Though fast catching up with the uniformity of urban India with its high rises, malls, SUVs and traffic jams, Kochi can still offer a visitor some scenic options to explore — even on a whirlwind trip

I am on the upper deck of a ferry, enjoying the sea breeze slapping my face constantly. The mid-morning sun is working pretty sharply on my back but I am not complaining. It is, after all, a far cry from the confines of the office cubicle (considering it is a working day!).

Some miles away is the Arabian Sea but I am equally excited about sailing on the backwaters that fill up the Kochi quayside at Marine Drive. Leisurely passing by the high-rise apartment buildings that the city has for a while now by the bay side, also the string of ‘hotels with a view’, before the scene changes to fill in the old city with its distinctive red-tiled houses — typically with a huddle of coconut trees at the backdrop.

It is also time for the fishermen to return from the sea after trawling the early morning catch. Eager buyers noisily wait for them by a jetty-cum-market. I pass by it, noting a commotion — by now thick in the air — probably for a good bargain. A little more gliding on the water and the ferry in charge points to this city slicker a line of Chinese fishing boats, explains how they are “better” than their own. We glide some more and touch the Arabian Sea, figuring out that a line of faraway dots is but ships in high sea.

An hour later, we return to a ring of hawkers and fruit-sellers at the Marine Drive jetty. What catch my eye are the packets of freshly cut raw mangoes and pineapples served with a savoury powder, sold for Rs 10 each. Munching on raw mango, I think of the small town joys caught in the increasingly ‘modernised’ Kochi with malls, high rises and speeding SUVs, a trend common in urban India today.

The local market opposite Marine Drive is yet another example of this ‘small town thriving in a fledgling city’ phenomenon. Christmas being round the corner, the lanes are abuzz with activity. Busy shoppers are seen scrutinising wares — clay Jesus on the cross, Mother Mary holding baby Jesus, the Moses, sheep in baskets, hay circlets, stars of many hues and shapes, some with lights inside them.

Kerala being ‘the State’ for spices, I concentrate only on the shops that sell the flavourful stuff. The variety here is mindboggling. I particularly go for the cinnamon sticks that look more like cinnamon rolls, a far cry from the broken bits that you find in Delhi shops.

With just half a day to spare, I ask some locals where else can one spend time in Kochi. Some suggest a trip to the Jewish quarters in Mattancherry, some others advise a visit to a few sari shops, and also coffee shops, and some more direct you to the new glitzy Kochi landmark, the Lulu’s mall.

I mull over visiting some sari shops, or may be the mall too. Alas…I am hit by what often hits a commuter in any Indian city today — traffic jam. A classic long winding one, raising a feeble fear in me towards the end that I may miss my flight back to Delhi even though it is a good three hours away.

“It is because of the ongoing construction for Kochi Metro,” says the driver. I keep silent, thinking, till how long can one city remain unlike another in this country.

(The writer was in Kochi at the invitation of Crowne Plaza)