Fort Kochi and Mattancherry: Cacophony of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and English.


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January 8th 2014
Published: January 9th 2014
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8-10 January 2014

8 January

Other than enjoying the facilities of a major hotel, we started to head out and around. Tuk Tuks are easily picked up right outside, and one can ignore the sideways glances of the uniformed security guards of the hotel. We were told we could access the Kochi ferry network by getting to “bowjerry”, said with a head wobble. Bowjerry? Boajelly? Ahh, boat jetty! One has to tune one’s ears into the local dialect and intonations. A quick ride through the back streets to the ferry terminal, and onto the diesel-scented waterways. Kochi is obviously a seaport and I can’t recall one that is not a bit dirty. Certainly Kochi is cleaner than Alexandria – not a high bar.

We got off at Mattancherry and walked into the shopping district there. This was pretty touristy with some pushy touting. Still the historical synagogue was interesting and I scored a new hat = watch the photos. More interesting were the streets leading up to the Fort Kochi area, where the streets are lined with little trading houses for salt, spices and other goods traded internationally. The little shop fronts had obviously been there for a long time and built right over the top of hastily demolished predecessor shops. Trucks were jammed in alongside tuk tuks, bikes, hand trolleys and of course air conditioned tourist taxis. People were friendly and didn’t mind us shimmying past as they lifted 50 kg sacks. Lunch was at a great little place right on the water’s edge called the Pepper House Café. Nice atmosphere but also housed an extensive library of international books on art, design and photography. Good to get some inspiration early in our travels.

Up to the Fort Kochi area to check out the chinese fishing nets. We didn’t stay long because we will be back as part of our Intrepid trip that starts on the 10th. Back to the hotel via tuk tuk who took us to a government-owned curio shop. Apparently he gets points for directing tourists to this shop. Why would the government be involved in selling curios? Can’t see a market failure here.

After a swim in the pool, and a few drinks we caught up by skype with daughter Elise, who is volunteering in Udaipur, Rajasthan. More on that later, but we have learnt that the emphAsis of the word ‘ooDaipur’ is on the second syllable.

Jan 9 & 10

Pretty early in our time in Kochi we connected up with a tuk tuk driver who was knowledgeable and friendly. With him we explored several of the tourist sites and some out of the way places. Highlights were a small temple festival somewhere east of Kochi, and in roughly the same area, the Chottanikkara Bhagavathy temple. The first was something like a night market we might have in Australia with ten times more people and exotic foods like crushed sugarcane juice, pakhoras and fermented fish. The second was an overwhelming cultural experience. The temple incorporates several smaller stupas, and pilgrims were lining up to see each icon. Some seemed to have worked themselves up into a trance-like state and there was wailing and head rolling. All the men were shirtless but wearing black skirts and garlands. Monks were chanting scriptures and pilgrims were making offerings. At the centre of the facility was a large well/ small lake that pilgrims were bathing in. We were welcomed into most of the places – just a few were off limits for either Catherine or I or both of us. We tried to be respectful though ignorant. As we were leaving in our tuk tuk more shirtless pilgrims were pouring in.

Late on the 10th we checked into the small guesthouse run by Intrepid where the 12 travellers come together for the start of the trip. We met our guide, DJ, and an interesting group of people all of whom have travelled extensively. This sort of travel is great for us because you meet lots of people who really want to share the travel experience, without perhaps the greater challenge of fully independent travel. We ate a pretty touristy meal together in the evening up near the Fort of Fort Kochi.

11 Jan
We were awoken by the call of the mullahs at 0523. Turns out the hotel is right beside the mosque. Not that it would have mattered, there were a dozen mosques within earshot. Today was to be in Kochi and not an early start so breakfast around 8. Simple rice cakes made from a mixture of rice flour and white lentil four. Allowed to ferment overnight and then steamed. Served with a chutney and a sambas. The chutney was not as one expects: a rich fruity concoction. Rather a very fluid sauce. Sambal had a richer texture and flavour. They also served coffee and tea. Toast for those who wanted it. We headed out.

We were taken as a group to the Dutch palace. Four tuk tuks for one dozen travellers. The guide, DJ, had to stay outside the Palace because he does not has a local guide's licence and the company is not interested in paying all the graft in order to have such licenses. Inside were superb wall paintings from the Ramayana story and the other major Hindu book (). Apparently some of the unsung treasures of Indian culture. Many characters crammed together into dense scenes that require a while to decipher. Airy long corridors with wide-planked floors and low wooden ceilings. Stepped over wooden "bulkheads" between the rooms. Later rooms had extensive histories of the Maharajas and their various habits and privileges including the covered valais (?) carriages that are carried by four servants. We also saw a description of the matriarchal system of inheritance. Children were seen as the property of the wife's family and the eldest son had the responsibility to help manage and distribute the wealth of the family. Stories of each of the individual maharajas and celebrating the wonderful things they apparently did for their subjects. DJ had told us to look for a flooring material that looked and felt like black marble but was actually a polished material based on charred coconut husks. Sorry to have missed that. We met DJ again outside, regrouped and managed to avoid the hassles of the touts. Tiger balm in this particular case.

From there to the area of the Chinese fishing nets and to see what remains of the original Fort which was built by the Portuguese. Not much more than 20m of a wall now, but there was plenty of evidence of more structure in the maps of the Dutch Palace. The trip schedule was free for the rest of the afternoon so we suggested to a couple of people that we might take a ferry cruise around the harbour. The first option presenting itself was a ferry across to Vypin (Vypeen). Catherine and I with Andrea from Italy Anne from Sydney and Phil from Canberra. I cost something like R15 each to make the 15 minute crossing to another island. I was impressed on these little ferries by the communications between helmsman and engineer. Just like the old ships: one bell for forward; two for reverse; five blasts of the horn for "I am reversing." After a short look around to see a 17th century Portuguese church with open-air stations of the cross, we opted to hop on a local bus and go where that was going. By sheer luck it ended up going to a beach resort called Cherai. People on the bus were very friendly and quite happy to help us decide where we were going. The bus was an open-sided machine with coloured lights, a conductor and a tout. Cherai itself was a couple of kms away from the beach, which we dscovered as we walked through the heat of the day so we all jammed into a Tuk Tuk for the trip to the beach proper. We found a lovely wide beach that was not too crowded. Not dissimilar to the Goa beaches but cleaner and less crowded. A hot on-shore breeze was blowing and the sand was Stradbroke hot. I took a swim. We recorded the event with photos of ourselves and some of the younger local crowd.

We got back to the hotel in time to go as a group to a Katakali theatre presentation. Actually seeing the make-up applied was a major part of the attraction. Vibrant natural colours and textures added with great care and professional precision. The performance was exciting and exotic, with its stylised movements and intricate costumes. Thankfully the performances have been cut down for we tourists from overnight to 1.5 hours.. Dinner at the Beer and Wine Club. Greg has decided to eat only vegetarian during the trip. This is firstly from a food safety perspective and secondly from a weight loss perspective. A way to lose that next few kgs. Certainly we are doing enough walking to fill the exercise quotient for each day. Eating this way has been great so far. Cath's Eumundi market hat was left on one of the taxis. So interesting to see what she chooses next. Off to Coonoor hill station tomorrow. Standby for more photos.


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9th January 2014

Food is good
All sounding great thus far but didn't think the blog title was that accurate - expected detailed descriptions and many photos of spices, juices dribling down chins etc. But maybe that will come later. Keep having fun!
10th January 2014

All about the food
Thanks Ed and Dave. We'll put some more actual food shots in the next instalment. Cheers G&C
11th January 2014

Tuk Tuk
I would like a pic of you both in a Tuk Tuk. The other pics are very comprehensive and atmospheric. Good travelling.
12th January 2014

Tuk tuk
Thanks Dad. We'll try to add extra photos later this evening. Morning your time. G&C

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