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New Year in Fort Kochi (or, how not to panic when it all goes wrong)

Kerala-carnival-sunser

Kerala-carnival-flags

Kerala-fishing-boats

Kerala-buddhas

Kerala-carnival-watchers

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Kerala-carnival-1

Sometimes when travelling, you have to just go with the flow. Or, in other words: try not to freak out when a massive fuck up happens.

I experienced a stark lesson in this when I went to spend New Year’s Eve in Kerala, India. I was determined to travel from Mumbai down to Varkala in the south so I could see in 2015 on a beach, and planned to fly to  Kochi, take a taxi ride across the city and then catch a train. It was going to take nine hours in total, and I had an uneasy feeling that something, somewhere along the way was going to go slightly wrong.

When I arrived at Mumbai domestic airport on 30 December, close-to-the-bone time-wise due to the white knuckle Indian traffic, the woman at the checkout desk just stared at my e-ticket, looking confused. “I’m afraid we don’t have you booked on this flight, ma’am,” she informed me. “But I’ve paid for it and that’s my booking reference,” I replied, pointing at the nonsensical combination of letters and numbers. She simply shook her head.

I still don’t know what went wrong there, but they offered me a seat on a later flight instead. As I strode through security, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t going to arrive in time to catch the last train to Varkala. It was also a public holiday in India and most hotels were filled with domestic tourists, so I knew I’d be lucky to find somewhere to stay the night in Kochi. Feeling panicked, I pulled out my Lonely Planet and called the cheapest hotel listed – The Princess Inn in Fort Kochi. Luckily, they had one room free as they’d just had a cancellation. Phew. I then booked a train ticket for 5am the next morning to take me to Varkala. All saved, I thought.

After touching down in Kochi I strolled over to the pre paid taxi counter and showed my hotel address. “You need to get a ferry,” the woman behind the counter explained. “We can only drop you at the crossing.” Turns out Fort Kochi is located on an island, pretty far form both the airport and train station. Ok, no worries, I thought. I’ll just have to leave super early tomorrow.

As I sat in the cab, watching the sun go down behind palm trees, I flicked open my guidebook and started reading up on Fort Kochi. “First ferry to the mainland departs at 6.30am,” it stated. Too late to catch my train. I sank back into my seat as it began to dawn on me I wasn’t going to make it to Varkala, or at least not in time to relax and actually enjoy New Years’ Eve. “What’s good to do in Fort Kochi over the next couple of days?” I asked my driver. He smiled and began telling me about the huge carnival procession, the waterfront concert and also the art biennale that were all taking place. Well, I thought. It seems all is not lost.

So I may not have experienced my fantasised-about New Year of dancing on a beach til the early hours, but I did enjoy a procession of decorated elephants, dancing hindu gods and elaborate floats; a huge concert featuring mass drumming; fireworks going off all around me and a huge Santa effigy being burnt; amazing art, yoga on a rooftop and mouthwatering Keralan food.

I don’t believe in fate or things happening for a reason, but sometimes when you just embrace the fuck ups and mistakes it all works out better than you could ever have imagined.

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