Travel/Experiences  •  Dispatch

Dispatch: The TT Ladies in Kochi, India

Three intrepid Thai explorers look back on their recent experience in Kochi, India—the starting line for the Rickshaw Run, a 3,000km Indian fundraising adventure.

March 15, 2017
Historic, compact, and colorful, Fort Kochi (Cochin) on India’s West Kerala coast is a seemingly-forgotten center for just about everything that makes a destination worth visiting. It’s also the starting line for the ludicrous Rickshaw Run: a 3,000km charity run that sees hundreds of international participants tracking their way through the subcontinent in a well-used 7hp rickshaw. The TT Ladies, Thailand’s first-ever team to attempt the run, set off from Kochi in January 2017. 

Getting there
Despite being a literal backwater, Kochi is well-served with air, rail, road, and even water transport from within India, and internationally from Asia’s many transport hubs. When experiencing India, there are always two ways to go about anything: the easy way or the Indian way. Want to arrive quickly and with minimal stress? Fly. Want to see the countryside and don’t mind pulling out a few precious hairs along the way? Catch the train. Whichever way you go, you cannot avoid catching a taxi or rickshaw from your transport hub into the Fort itself—this is where your Kerala experience really begins.

Fort Kochi’s history has left the small port city peppered with Colonial Portuguese, British, Dutch, and Keralan architecture. The upside to this is an abundance of beautiful, old-world hotels and inns within walking distance of practically everything. The closer you can get to the ferry terminal the better: this is where the old town’s inhabitants congregate for one of the world’s most effective (and inefficient) commutes and houses the main life of everyday Fort Kochi. After a long day of dusty, punishing heat in God’s Own Country, rest in the immaculate Spice Fort, the restored former home of one of Fort Kochi’s famous Jewish trading families.

Chips! | Photo by Thichakorn Plengpanich
Kochi's trees are probably the best thing about the old town | Photo by Thichakorn Plengpanich
Fort Kochi is in India. In an area surrounded by water and its delicious inhabitants. There are so few opportunities for that formula to disappoint even the most travelled palate. For something a little different, try Tibet Kitchen: a basic, open-side, upstairs dining room with a sizeable menu of vegetarian and meat-based dishes prepared true to Tibetan recipes. Don’t miss ordering a side of the balep, a fluffy and essential Tibetan grilled bread.

The greatest experiences in Fort Kochi are, without any chance for question, the Cochin Carnival and the Kochi Biennale—luckily for anyone wanting to visit the area, the two converge on the walled city over the New Year. The biennale can not be missed. Founded in 2010, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale showcases the contemporary art of South Asia’s most exciting and challenging artists and creators in disused, restored, or repurposed properties around the fort’s historic town center. It is an overwhelmingly popular chance to reflect on the influence of the mythological Muziris and its place in the current Tier-II Indian City of Kochi. The Cochin Carnival, on the other hand, is the most noise and color the residents of Fort Kochi are able to fit into one street for one day of the year. Following a wildly-decorated route, the parade offers every aspect of current and traditional Keralan culture: Keralan music troops, mahouts, and folk dance represent the Kochi of times gone by, while fancy dress, drag, uncomfortable politicians and rickshaws cement the festival in the present. The fanfare lasts for half of New Year's Day and draws crowds of more than 25,000 to the roadside. As a visitor, use your outsider status to discreetly walk in the parade and capture the sights from the road.
The start of The Rickshaw Run in Kochi
The Rickshaw is the celebrated hero of daily transport in India. Undersized, underpowered, and endlessly underestimated, the three-wheeled auto is the best way to save yourself from the unforgiving heat of Fort Cochin. A ride anywhere will cost you under 100 rupees. For 50 rupees an hour, go all out and book your own private rickshaw tour. A friendly, knowledgeable local driver will show you the sights of the old town—and more overpriced souvenir shops than you could possibly want to visit. Suffer through the gaudy displays jewelry, silks, and handicrafts and your driver will be rewarded with a coupon for bringing visitors in. These coupons can be redeemed for petrol, clothing, or food for the drivers and their families.

The Run
The TT Ladies completed their 3283 km-journey in 13 days, traveling through six Indian states from Fort Cochin to Jaisalmer in a barely-reliable rickshaw they named “Lamsing”. Follow their journey through the beauty, chaos, and frustration of the Subcontinent in the TT Ladies web series.