Kerala Travel Guide Part One // Fort Kochi + Biennale

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Kochi, a small port town on the Arabian sea, was once (like most enticing towns of India) the hot potato of European rule. Passed from the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British the town formerly known as Cochin, is now firmly nestled into the hands of Mother India and is still hot hot hot. As the mercury rises, so does the tourist count as the city arranges it’s galleries, hotels, restaurants and public spaces with contemporary art installations from around the world.

The city itself is a work of art and like my current host-home of Chennai, is a virtual canvas for street painters, gardeners and old vines alike. As the Kochi-Muzairis Biennale moves in, the installations dot the landscape and highlight it’s unique and quirky spaces further; Each restaurant, park, and hotel can nary be split from the seamless infusion of art and life –  like the city from the roots of it’s European ancestors.

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In the epicenter of the Biennale and Fort Cochin, the Malabar House is the epitome of boutique heritage stays. Stocked with local treasures, antiques and south Indian flavor, the rooms surround a common courtyard that plays tropical plunge pool by day and becomes a tranquil stage for the Malabar Junction restaurant and Divine wine bar by evening. Despite a culinary tour of Fort Kochi, the fish thali we ate at Malabar Junction remained one of our favorite meals of the weekend. We lounged on one of our two balconies to enjoy the evening tunes and the other to reclaim calm and serenity from the spic of the streets by day.


Wander to the waterfront and catch the local fisherman gently dipping and raising fishing nets methodically to procure their daily catch. The best times to catch the catch is at dawn and again at dusk. This ancient fishing style dots the backwaters of Kerala and remains the livelihood of most local fisherman. This is a great spot to watch and fisherman are no strangers to curious travelers and may even invite you to try your hand at pulling in a net. In true south Indian style, people are friendly and quick to share stories and history of their city and their craft.  The waterfront is lined with vendors and a city park, restaurants, hotels and shops and all the charm and wandering livestock of the area.


I often like to get the lay of the land with a quick auto rickshaw tour, then walk back to the places I spy along the way. A long walk about this city is  a virtual scavenger hunt of street art, terrace gardens and architecture. While street art is a constant in Kochi, it explodes with an influx of artists during the Biennale, not just for alleyways and blank walls anymore, street artists pass through from around the world and often tag ancient buildings, tell beautiful stories and bring light to sensitive and important social issues. Look closely, contemplate and appreciate the artistry both within and out of gallery spaces, the streets are museum as well here in Kochi.


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