India; Kerala region, Kochi (Cochin), 21st – 24th March
Sunday morning is an earlier start than we expected. We’d booked another private taxi to take us to Cochin in the Kerala region of India for 8.30 am. We’re woken up by the hotel reception at 6.30am informing us that our taxi was downstairs waiting for us. Another mis-understanding with our Indian friends, one thing to remember about this country; when you’re looking for a confirmation of something, the classic Indian head wiggle doesn’t necessarily mean they confirm, it just means that they heard you speak ... if they understood or not is another matter! :-)
We manage to make it downstairs by 8am, and we start our journey ... one to be remembered for the rest of our lives. We managed to get a driver that appeared to have passed his driving licence the day before, to drive us a distance of about 350km. On the badly maintained roads this should normally have taken us about 5 hours; we arrive at 4pm, if you do the maths that’s about 3 hours longer than it should have been! This guy was the slowest, most hesitant driver on this planet. He was scared of everything on the road, and he used the foot pedals in a way that made you want to vomit! A hugely painful journey. Half the battle was also keeping Nico calm enough to not throw him out of the car and take over the driver’s seat.
Getting nearer to our destination we witness one of the saddest moments of probably our entire journey. Minutes before passing through a small village, there had been an accident. A bus had hit two men on a motorbike. Neither were wearing a helmet, both were on the ground in a pool of blood. Unfortunately the ambulances were too late. There was nothing that could be done, they died immediately. The villages gathered up, women in tears, and we imagined their families receiving the news. Terrible. After seeing that, we forgot about our bad driver, and did the rest of the journey in silence with heavy hearts.
A cold shower, and we make our way into town for an ice cold beer. It is unbearably hot, hot, hot!!! The humidity in the air is not humane; it is exhausting to be constantly sweating like this. Neither of us had experienced heat like this before. To make it worse, it is important in India to be covered up when you dress, especially for women. It’s a sign of respect, and is vital if you want to be treated with respect. The problem is that unless you’re first instinct when it’s hot is to strip off, but you can’t do that here.
You may notice Nico’s light black eye in the photos ... courtesy of Renu’s inability to co-ordinate her movements, she head buts Nico when trying to see something on the computer screen.
It’s beautiful here in Kochi, the mix of Dutch, Portuguese and English architecture is fascinating. We add another country to the mix that evening ... it’s a long awaited pasta dish for dinner at a great Italian restaurant. There are some cravings that just can’t wait to be satisfied.
Monday morning we go down for breakfast, and within 5 minutes, sweat out half our body heat. So we decide to stay indoors until the heat half dies down. Thankfully we have some films on the laptop to keep us busy! We brave the outdoors around 3pm ... we are not convinced that the sun is any more forgiving at this time, but anyways. A 20 minute rickshaw ride away and we’re in Mattancherry, Fort Cochin’s neighbouring village. We’re here to explore Jew Town, which is exactly as the name describes. A seemingly unlikely settlement of Jews in South West India, that made it here centuries ago mainly from Europe. The Jews have travelled to many corners of the world, but it’s true that we would not expect to see a Jewish community here in India. It was so interesting, yet strange, to see Jewish symbols and names all around the area, mixed in with Indian culture; the Pardesi Synagogue being the centrepiece of our exploration.
We take a walk around the antiques shops and spice sellers (Mattancherry once being the main port of Kochi for spice trade), and then settle for a cold drink at the waterside at an antiques shop, cum cafe-restaurant. Lovely. A little wonder around the Dutch Palace before we are back at Fort Cochin. We take some time to admire the massive impressive structures of the Chinese fishing nets at the port before going back to our local bar and more Italian food :-)
Tuesday is our big day in Kochi. We’re up early and ready for main purpose of our trip here. We’ve organised a boat trip through the Kerala back waters. The morning is spent on a little non-motorised boat going through the little canals of the backwaters, passing through little waterside villages spotting hundreds of water snakes and a beautiful kingfisher. It is superbly beautiful, soul calming. We make a stop at a Spice Garden village, where our guide explains loads of interesting facts about different fruits and spices, before we make a stop on a little island for lunch. It’s a typical Kerala lunch, and is delicious and fresh. Unfortunately the afternoon is less interesting, as we’re on a larger house boat, cruising through the larger water ways and lakes, but there is not much to see.
We pamper ourselves to dinner that night at a super fancy hotel-restaurant, The Old Harbour. During dinner, there is a wonderful show of classical Indian music. The musicians are really not bad, reminiscent of the music played by ‘Shakti’. A real treat.
The next day we have lunch at a well recommended restaurant, Dhal Roti (which we are not all that impressed with), before we get into our Ambassador (a fabulous looking Indian car) to take us to the airport. Our flight to Bangalore is at 4pm.
Over here for the pictures.