A First Class Indian Adventure Part 4: Fishing Nets And Food Poisoning In Fort Cochin

Whilst we had a bit of a nightmare stay at the Aloft, being able to get online again was invaluable as not only did we discover the preventable reason for the hotel messing up our station pick up, but more importantly we were able to check up on our train departures. Booking the leg from Coimbatore to Kochi had been a bit of a nightmare to say the least. Originally we could only get one seat for our preferred train, the Sabari Express with Anne-So’s seat assigned to a wait list. Just because we knew the ticketing system sensibly prioritised those on longer itineraries not being able to confirm our preferred option ahead of time was not any less frustrating. Rather than heading to India unaware if we’d both be able to travel we decided to additionally book seats on a later train which we would cancel should Anne-So’s seat clear the wait list. Thankfully it did and we were both able to travel together as planned.

Train: Indian Railways Train 17230 Sabari Express CBE -ERN
Depart: Coimbatore Junction 08:30
Arrive: Ernakulam Town (North) 13:45
Seats: Coach A1, Seats 5 & 39 (2AC Class) Seat Assigned On Train Due To Waitlist
Locomotive: WAP4, Top Speed 140 km/h

With tickets in hand, or more accurately in my giant India Trip Folder for our 08:30 departure we were pleased to be leaving Coimbatore behind. However, Coimbatore had other plans for us as shortly after arriving at the station we found out our train was delayed and we’d be stuck there just a little bit longer. Though seeing as this train would have travelled over 21 hours from Secunderabad over 1000 kilometres away I suppose a shortish delay of up to an hour was understandable.

The wait list and departure delay actually ended up being the least of our worries on this trip. First off another train seemed to be stuck on our allocated platform which made us worried that a last minute change of platform might make us miss our departure.

The second concern was not knowing where our carriage was located when our train did finally turn up. Unlike in France and some other stations in India there were no equivalent of the useful train composition screens so we were completely clueless as to where we were supposed to wait. With there being over 20 carriages on our train we had to make a plan. I decided we’d stay in the middle portion of the platform and watch the carriage numbers, if we spotted ours go past we’d make a dash in that direction, if not we’d run the other way.

Despite me vastly underestimating the practicalities of a last minute platform dash from one end to the other, we survived a multi-minute jog in the morning sun to catch our carriage.
We were soon sat in our allocated seats 5 and 39. Luckily my seat was part of a set of 4 births which I had largely to myself.

Anne-So’s was one of a set of two births on the side of the carriage, though she decided to join me for the final third of our journey. That moves us on to the third concern, Anne-So wasn’t at all well on this journey and had to make frequent use of the facilities. We all know that train bathrooms are rarely pleasant places to spend any time and Indian toilets are the stuff of legend. The look on Anne-So’s face after each wobbly visit said it all and I dared not ask for any more details of the experience.

Our fourth concern was something that I can now call a little scare but at the time almost resulted in blind panic. We had stopped as normal at Ottapalam and Palakkad Junction but our time at Shornur Junction felt highly unusual.

After waiting for half an hour with no announcements our train suddenly veered backwards with an almighty jolt, panicking us into thinking we were being returned to Coimbatore.

Thankfully having made a note of the route and seeing us stop an hour later at Thrisur as expected I realised everything was OK and that we had almost made it to Kochi. We stopped at Aluva as normal and after four and a bit hours on the rails we finally pulled in to Ernakulam Town where we’d depart the train for our time in Kochi.

We picked up a taxi from the dodgy looking prepaid taxi stand outside the station. We tried and failed to bargain the fare down, paying only 100 INR less than what we were quoted for the hotel’s own car service. Either our bargaining skills were awful or our upcoming hotel was the only place on this trip not adding a huge mark up to their car service. We weaved with relative caution in and out of the busy traffic in typical Indian fashion and soon arrived at our hotel, Tissa’s Inn. This place was highly rated on Trip Advisor and it was soon obvious why.

Hotel: Tissa’s Inn
Room: Deluxe Room – Room 4
Status: N/A

We pulled up at the hotel and first impressions were pleasing, unlike the last two places we stayed at.

We were warmly welcomed in good, clear English at reception and quickly completed formalities at the desk.

Not only was Tissa’s Inn spotless on the outside, its communal areas were immaculate too.

The hotel only had nine rooms, with six being in the highest Deluxe category that we had booked. We were shown upstairs to Room 4 where we’d spend the next two nights.

Anne-So was still unwell so she was glad to finally rest and have access to proper facilities. Our room was also deliciously cool. Kochi was by far the hottest place we’d visited so far on our trip and the heat proved to be a shock to the system after the cool Nilgiri Hills of Ooty and the unseasonable rain in Mumbai.

Shortly after settling in, a much needed refreshing welcome drink was brought up for us to enjoy.

N & G had also arrived in town and met us around 16:00. By that time the outside heat had started to fade and we agreed to have a short walk around the famous fort area.

It was still very warm out but we saw the famous bamboo and teak framed Chinese Fishing Nets said to have been introduced to the area over 500 years ago. As the sun set the beautiful scene was somewhat spoiled by the huge harbour and industrial area in the distance across the water.

Originally we had planned to eat at the well regarded Brunton Boatyard for a higher end affair at their History Restaurant which we saw on Rick Stein’s India but with Anne-So too sick to eat and N & G on a backpacker budget we thought it was best to cancel our reservation.

We decided on Dal Roti which we were told had everything, “From kati rolls to seven types of thali you won’t go hungry” and we definitely didn’t!
I had my first ever kati roll which was filled with succulent marinated lamb, soft fried onions, spicy scrambled egg and a sweet, tangy sauce.

From this point on I was hooked for life but there’s never anything that can replicate that first hit of deliciousness!

G had a similar dish with paneer and vegetables instead of lamb.
N went for a simple vegetable curry with a roti to mop up the sauce.

The food was all delicious, the portions were huge and the price was low. Overall this was simple, unpretentious food at its very best and was one of my favourite meals of the trip so far!

Unfortunately Anne-So had to order from the special menu, she took water and Imodium for dinner, additional photos are not available.

Despite a history that included significant presence from the Chinese, Portuguese, more famously the Dutch and most recently the British, something didn’t quite feel the same as the other stops on our journey so far. On our walk back to the hotel it sunk in more and more that the mishmash of influences and cultures that made up Fort Cochin had turned it into tourist central and not in a quaint nostalgic way. After leaving the plane in Mumbai we’d had minimal hassle from rickshaws, shops and restaurants but here the touts were everywhere. Thankfully not the horribly aggressive kind that would follow you down the street, attempting to drag you into their shop or on to a tuktuk if you so much as glanced at them out of the corner of one eye like at times on our 2010 trip to the north of India. Thankfully it never felt that desperate, just that everything we encountered was geared up for western tourists, unlike Mumbai and ironically Ooty which was a former retreat for the British.

The last 100 metres of our walk become a swaying trot and we made it back just in time for Anne-So to spend the next half hour with her head in the toilet finishing up last nights dinner. At least the hotel bathroom was nicer than the one on the train earlier… Thankfully she was fully recovered by the following evening.

We started our first full day in Kochi with breakfast at our hotel, Tissa’s Inn. After the trials and tribulations of our night at the Aloft it was nice to have an uninterrupted nights sleep and wake up refreshed. Breakfast was served downstairs in the hotel restaurant and consisted of ripe fruit and a fresh fruit drink to start with, followed by either an Indian option or eggs and toast for the main event. For some reason our servers felt a little shy and were not too prompt with their service that morning.

Not wanting to take any risks, Anne-So stuck with some plain toast for breakfast.

We met N & G and decided rather than just jump into the nearest taxi or tuktuk we’d take a walk and try and see a slice of life away from the tour-bussed in day trippers.

We took a scenic stroll towards to the Mattancherry area of Kochi via the back streets.

This was the side of Kochi I’d been looking for. It was interesting to observe the changing details from the local dress to flags, political posters and architecture. Most of our walk was peaceful and relaxing, far away from the touts and tour groups of Fort Cochin. For me walking these back streets were the real highlights of our stay in Kochi; clean and calm with such a variety of life.

It was almost midday and as we approached the palace the volume of people, shops, and tour busses slowly increased along with the strength and heat of the sun that was now beating down heavily on our backs.

We had a quick look around the outside of the palace and 20 INR later we had four entry tickets in our hands. On a sweltering hot day the best things about the palace were its thick stone walls, bounty of fans and all powerful air-conditioning… The cool air inside was a real relief as it was so hot outside that even after copious amounts of water it was tough to cool down. The Dutch Palace originally dates from 1555 and was Portuguese in origin. So why does it go by the name Dutch Palace? Well the Dutch restored it nearly 100 years later and more recently the building had been beautifully renovated inside and turned into a museum on the history of Kochi and its leaders. On display were items of clothing, portraits and other artefacts dating back as far as one can remember up until the last remnants of royalty ruled the land. I have to say that although for me this was not the most exciting museum in the world it was a quality way to spend an hour out of the scorching midday sun.

Unfortunately we were five minutes too late for the synagogue so we trudged back to get some lunch at Caza Maria.

Caza Maria was another Lonely Planet special and was hidden away through a cramped doorway, up a flight of narrow stairs till you were above one of the myriad of gift shops found in the Mattancherry Jew Town area of Kochi.

We were told this “enchanting 1st-floor place is a bright-blue, antinque-filled spce with funky music and a changing daily menu of North Indian, South Indian and French dishes.”

On arriving upstairs the description held true with the restaurant featuring a large dining room overlooking the street and a smaller one to the rear. We sat on a large table in the back section.

Anne-So was still feeling ill and just had some ginger soda, which she didn’t like but it certainly helped settle her stomach.
I had a lime soda which turned up an age later whilst N & G had fun inspecting their mosquito bites.

A further age passed before our places were set and thankfully the food followed soon after.

We shared a plate of fresh cooked rotis to go with our mains.

The food was once again very tasty, though portions were a little on the small side. We settled up and left.

We aimed to be back at our hotel for 15:00 to catch up with a travel friend of N & G whom they met on a portion of their journey from Delhi to Coimbatore.

We stopped a few passers by for directions but nobody who would speak to us knew where our hotel was located.

A few minutes later we witnessed what we thought was an explosion and began to debate if we should be taking cover or not.

Hearing no screams and not seeing a rush of panicked people we realised that it must have been something else.

Spotting a small crowd walking calmly out of the nearby Hindu temple where the noise seemed to come from we later found out it was something to mark the end of their service.

Panic over we made a final failed attempt to ask for directions to our hotel.

Seeing a near by tuktuk we caved in and asked the friendly driver, “How much?”

30 rupees and 1 minute further up the road we pulled up outside our hotel. The Cheshire-cat smile on our driver’s face was every bit as big as our cheeks were red with embarrassment, he knew he had well and truly beaten us!

We were just glad to be somewhere cool and as tempting as the pool was, it was just too hot, so we retreated back to our room.

In the end it turned out we’d rushed for nothing as the person we were supposed to meet didn’t show up.

We arrived at the Fishnet XL bar, which our guidebook described as a “slightly dingy 1st-floot bar-restaurant” that “is a popular place to settle down with a cold Kingfisher”. It was also one of the few legit spots to get a beer in Fort Cochin. I have to say that dingy was really underselling this place. The bar area was dark and uninviting with the owners taking the dive bar theme to the absolute limit. The main room was filled with a mix of worse for wear looking locals sat alone and talkative groups of foreigners populating the tables.

We ordered four beers, giant 660ml bottles of Kingfisher which were immediately poured with an ungraceful splash into our glasses.

Drinks were topped up with annoying regularity after almost every sip of beer and a slightly strange smile from our barman. Anne-So and I were already convinced the guy was Bulli’s* long lost bar-tending brother and we were absolutely certain of this when he returned to our table and decided to try and force feed us spicy chick peas by smearing them in to our hands with a clumsy grin on his face. Based on the brand of hospitality on offer, I don’t think this chap would be offered a job at the Oberoi! Anyway, the beer worked and that was the most important thing.

*As a side note for those of you who did not have the fortune to read about our North India travels, Bulli was possibly the craziest tuktuk driver in the world. He would laugh and sing as he chose the bumpiest possible route through Varanasi, purposefully seeking out each pot hole with glee. After a shell-shocked day of near misses and bumped heads he proudly handed over his guest book where the majority of comments on show questioned his sanity or posed dire warnings to fellow adventurers… Anyway, it seemed these two must surely have been kindred spirits if not distant relatives.

We chose Casa Linda where our guide book promised us excellent “Indo-European food” as “Chef Dipu once trained with a Frenchman and whips up delicious local Keralan dishes alongside French fusion” .

Casa Linda was located conveniently right next to both our hotels and again, it was another familiar looking trip up the stairs to what felt like another tourist restaurant. On the plus side we are quickly shown to a table and handed menus. I was back on the lime soda to re-hydrate myself after the beer.

Anne-So and N ordered an aubergine curry which I tried but didn’t like much.
G picked out aloo gobi for his dinner and all the French had some rotis to go with their curries.

After dinner we went our separate ways till the following morning.

Back at the hotel I managed to find Chelsea vs Stoke City on the TV, albeit with a warning message the whole game saying we needed to subscribe to this channel.

Thankfully 3/4 of an image alongside English commentary was enough to keep me occupied as was Oscar’s magic free kick, even if I didn’t actually see the ball hit the back of the net. I then sat through what had become the usual host of missed chances common to what was an otherwise decent 2013/14 season from the so called “Happy One”… Unfortunately it was all for nothing as our cup run was over in the next round following a 2-0 loss to City, the eventual Premier League champions that year. As the final whistle sounded we went to sleep dreaming of what the following day would bring us as we were headed to a bandit’s retreat somewhere on a secret island in the backwaters of Alleppey!

We got up at 07:45 the following morning after another solid nights sleep at Tissa’s Inn. The limitations of a small bathroom slowed our progress but we were more than used to this from our home at the time. I thought breakfast was better than the day before as we now knew the service routine. Our meal commenced like the day prior with sweet fruit and a glass of fresh juice to refresh, then Indian or Western options to follow. Anne-So and her freshly settled stomach went for the pancakes and maple syrup.

I had the Indian option, which today was one of my favourites, a potato curry and parathas, they were delicious but rather surprisingly not spicy at all.

It was sadly time to check out from what had been an excellent stay, though it was nothing compared to what came next…

A First Class Indian Adventure

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