Bicycles and coconuts everywhere
I have come to the conclusion that I am not made to start the day early. After another near miss with getting up at the crack of dawn – I inadvertently set my alarm for the time I was meant to leave the house instead of the time I needed to get up – I have to accept that my sub-conscience is clearly in stubborn protest about catching early morning trains to travel to far flung corners of Kerala. Again I have to bless the vigilance of the mullah at the nearby mosque, whose prayer calls provide efficient back-up when my own alarm clock fails to waken me.
But as it turned out, I needn’t have worried as the tuk-tuk driver was a full 20 minutes late because of a traffic jam at 5.30 am (???)… so a frantic drive, breaking all the Indian traffic rules, ensued to get me to the train on time. I made it with 5 minutes to spare and then another 10 minutes because the train arrived, as customary, several minutes late… Well, in all honesty, when you look at the train tickets, the Indian Railway cover their backs by indicating that departure and arrival times are subject to change at any time and announcements in the stations always have a certain amount of flexibility built in: train number 16605 will be arriving AROUND 6.30 am…
Chinese fishing nets
So off I went to the touristy hotspot of Cochin, ancient city by the sea, built with the input of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial powers and, during the holiday season, invaded by visitors from all corners of the world. I explored the Chinese fishing area and crowded side streets, but felt rather underwhelmed by the place, although the amazing Kerala prawn curry I had for lunch more than made up for it. My refreshing cup of afternoon tea was spoiled by a most ferocious attack of the mozzies which sent me in search of my Jungle Formula. On the upside, an early evening stroll was awarded with an unexpected glimpse inside a church where faithful and tourists joined together in a carol service but I wondered whether I really could spend another day in this place…
Luckily, the second day proved more interesting. I walked around the Jewish quarter, admiring the Delft tiles in the Jewish Synagogue and ignoring the pestering shopkeepers, but gave in to Arshid, who promised not to hassle anyone; he only wanted to chat and practise his English and we duly made (mostly, but I’ll spare you the details) civilized conversation in his air-conditioned shop – a nice reprieve from the oppressive heat outside.
Famous clock tower of the Jewish Synagogue
Later on, I accepted the invitation of a tuk-tuk driver touting for business as “fewer tourists had come this year and pickings were meagre”. He showed me around some of the touristy places, such as the Dutch and Jewish cemeteries, which only recently have been afforded heritage protection as India slowly awakens to the importance of its past.
Jewish cemetery, now a heritage site
Visiting relics of past histories.
We paid a visit to the ruins of what once may have been a majestic building dating from the times of the Portuguese, or so it is presumed as the markings on the front have long since eroded. And after the building was vacated just around twenty years ago, local people generously helped themselves to all the parts that were usable and moveable: doors, windowpanes and frames vanished, roof beams proved an attractive asset and roof tiles could provide better protection for inhabited homes, only concrete patches remain as reminders of what must have been a floor… But who can blame poor Indian people for availing themselves of what is freely on offer and who is to judge the historical significance of any building anyway? The ruins have become a magnet for mosquitoes so our stay was short as they were all gunning for me… And my remarks about the squalor of the place and how the building might be made more attractive to visitors if rubbish was removed, were greeted by incredulity. ‘What is it that attracts Western tourists to India? If India becomes clean and looks like the Western world, hides destitution and wretchedness, what would Western visitors come to look at?’ the tuk-tuk driver mused… But there will always be the beaches, the sunshine, the cooler mountains and hopefully some well cared for historical buildings.
Better not touch your eyes after doing this all day…
Our trip took us to oil drum recycling businesses and ginger production plants and chilli and coriander sorting and storing warehouses where women whiled away the hours doing laborious work. As our journey ended at lunch time, the tuk-tuk driver sought out a proper Indian eatery, frequented mainly by Indian people, where I had the most incredible biryani and learnt the secret of eating rice with my hands without it all falling back onto my plate. There is a very special technique to this!
To finish off my stay in Cochin, I had been enticed to take a cookery lesson, and although I am quite a proficient cook, I did learn a thing or two, not in the least the importance of popping your mustard seeds before adding the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli, followed by the powdered spices after lowering the temperature… Food was delicious, but I now have to recreate it in my kitchen at home… And, before I forget,…
… I also got my first experience of being pillion passenger on an Indian motorbike – not too bad as we went quite slowly and there was hardly any other traffic on the road. Why we had to use a bike in the first place to cover the 500 m or so between my ‘homestay’ and the place of the cookery lesson is a complete mystery to me. Maybe men think they have something to prove as at least they are allowed to be in the driver’s seat… But it goes a long way to explain the unfitness of the general Indian population…
Just a few more photographs:
Part 2 Alleppey to follow