Bustling streets, people atop already full train carriages, and the Taj Mahal. That’s India, right? Well, not if you have been to Kerala. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I booked that random flight out to Kochi, a coastal city in Kerala. Upon touching down at the airport, I quickly established that life here is much more laidback than the other countries I’ve been to. The airport looked like a huge European colonial house, while the people who had gathered outside to welcome the arrival of their friends and family were chilling on their picnic mats. I felt like I was at a strange housewarming party instead of in an airport.
Morning arrived, and so did the first bus. This is our transport through the winding and confusing streets leading out to Fort Kochi. A few minutes short of two hours later, we were there. Time passed by slowly here, and that time is best spent sipping on piping hot cups of masala chai. Fun fact: Tea is India’s national drink! As if we needed more confirmation on their status as serious tea drinkers! The average person in India drinks at least five cups of chai a day, and that’s a very conservative estimation. We found out about this first-hand when we met our really kind tuk-tuk driver. Like many countries in Southeast Asia, a tuk-tuk can be found almost everywhere here. Before I go on, I think the encounter with our tuk-tuk driver is worth mentioning here.
We were walking along quiet roads and soaking in the sights (and also, our t-shirts), when a guy walked up to us and asked if we wanted a ride around. We were opposed to getting on a tuk-tuk as we wanted to see as much as we can on foot, so we said no. He then threw out an offer we couldn’t refuse: a free ride. He goes on to explain that he had a deal with the tourism board, and that for every Government-endorsed store we visited with him, he’ll get a liter of petrol. The petrol was enough he said, and he’ll give us a ride around as a way of thanking us. We took his word for it and got on. He brought us to the first store, and we pretended to look around before leaving. At this point we expected that he would just leave, but to our surprise, he didn’t! This would then continue and we got lots of free rides out of it.
Kochi is famous for its Chinese fishing nets, but I had more interest in their relaxed lifestyle. There’s people, quite literally, hanging out on trees and enjoying the sea breeze. I also recall an elderly man painting a mural near the beach, applying the strokes ever so slowly. We also dropped by a dobi, which is basically a hand-washed laundry service. Had a couple of conversations with the workers and I realized that most of the people we talked to never complained about their job. They were happy, even if their work was hard. I found this refreshing. Actually, the only thing I heard them complaining about was that tourism in that area seemed to have dropped. I guess that’s where you come in!
After a few days in Kochi, we took a car up to the hills of Munnar. Primarily a tea plantation, it also holds some gems on its sleeves. As the altitudes climb, the temperatures drop. We now find ourselves blanketed amongst the cooling fog that’s synonymous with tea plantations. At a pleasant 16-23 degrees Celsius, it was a welcome change from the humid coastal heat of Fort Kochi. There were waterfalls, lakes, and killer views to be consumed in the area. It was a large pocket of paradise sandwiched between nature reserves and mountain trails. To get there, you would have to endure a risky drive up narrow roads. We saw a car in front of us wrecking their rims while trying to avoid a speeding bus. Too close ashave, but it was worth it in the end. Getting around on foot is not practical as the steep hills work up your stamina rather quickly. Additionally, clusters of activity are kilometers away from each other, so the tuk-tuk was a sound choice.
It’s easy to get introspective as you zip by the dreamy hills, but the warning honks of motor vehicles as you turn a bend will immediately bring you back. From where we stayed, it took us two hours just to get up to the viewpoint. Good thing the roads leading up to our destination were dotted with things to see. On one of these trips, our driver took a sharp swerve and stopped by the road. He then left the vehicle and ushered us out, so we did. In the distance, down the slopes, were two wild forest elephants grazing in the light rain. It’s witnessing scenes such as this that make Kerala great. It’s the little surprises here and there that hook you. Like the speeding buses around the bends and the majestic elephants in their natural world, you’ll never know what comes next.
Words & Photography by Amizyo Hairie