a hotel close to the Kochi Airport, where we’ll catch our next flight to Mumbai on Friday.
For some reason I’m not really sad to leave Kochi. I’m not sure whether it’s the persistently nagging Airbnb host that’s made the stay unenjoyable, or perhaps my expectation of the city and area. One of my big lessons on this trip is that things are never what you expect them to be, and people always talk up what they have to offer. In any case, I feel like it’s all downhill, as the blissful serenity of South Goa has been replaced by the bustle and business of Kochi.
Speaking of expectations, as we drive towards our next hotel, we’re taken through some very rural areas. Deep down I pray that the unit and hotel somewhat resembles the online listing. Fortunately, the hotel appears as listed and all is once again right with the world.
It’s our second-last day and we need to kill time. Desperately. We decide to make one of the nearby malls our site of exploration for the day. Once we get there, we head down the street, passing various shops and observing all their wares, again with temperatures rising in excess of 30 degrees.
India is in no way pedestrian friendly, which is quite a shame. If you’re not negotiating a narrow strip of paving you’re jumping over a pile of dirt or a puddle of water.
On the way back, we stop at a shop selling dates, nuts, sweets etc. We hit the jackpot with some really cheap and tasty finds to take back home.
It’s Reconciliation Day back in SA, but in my mind, it’s one day closer to getting home. We depart Cochin International Airport at approximately 12pm and arrive in Mumbai by 2pm. We’re grateful for the amenities at our Mumbai stayover, such as aircon, a partitioned shower, buffet breakfast and working WiFi. You know, the small things.
We’re back where it all began two and a half weeks ago; Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. And the circumstances are similar – I’m on a wild goose chase to find cash (yes, there’s that demonetization problem again) to pay our baggage wrapper. And just like before, once we’re through immigration, it’s a trek through the calm, peaceful corridors to our gate.
About five hours later, we land in a bright and sunny Addis Ababa. Bole Airport is nowhere near the waking hell it was the first time around, but still dire enough to be undesirable. The airport seems relatively deserted up until about 7pm when the evening connecting flights come in, and traffic starts to pick up once again. We’re on our flight back to Joburg by 11pm, and arrive back home at approximately 4.30am the following morning.