India

5 Interesting Things to Do in Kochi, India

In this article our guest writer, Rohit Agarwal, explores Kochi, in the state of Kerala, India. See his bio below.

Kerala is a state in India that is blessed with inherent natural beauty, calm, peaceful beaches and very rich cultural heritage. Kerala’s financial capital Kochi is one of the most favourite holiday destinations of tourists. Kochi has variety of things to offer that fulfils wanderlust of travellers having altogether different interests. Right from marvellous beaches to huge museums and from jungle walks to folk dance theatres, Kochi  is full of attractions to make your stay here memorable. To celebrate a holiday that would have a never-fading impression on your mind, here is a list of a couple of interesting things you can do in Kochi.

Go for Kayaking in backwaters of river Periyar

In Kochi, one can experience the pleasant Kerala backwaters while gliding the kayak. Many boat clubs and adventure sports companies provide excellent facilities of Kayaking in the river Periyar with complete safety and guidance.

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Photo by Challlivan, CC BY-SA 3.0

The experience of kayaking in the morning while listening to chorus of birds at dawn and witnessing an alluring sunrise can be mesmerizing; while moonlight kayaking can soothe your soul and offer romantic moments to cherish forever. Considering such a perfect combination of thrill and bonding with nature, kayaking definitely should be on your list of must-do things in Kochi!

Visit a spa and get a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage

It would be a bonus to have a perfect massage on a refreshing trip, wouldn’t it? Kochi has some extraordinarily luxurious spas that practice ancient art and science of Ayurveda to offer you a rejuvenating experience of massage. In this massage offered by the therapists trained under Ayurveda masters, you can experience each cell in your body getting relaxed and all your stress and tiredness vanishing!  During a visit to a close-to-nature city, Kochi, experiencing a completely natural massage will certainly reignite your life force.

Witness the Chinese Fishing Nets in action

It is said that Chinese Fishing Nets were introduced in Fort Kochi by the Chinese explorer, Zheng He. These nets are fixed land installations, which are used for an unusual method of fishing.

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Photo by Kreativeart, CC BY-SA 4.0

Witnessing the use of these ancient objects by local fishermen is a very unique experience to have. An ideal place to watch fishermen use these nets is the Vasco da Gama square. There you can actually see these nets lowering into the sea and fish being caught in nets! The Vasco da Gama square also has food stalls that serve fresh and tasty seafood. Spending an evening here enjoying an amazing view of the sunset can be a mesmerising experience.

Experience live performance of Kathakali dance

Kathakali is one of the 7 classical Indian dance forms and is a dance-drama traditional to Kerala. The grand make-up of the artists and the graceful way of narrating meaningful mythological stories enthral the spectators.

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Photo by AnastesMp, CC0 1.0

Learning the art of Kathakali is not an easy task. It requires years of intense training and it is evident from the performances one can experience while in Kochi. Places such as Cochin Cultural Centre, Kerala Kathakali Centre, Greenix Village offer the opportunity to watch Kathakali performance.

Evening walk on Princess street

Princess Street is the oldest street in Fort Kochi surrounded by buildings with civil colonial architecture. The street has a number of coffee shops where aroma of coffee and fresh bread fills the air and you feel like being in a western world!

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Photo by Oboe, CC BY 3.0

The street has many restaurants and yes, shops! An evening walk along the old street, catching glimpse of remnants of European architecture and shopping ‘masala’ from tiny shops is surely a refreshing experience for anyone visiting Kochi.

The list is really unending as Kochi is an amazing tourist spot, but one thing is true for sure – Once you have been to Kochi you can’t stop yourself from falling in love with it!

Rohit Agarwal is a traveller and a blogger at Trans India Travels. A true nature lover at heart, Rohit was fascinated by cultural and biological diversity in India and is in search of the most interesting tourist sites in India.

Jaipur, India – The Pink City

One of the great cities in Rajasthan, India is Jaipur. It is known as the “pink city” due to the color of the buildings as well as the walls and city gates surrounding the central area.

Ajmeri Gate, leading into central Jaipur. The color of the gates and walls, as well as buildings in the central area give the city its nickname.

Ajmeri Gate, leading into central Jaipur. The color of the gates and walls, as well as buildings in the central area give the city its nickname.

Jaipur is one of the most visited cities in India since it is not too far from New Delhi and Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), and forms a triangle of tourist destinations with these two other cities.

Here’s a few key attractions in Jaipur:

Amber Fort

While there is a lot to see in Jaipur itself, there’s no question that the tourist sight is Amber Fort, located about 7 miles (11 km) north of town.

The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) on Man Sagar Lake was used for royal duck shooting parties in the mid 18th century.

The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) on Man Sagar Lake was used for royal duck shooting parties in the mid 18th century.

Leaving Jaipur, you wind past Man Sagar Lake and through the mountains for a short distance until all-of-a-sudden it appears sitting on a hill to your left. The golden-hued fort looks like a movie set rather than an actual historical palace. The fort is the former capital of Jaipur State and is the one sight that cannot be overlooked when visiting Jaipur.

A view of Amber Fort. If you look closely, you can see the elephants with their red coverings making their way up to the gate.

A view of Amber Fort. If you look closely, you can see the elephants with their red coverings making their way up to the gate.

The highly decorated Ganesh Pol, a three story gate connecting the outer courtyard to the private apartments.

The highly decorated Ganesh Pol, a three story gate connecting the outer courtyard to the private apartments.

Construction began in 1592 on the current fortress, built on the remains of an earlier (11th century) fort. Amber Fort is divided into 4 main sections, and each is a bit unique in its architecture.

The courtyard of the Palace of the Raja Man Singh, one of the four main sections of the Amber Fort.

The courtyard of the Palace of the Raja Man Singh, one of the four main sections of the Amber Fort.

You have to be patient and wander around a bit to see it all. We hired a guide and he pointed out some interesting things. After we finished the tour, we wandered around on our own, and found other great views.

Another beautiful courtyard in Amber Fort (Jaigarh Fort is in the distance on the hill).

Another beautiful courtyard in Amber Fort (Jaigarh Fort is in the distance on the hill).

There are three main ways up to the fort – by foot, jeep or elephant. Of course most tourists take the elephant ride, and so did we. The elephant can take two passengers at a time. Given the popularity of the elephant transportation, expect a wait of 20 – 30 minutes in line. Although this is definitely doing the touristy thing, it’s a once in a lifetime experience and was fun. By Indian standards, it’s not cheap – 900 rupees or about $15, a small local fortune.

The elephants and tourists make their way up to the Amber Fort.

The elephants and tourists make their way up to the Amber Fort.

There is another, older fort (Jaigarh) above the Amber fort, but time did not allow for us to hike up there (about 1 km uphill from the Amber Fort).

Jaigarh Fort, which sits above Amber Fort.

Jaigarh Fort, which sits above Amber Fort.

The view from Amber Fort is astounding with mountains, huge walls snaking around the hillsides, as well as seeing Maota Lake below.

Looking down on Maota Lake, with the gardens of Kesar Kyari Bagh. The lake provided water for the fort. The walls protecting the region can be seen in the distance.

Looking down on Maota Lake, with the gardens of Kesar Kyari Bagh. The lake provided water for the fort. The walls protecting the region can be seen in the distance.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds)

With its pink façade, the Hawa Mahal is the photogenic centerpiece of Jaipur. It is unusual in that it is five stories high but only one room in width. Its purpose was to allow the veiled ladies of the harem to view city life unnoticed from the streets below. It was built in 1799.

The Hawa Mahal in Jaipur.

The Hawa Mahal in Jaipur.

City Palace

Right next to the Hawa Mahal, this Palace was built in the early 18th century, and is now a museum with paintings and manuscripts. Since we had just visited Amber Fort, we did not take the time to visit this Palace.

City Palace lies straight ahead through this gate.

City Palace lies straight ahead through this gate.

Jaipur is also known as shopping mecca for jewelry and precious and semi precious gemstones. There are a lot of jewelry and gem shops just outside the main walls. Bring your money and shopping list!

We also walked around the heart of the city – busy area which is organized by crafts in sections. Just a teeming mass of shops, workers and every day life going on.

Rows of shops in the central district of Jaipur.

Rows of shops in the central district of Jaipur.

Humayun’s Tomb – Precursor to The Taj Mahal

Humayun’s Tomb and the lovely surrounding grounds.

In New Delhi, India, on the eastern side of the city, near the Yamuna River is Humayan’s Tomb.

New Delhi is in north central India.

It is a short walk from the Oberoi Hotel, one of the finest hotels in the city (I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent service and room–stay there if you can).

Location of Oberoi Hotel, Humayun’s Tomb, and Purana Qila.

Humayun was 2ndMughal (meaning Muslim, also spelled Moghul or Mugal) emperor. The Mughal emperors were generally able military leaders and were accomplished in many of the arts and sciences. Although Humayun was considered less of an effective military commander than his father (Babur, the first Mughal emperor), he did have a passion for astronomy and astrology and organized the empire’s administrative matters based on the planets (for example, Tuesday, governed by Mars, was given to matters of justice). His reign spanned 25 years, although 15 of the 25 years were spent in exile, including time in Persia, a culture which was to have great influence on the architecture of the Mughal Empire. Humayun returned to the throne in 1555 with the help of a Persian army, but his return was short-lived—he died less than a year later.

The similarity in style to the Taj Mahal is unmistakable.

The tomb was built in 1569 for Humayun by his widow, Haji Begum. It was the first mausoleum built for a Mughal emperor, and became the model for the incredible Taj Mahal, built about a century later, located 130 miles south in Agra, also on the Yamuna River (see my post on the Taj Mahal).

Note the fine stonework on Humayun’s Tomb.

The mausoleum is constructed of red quartzite, red sandstone and white marble inlay. The style of dome was influenced by Persian architecture and was an engineering feat for its time due to the height and shape. It was the first dome of its type in India (known as Hindustan) at the time. The dome is made of marble, and is a double dome, the interior dome being lower and more in line with the other interior heights. The influence of the Persian architecture is also evident in the 3 great arches on each side of the mausoleum.

On the well-manicured grounds there are several other smaller tombs and mosques dating from the same time period.

Isa Khan’s Tomb, on the grounds of Humayun’s Tomb (built in 1547).

Afsarwala Mosque & Afsarwala Tomb on the grounds of Humayun’s Tomb (built in 1560).

Purana Qila

Humayun also founded a city, now known as Purana Qila (Old Fort), about 5km north from where his tomb is located. Sher Shah, who deposed Humayun for 15 years, built a city on the foundations of Purana Qila. In addition to the walls, there is a mosque built by Sher Shah which is still standing. I did not have time to visit this site other than take a picture from the outside.

The Old Fort (built approximately in 1538).

The walls of the Old Fort.

Reference: World Heritage Series, Humayun’s Tomb & Adjacent Monuments, Good Earth Publications, New Delhi, 2002.

View of Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

A Day in Agra

Map of New Delhi and Agra.

Location of Agra, India.

I visited New Delhi, India on business in March.  It was a good time of year to visit; the weather was quite pleasant–low 80’s F and low humidity. I knew that New Delhi might be as close as I would ever get to the world-renowned Taj Mahal, so I arrived from the U.S. very early Saturday morning to allow myself to recuperate and get to Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is located, before beginning business on Monday. I was traveling with two business colleagues, and we arranged for a driver to take us to Agra on Sunday. Agra is about 130 miles south of New Delhi.  At the time, it cost about $180 total for the driver (who was our guide also) and the van for the day. It is also possible to fly between the two cities or take a train.

We had originally been discouraged from traveling to Agra that Sunday; due to Holi Festival (celebrating the “triumph of good over bad”) the locals believed our travel might be disrupted by the celebrations.  Actually, it turned out to be a good day to go–the traffic was light, and we found the celebratory crowds to be no problem. We also got to see many people drenched in pastel colors, and we (and our van) got a little splash of color ourselves (learn more on my upcoming “Street Scenes of India” post). Our drive took about 2.5 hours each way, and it was exhilarating to say the least—with cars speeding towards us in our lane, and bicycles, carts, and even elephants on the road and in the towns we passed through.

Taxi to Taj Mahal.

Riding to the Taj Mahal entrance.

We arrived in Agra about 11 am. As we walked to the Taj Mahal entrance, young children were offering all kinds of items for sale.  I bought a little jade elephant and a book. The omnipresent poverty is heartbreaking, and whenever I could buy a little something to help out, I did. The entrance fee to the Taj was about $20, which is incredibly steep in India, but more than worth it.

The term “Taj Mahal” means “Crown Palace” and it doesn’t begin to describe this world wonder. Agra was the capital of the Mughal (Muslim) Empire for over a century. The Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor for 30 years (1628-1658) built the Palace in memory of his beloved wife of 19 years, Mumtaz Mahal, to immortalize her after her untimely death, at age 39 during the birth of their 14th child (!)  It is said that before her death she requested her husband create a symbol of their love for their posterity. I don’t think she would be disappointed in his attempt to honor her wishes.

The Taj is on the banks of the Yamuna River. The stunning white marble was quarried 230 miles away in Makrana, Rajasthan state.  The 35 different types of precious inlaid stones were imported from all over Asia and the Middle East.

Entrance to Taj Mahal.

Entrance Gate to Taj Mahal.

The entrance gate to the Taj Mahal is quite a sight itself. There are two rows of 11 white pinnacles on the rooftop representing the 22 years it took to construct the mausoleum.

View of Taj Mahal.

First view of the Taj Mahal.

As the Taj Mahal comes into view, its brilliant white marble is almost blinding in the mid-day sun. It has to be the most beautiful man-made monument in the world. The Taj exudes an awe and reverence today, even 350 years later.

Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal

Before entering the plinth of the Taj, shoes are removed or covered with slip-on covers, both as a symbol of respect and to keep the plinth and Taj clean. Prior to visiting, I knew very little about the vast inlaid stone work in the marble that is part of the exterior and interior decorations.

Detail of Taj Mahal, India.

Detail of Taj Mahal

Some of the inlaid stone is done in thin multiple layers, and is only visible in certain lighting. Floral patterns come into full bloom when the light shines through the layered stone work.

Detail of marble work at Taj Mahal.

Detail of marble work on Taj Mahal.

I cannot comprehend the effort and expense that went into the Taj’s construction. Even the river flow was altered for the construction. Part of the beauty of the Taj is its total symmetry–the buildings, courtyard and gardens are all balance and symmetrical in their design. The four minarets at each corner of the plinth surrounding the Taj Mahal are constructed in such a way that if they ever fell, they would not damage the main structure.

Inside, in the main level are replicas of the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife (the actual tombs are located in the crypt below the main level and are not accessible). There are also four rooms inside the mausoleum that were planned for other members of the royal family.

Visitors at Taj Mahal.

Visitors stroll on the plinth, mosque in background

There are two identical buildings, both mosques, on either side of the Taj. Most pictures do not focus on them, but they are beautiful red sandstone creations in themselves.

Interestingly, Shah Jahan was going to build a replica of the Taj Mahal in all black marble, as his own mausoleum, but did not live long enough to make this dream a reality. He was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeband spent his lastfew years at the Agra Red Fort, not far up the river from the Taj.

View of Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

Our last view of the Taj Mahal

Since we just had the one day, we only had time to visit the Taj Mahal and do a little local rug shopping nearby, before returning to New Delhi. Please note that marble jewelry boxes and other souvenirs representative of the Taj Mahal can be purchased much more cheaply in other locations—ask a local where the best deals are. There a number of other interesting sites in Agra, including the Agra Red Fort (1565), and other exquisite tombs, but none can compare to the Taj Mahal.

I am indebted to Rajaram Panda, Mittal Publications, New Delhi 2007, for the historical and factual information about the Taj Mahal in this post.