Alcohol is state controlled in Kerala and bars are kept strictly behind blacked out windows, or in international hotels. If you fancy a beer with the locals you'll have to head to one of the bars dotted around the city. Look for the big black and white diamond sign outside. The best of these is the Bar Oberoi on MG Road. It's not as dark and desperate as most of them, and is kept pretty clean (at least the rats and cockroaches are not visible). You'll be the only non-Indian in there, and if you're a woman you'll definitely be the only one. Between 5pm and 6pm most days the proprietor lights a series of incense sticks, each more smoky than the last, finishing with full-on frankincense that makes your eyes water, but smells nice. The food is average, freshly cooked, and has never made me ill.
MG Road, Ernakulam, 682035, Kerala
Google map: bit.ly/MAryGV
If you want a break from the relentless manicured (for India) tourism of Fort Cochin, hop on a ferry across the estuary. Ernakalum District, of which Fort Cochin is only one small part, is Kerala's commercial hub. To get an idea of ordinary life for your average Kochiite put on your walking boots and refuse every offer from rickshaw drivers (not that you'll get hassled here, they are not so used to tourists).
Walk the length of Market Street, from Hospital Street to Banerji Road, and explore the lanes that run off this busy market area. There are no touts, and you won't be hassled to buy a carpet or 'antique'. The fella coming up and asking your name simply wants to welcome you to Kerala and talk to a foreigner, especially an English speaker. You'll find Jew Street, Muslim Street and Convent Road within a prayer of each other, illustrating the easy religious integration which characterises this enlightened state.
Turn right at the end of Market Street on to Banerji Road and pop into the Hotel Saravana Bhavan for the best vegetable thali in Kochi. (Like many restaurants in India it is called a 'hotel' when all it does is serve food, which can be a bit misleading as the hotels are usually called hotels too.) The non A/C section is packed with local workers every day. For less than a £1 they'll keep filling your plate or 'ela' (Malayalam for banana leaf) until you burst. There's an A/C section for posh people.
After lunch head a little further up Banerji Road and turn onto MG Road. Seemati has a fantastic textile section full of silks, satins and cottons for a tenth of the price you would pay in the UK. Chennai silks is great for sarees, salwaars and mens' clothes, they even have on-site tailors.
If you fancy a beer the best local bar is the Bar Oberoi on MG Road. It's not as dark and desperate as most of the diamond-signed bars all over town, and cleaner than most. You'll be the only non-Indian in there, and if you're a woman you'll definitely be the only one. Between 5 and 6 most days the proprietor lights a series of incense sticks, each more smoky than the last, finishing with full-on frankincense bowls.
Hotel Saravana Bhavan
Banerji Road, Ernakulam Bazar, Near Sritha Theatre, Kochi, Kerala 682031, India
+91 484 237 0153
Stay at the Old Harbour Hotel or the Malabar House (both are upscale and charming). Sip wine (or a beer) and nosh on small plates at Malabar House's Divine wine bar. Check out Jew Town, taking socks for the synagogue tour, watch the Chinese fishing nets at sunset, and indulge in a Kalari massage at Malabar House. And don't miss the chocolate cake at Kashi Art Cafe on Burgher Street
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