Kochi has always been the best place for New Year celebration and it is this time the town gets ready for its own Carnival. Our correspondent Baiju Govind visited Kochi during the Carnival last year and here's his experience:
I picked Kochi as the New Year destination not without some misgivings. What if I get stuck in a massive traffic jam like the previous year? Anyway I decided to participate in the Kochi Carnival and witness the burning of the giant Santa in Fort Kochi.
The officials at the Ernakulam District Tourism Promotion Council told me that the preparations for the New Year celebrations were ongoing. Then I roamed the Marine Drive to lend an ear to the agents selling boating tickets. Taxi drivers flatly refused to take me to Fort Kochi on the New Year's Eve.
I was wandering without a clue to my possible New Year's Eve adventures when I met Varghese of the tourism help desk at the boat jetty.
“I recommend you to choose the public boat. Enjoy Kochi by public ferries,” he told me. You can take a government-operated boat from mainland Ernakulam to Fort Kochi for just Rs 4. The price is the same for boat rides to Mattancherry or Vypeen. A bus ticket will cost you double of that amount.
There are buses from these places back to the Ernakulam boat jetty every half hour. You save on money and avoid the hassle of the famed traffic snarls of Kochi. I was hooked.
I embarked on a boat to Fort Kochi at 9:20 in the morning. The boat went along the Kochi Shipyard and the Wellington Island and the ships anchored throughout the lake littoral. After 30 minutes, I reached the Fort Kochi boat jetty which was crowded like a festival ground. The Vasco Da Gama Square was even more bustling. Half of the visitors are from foreign countries.
Fort Kochi was always a favourite destination for foreigners, be it the Portuguese led by Gama himself or the Dutch and British merchants who followed them. They built churches and roads in the former cantonment town.
You can imagine how this place will look like in the days leading up to the New Year's Eve. The park is dominated by vendors selling everything from cosmetics to pickles. Fresh fish and ice cream are on offer everywhere.
In the crowd speaking in various tongues, I met Mariam Agnes, a Portuguese who plans to go to Goa to celebrate New Year. Willaim John from Spain, however, had chosen to stay put in Kochi for December 31. George and Camilla, a couple from the Netherlands, said that the New Year's celebration would not be complete without the Kochi Carnival.
The walkway that connects the Vasco Square to the beach is bursting with promenaders. Some of them wanted to try their hands at pulling the Chinese nets leaning to the sea. Crowds of tourists from north India were revelling in the shallow sea. Foreigners sought awesome frames for selfies. Local travellers enjoyed people-watching as much as the locales. Everyone agreed in the fact there was nothing like a selfie when it came to top up a holiday experience.
I abandoned the crowd to their frolic on the beach and took the road to the right. It went past the Dutch cemetery where former colonialists rested in peace.
I walked up to the Bob Marley Cafe and took the road opposite it towards the David Hall. The bungalow is related to Hendrik Adrian van Rheede, who wrote the seminal Hortus Malabaricus. The building currently houses an art gallery and a cafe.
Most of the visitors in the hall were on their way to the St Francis Church, built by the Portuguese five centuries ago. The church was modelled after the Bom Jesus Church in Goa, where St Francis Xavier's relics are kept. Vasco de Gama died here.
The high tourist season between October and January end is the top-grossing period for tourist guides and other service providers. There are guides in Kochi who can speak up to eight languages. Vendors sell mementos, including old pictures of Kochi, pictures of historical places, tourism maps and fans.