2014… Coming home to Cochin, to India and finding it different

So as this 2017 trip draws to a close, I’ve finally finished uploading my 2014 trip. I’ve posted it in reverse order so you can read straight down from the top and they’ll be in order. Even those of you who read the emails 3 years ago didn’t get the pictures and may find that I’ve redacted something new. I have inserted some bits from 2006. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, this reworking has made me cry, and smile again.

day-1-img_0676Namaste, Welcome to India, to Cochin in Kerala. Welcome to the travels of your unemployed, ex-engineer, Aunt. Woohoot.

Ok I’m determined to have a great positive happy relaxing trip so I hesitate to start with a gripe, but bloody poms sitting around the pool on FaceTime with their iPads at full volume yelling about the curry should remember the words of Kerry O’Kieffe after Sydney: “five nill, five nill, five nill!” Bloody irritating wankers. Well now that’s off my chest – Namaste welcome to Kerala – god’s own country. It’s 8 years since I was last here but I’m still sure they’ve no idea which god’s this country is, so all are welcome.

The boys in the hotel restaurant are competing to be the first to introduce me to every local breakfast delicacy so I’m having to fight them off. But it is delicious and does set one up for the day, although at three breakfasts a morning I’m starting to feel like a Hobbit.

day-3-img_4920Yesterday I read book 1 by the pool (the kindle is a fabulous investment although I’m struggling to connect it via hotel wireless) before heading out to reacquaint myself with Fort Cochin… Hmmm the vagaries of memory, the bootprints of progress or the ravages of time? Logic says this is the second fastest growing economy in the world, reminds me that this (communist) state is a centre of industry, navy and food production. But romance and memory didn’t prepare me for the change.

People who read my travels here in 2006 can pretend to remember a football competition on the green parade ground outside the hotel. Or romantic evening perambulations along the seashore watching birds fish in the water hyacinth, men repairing small fishing boats pulled high up on the sand, hand stitching nets, others perched dropping a line off the huge Chinese Fishing Nets the marvels of ancient mechanics seen all across South Asia. Maybe you remember pomegranate juice beside this idyllic scene and me teaching the juice man the “mosquito dance” as we swatted insects to the Macarena. Perhaps you remember the Kathikail performance where the man miming being the lady Sita yelped as her invisible child bit her breast while feeding and the western audience was too precious to see the joke. Sigh, memory (this group of photos are from 2004)

All gone….

The parade ground is smaller, dustier, trees around the sides gone, roads widened. The beach is no more, water hyacinth poisoned, rubbish under the quiet, empty fishing nets. The juice stand is still there but not my dance partner. “Kathikail School gone madam,” was the downer after my rush of self-congratulation at finding the right spot. I walked up and down Bazaar St looking for the spice merchants without success. Many of the 300 year old Dutch warehouses are derelict or demolished in pursuit of progress and construction of hotels – but what is left for the inmates to see? I came back to the pool thinking change is inevitable but it’s just not always progress.

Mentally girded I headed out again today. It seems this trip is more heavily guided than I’m used to (or perhaps tolerant of, only time will tell). Anyway John my Christian driver picked me up punctually and we were off into Fort Cochin again.

Starting at St Francis church built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century as Catholic and the temporary burial place of Vasco da Gama. Converted to Protestant by the Dutch 150 years later. To CofE by the Brits it’s now Church of South India. It’s not changed in 7 years altho it has had a coat of paint. I’d forgotten it was Sunday and the lovely little Indian girls in their red cassocks and white lace shawls flapping through organising for worship were lovely with huge happy smiles that put me in a positive mood.

Then it was off to Jew Town – there’s been a continuous Jewish presence in Kerala since the fall of the second temple under the Romans in CE70 when around 1,000 Jews fled here allegedly with some temple relics. The synagogue is a bit sad now as all but 5 Jewish families moved to Israel in the 1950s. But Jew Town is still the best place to haggle!

Then it was back to the Dutch Palace (built as a bribe by the Portuguese then renovated and renamed by the Dutch) it’s a beautiful teak building filled with murals of the Ramayana. Downstairs was the highlight of my last trip to Cochin with amazing murals of local interpretations of karma sutra including animals making merry. Sadly downstairs is now closed to tourists due to deterioration of the murals. Very sad but I guess at least those memories remain intact.

Anyway that’s where I said goodbye to the morning’s guide and went to lunch. A very nice, moderately sized shredded white fish & coconut curry eaten overlooking the main shipping channel. I’ve spent the afternoon reading book 2 by the pool and swimming and listening to other’s FaceTime conversations. Sigh. But I’m relaxing and getting both exercise and a tan so all will be well.

…PAUSE…

OMG I’m stuffed – decided to let my boys in the restaurant do their worst tonight with the only dictate being veg pls not too spicy. OMG they made me a Thali plate. Seven dishes about 1/2 cup each varying from fried green beans with curry leaves & coconut, to dahl, a shallot and tomato curry, rice, raita, a veg curry and a rice pudding dessert to die for. With rice pancakes and chapati. Wow. I couldn’t eat the banana. A moment of near suicide was when I nearly ate a whole red chilli hiding in the rice. That was seriously good. The chef came out to see if I’d enjoyed dinner so I treated him to my best Hindi expression of thanks and compliment. He’s just returned with the recipe for the beans printed out and tied with a gold bow! I love India

Crashing now as I need to sleep off that meal, heading to bed with a simple smile, the more things change the more the people stay the same…

… NEXT DAY…

Except for John, who doubtless at some point WILL be told, today I am in India and happy. I have washed smalls in the bath, had the boys’ next breakfast experiment and headed back into the spice bazaars alone.

day-3-img_4931

Armed with the big camera and Wenda (Malayalam language for NO!) I spent a happy hour walking Bazaar St during business hours. While at least half the businesses have closed those remaining follow an age old tradition. I found the warehouse with bags of nutmeg and cardamom and black gold – pepper. I found the dahl traders with more grades of lentils than you’ve had hot dinners.

I found the ayervedic ginger processors, walls and workers lime washed in the process. I greeted nice looking folk in my best Hindi. Rejected took took drivers with my best Malayalam. All the time photographing – this was a morning for the big camera, and for dodging trucks you wouldn’t imagine could make it down such a street.

I offer these observations:

  • Risky Tours from Finland recommends Ali’s Antique Corner
  • even in Kerala persecution followed the Jews with a major massacre by the Portuguese and their Moor servants as late as the 19th century
  • smells of cinnamon and aniseed contrast with sulphurous smells of rotting and decay
  • there are a lot of goats in the Muslim area
  • the cat of the fishmonger is always fat
  • change, all is change, same same
  • some things just have to live in memory

For two days I’ve been avoiding a cotton seller at the end of Jew St with promises to return later, today I have a new blue top, matching madam’s eyes. And yes, I achieved local price. Then it was off to the Jain Temple, my favourite temples in all India for utter peace and tranquillity… Your blood pressure drops just walking in the gate. I think I must have been Jain in a previous life, but it’s too hard for this life with total ahimsa (non-violence of thought & deed), renunciation (of goods, attachments and outcomes of actions), veganism and trickiest of all a flat earth celestial model based on metaphysics. I do love a Jain Temple.

I’ve now finished lunch – green mango fish curry and fabulous veg curry main ingredient being drumstick plant. I think it’s some kind of bean about 50 cm long, very woody but sweet tasting in the curry and  you could always floss your teeth or pick a lock with the left over bits.

So that’s Cochin. Once I’ve done battle with the wifi it will be back to the pool for the afternoon. Tomorrow we’re off to the Western Ghats and tea country Munnar where inhaling tea is an experience involving all 5 senses.

Author: Wendy's Out of Station

I write as a way of processing and reflecting on experience, and as a way of sharing that experience. When I travel I used to write email journals back to friends, family, anyone who’d read and risk immersing themselves in my reality for a while: writing for them was a way of writing for me. Borrowing from Graham Greene in a flip of Travels with my Aunt, I imagined writing letters to my nieces, as their travelling aunt. Crafting the sentences became a way of extruding the experience, giving it birth, drawing its meaning from my soul, nurturing it into something tangible with a life of its own. The aim of my blog is to open the world to my thought-children, to let them out of the safety of my friends and family and let them experience the world. And in the process I get the honour of taking a larger group with me when I’m wandering around India and beyond, or just reflecting on parallel truths, thinking thoughts that take me to new places new beginnings. Please journey with me

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