Imagine a place not quite off the beaten path but one where time languidly passes by. You are the place and the place is you. Fort Kochi was just one of those towns that invited me to come experience it and get lost in its nooks and crannies.
An hour from Kochi airport by car, this town that once belonged to the Portuguese and Dutch, is unlike anything I have experienced in my travels in India (which granted have been limited). While the biggest attraction to visit Kochi was the Biennale, there were a lot of pleasantly unexpected things I was able to discover along the way.
I’m going to start with recommending a stay at the wonderful courthouse turned boutique hotel – Ayana, that had opened just a couple of weeks before I got there. This hotel wasn’t my first choice, The Malabar House and Old Harbour Hotel were sold out by the time I got around to making a decision. Things however always happen for a reason. And there couldn’t have been a more perfect spot to stay in all of Fort Kochi.
From the retro black and white marble floors, the mid century modern furniture, teal bedroom walls, to the perfectly sized rooftop pool overlooking the harbour and staff that was so attentive, I can’t say enough great things about this hotel.
Never having been to an art event of this scale, I wasn’t quite sure what the Biennale was going to entail. But I left the festival being completely blown away and am still thinking of some of the pieces two months later. The thing I loved most about this festival, beyond the art, was the ability to transform two towns to be part of the canvas and a showcase in their own right. The exhibits weren’t cordoned off to a certain part of the city. It forced a sense of discovery. I loved being able to take rickshaws around, jumping in and out of galleries or bigger spaces, running into artists and really feeling the energy of the city shift as a direct result of the Biennale. I saw families, children, older members, all come together to celebrate these works and force themselves to think and view the world differently.
Two of the pieces I loved were actually videos – one of a ballerina tethering on knives, performing to an empty concert hall atop a grand piano. (I’m including a snippet of the video below, to show you the magnificence of this piece and the dedication to her craft). Part entranced, part mortified for her, it certainly left me on edge. The other was a video in a giant dark hall simply showing waves crashing in the midst of a storm. The room that this was located in was created to represent the turbulent journey the Dutch had made, to get to Kochi. Oddly though, this piece afforded me a weird sense of calm. In the madness of the world, it reiterated a sense that nature would always have the upper hand.
This next one really caught me off guard. I walked into a room filled with benches that overlooked the harbour. And just as I walked in, a huge container ship was passing by. I could feel the hum of vibration from this ship passing by. But to my surprise, the sound was actually the sounds of monks chanting and was coming from the bench itself. As I parked myself on one to re-acclimate my senses, I was pleasantly surprised. The work apparently elicits one of two reactions – an immense sense of calm as a result of the chanting or an immense sense of pleasure given the vibrations.
Some other works I loved were the Sea of Pain by Raul Zurita, the pyramid for the voices of exiled poets, the wonderful poetry of Ouyang Jianghe, Kissa kursi ka by Gunjan Gupta, India song by Karen Knorr and photos by KR Sunil.
As you scroll through the photos, I hope you are able to grab some of the beauty of this town and the sensory overload that it was. Speaking of senses, there was some amazing local food to discover too. Some of the places I loved were Kashi cafe, the thali at Malabar House, Teapot cafe and I would have loved to get drinks in the rattan chairs at Old Harbour Hotel and dinner at Brunton Boatyard.
Also if you make it here, make sure to check out the Chinese fishing nets and catch a Kathakali performance.
How can I give you a travel guide without talking about the one thing we all know i love – shopping! Just walk Princess street to get a sense of all the bookshops, souvenirs and spices. Niramayaa had “ayurvedic” clothing, made with all natural fabrics/dyes and infused with ayurvedic elements meant to heal different ailments. Some of the other spaces I loved were the pop-up by Nicobar at David Hall, Heritage Arts for antiques and the design store at Pepper House that carried Summer House and Infonauts.
There are too many reasons to visit Kochi and I hope I’ve given you the impetus to add this to your travel list. A huge thank you to my tour guide for making this ayana possible, it was wonderful to see India in new light because of you.
The Biennale runs through end of March. Check it out here.