On our second day in Fort Kochi (the first was spent recovering from the flights and napping where there was air con) we headed out in Fort Kochi for a more in depth explore. As we wandered down streets including ‘Burgher Street’ we were approached by auto-rickshaw drivers asking us for a favour and to give us a tour. We mumbled something about going for food, as we’d overslept and missed the free hostel breakfast and he gave up.
Round the corner though we were approached by another driver, a younger guy who offered us a one hour tour for just 50 rupees, equivalent to about 60p, a pretty good deal, surely it was too good to be true. But we declined again “Maybe later,” I said, “We need to get something to eat first.” my attempt at politely declining as it seemed far too good to be without a catch.
“Okay, friends, I will see you afterwards,” He replied happily, “Don’t forget me now!”
“No, we won’t” I fibbed, as we made a bee line for a café to escape his advances. But we wouldn’t get away that easily. We spent over an hour in the café feeding ourselves up on pancakes, coffee and ice cold water. When we emerged into the hot sun, we planned to just take a walk and maybe think about getting a tuk tuk later. No such chance. On first sight there was no sign of him, but suddenly speeding round the corner in his tuk tuk was our mate “My friends! I have been looking for you!”
“Oh hello there,” I replied.
“Come on, only 50 rupees for one hour, it’s a bargain, I will show you all of Fort Kochi”
I looked at Ben, “Why not?” I asked.
So we climbed into his tuk tuk, which was actually the best decision we made that day.
It’s hard as tourists, not to expect to be ripped off. There are so many stories about being scammed or quoted a price only to have it suddenly rise dramatically. But we decided that we needed to start saying yes and trusting people, otherwise we would never be able to appreciate Indian culture, or hospitality.
Our drivers name was Thansir. He actually lived in Allepey in a small village but comes to Fort Kochi every day to work as a tuk tuk driver. He used to work on a vegetable market, but it was hard work so 8 years ago he changed jobs and he’s happier now. He has 2 daughters and a wife and lives with his parents.
He showed us more places than we ever could have found on our own, first stop was a quick peek under the gate of the Dutch Cemetery. Sadly we couldn’t go inside as it was locked. According to Thansir it was because people were doing drugs hiding behind the gravestones, not so different to the UK then!
Thansir kindly let us stop to take pictures whenever we wanted including a few pictures of a Portugese colonial church and a lovely street shaded by trees with cows wandering around by the side of the road.
Our first proper stop was at Dhobi Khana, a laundry house run by a few local families. Thansir took us inside the washing house and we were allowed to watch them at work. “Take pictures,” he told us, “They don’t mind!” He led us over to a man ironing with an iron that was heated by burning coconut shells. “Go on, take pictures” he urged us, it felt a bit weird, but we obliged.
Thansir also showed us an elephant. He turned down a back road and pointed to a large green netted structure and inside sure enough was a huge elephant. “This is the temple elephant, every morning they walk him for 5km to keep him healthy. He comes out for special festivals, his name is Harry”.
Next up we went to a spice shop. We climbed upstairs to a womens cooperative spice shop where we were given samples of crystallised ginger, dried jack druit, banana chips, peanuts in many different forms and masala tea and herbal coffee. We bought a ginger tea each to drink there for 100 rupees for the two. We decided to buy some tapioca chips and the woman went to fetch some.
But while she was gone Thansir beckoned me closer “Don’t buy the tapioca chips, it’s a rip off for 150 rupees a small bag. We can get more for cheaper.” So I had to be the bitch and tell her no, actually, sorry we don’t want the tapioca chips, heres 100 rupees just for the tea. She looked at me like I had just spat at her. Thanks for the pre-warning Thansir!
We saw absolutely loads on our tour. Zooming through the streets in a tuk tuk is an experience in itself, there was so much to see just on the side of the road.
And now to explain the catch. Thansir stopped at a ‘government approved souvenir shop’ and explained that since the withdrawal of bank notes a few months ago by the indian government tourist numbers had dropped and a lot of people have cancelled their trips to india. As an incentive for the tuk tuk drivers, for every government shop they took tourists into they would get a voucher. 4 vouchers and they could claim a 5kg bag of rice. Now the ‘favour’ from the other tuk tuk driver made sense.
Apparently we didn’t have to buy anything just look inside for a bit and he would get the voucher. But just looking around was easier said than done! The shopkeepers are super pushy and will get out lots of different ornaments, and suggest you look at scarves, jewellery, try stuff on, to make you buy something. We weren’t ready for it in our first shop and bought 2 little figurines. Even after we had decided to buy them though he carried on pushing us to look at other things, and when you say no, they look a little pissed off!
Now I’m not sure how legitimate this ‘scheme’ was, Thansir showed us the first voucher, from the shop where we bought something but we went to three more where we managed to resist, and we didn’t see those. Beware of this kind of thing if you’re uncomfortable saying no. Two of the shops I went into tried to talk me into buying scarves, pulling them all out of the shelves and making me try them on, but you just have to be firm and say “not this time, but thank you,” and deal with the annoyed looks.
Despite the catch, the tour was still worth it, and in the end, Thansir took us round for over 2 and a half hours. We gave him 200 rupees, and I assume he got his 4 vouchers for his 5 kilo bag of rice!
If you’re in Kochi and a tuk tuk driver offers you a tour, think about it. It was a great way to get a quick impression of the city and we saw things that I doubt we would have come across on our own! Sometimes you have to let go of the suspicion and decide to try and trust people to open yourself up to new experiences, it’s a hard part of travelling but it’s important.
If you liked this post read more about my trip to India: