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Published: December 11th 2011
Its like the most colourful miniature hanging you can imagine...
Now we don't know if the gods that watch over the Indian railways (and we're sure there must be SOME obscure god for railways and other rail-based transport) were doing us a favour in light of previous experience, but we managed to get a decent seat (as in, ANY seat) for our 10 rupees each. Ernakulam was an hour and a half away and we settled in for the ride and watched the scenery go by. Aisha has formed the opinion that between the backstreets of Alleppey and their rundown canals overgrown with vegetation, the rubbish and piles of burning refuse everywhere, and the ramshackle villages between Alleppey and Ernakulam, parts of India give the impression of struggling through the aftermath of some dreadful apocalypse. Ernakulam Station was a huge mass of tracks, platforms half under (re)construction packed with a teeming mass of people and their strewn about baggage. Struggling out from this (and being grateful yet again that our bags are comparatively small and light) we jumped in yet another auto and made our way over the succession of bridges to the island of Fort Kochi/Fort Cochin and our accommodation. After a brief geographic discombobulation on the part of the
So much awesome graffiti around the old city...
driver we made it into the old, European influenced quarter (it's near Jew Town ), to Maison Casero, our home(stay) away from home for the next five nights.
Dumping our bags and being given a glass of mango drink (ever ubiquitous and delicious) by our gracious and friendly host Priya, we started to unwind. Once we were slightly refreshed after a nap we headed out for a brief walk and found Kashi Art Cafe which offered some refreshingly homelike (read 'cracka'😉 food (much appreciated by Tess' stomach) and some striking prints and other artworks on display. In fact, we found ourselves there at some point every single day we were there, thus sampling almost every item on the menu. Their limeade was the big hit, with Tess drinking several hundred litres during our stay; and Aisha doing a very respectable job on similar amounts of cold coffee. The old quarter here in Fort Kochi is comparatively quiet and shows very strong European influence; as Tess said we've been chasing her Portugese history across the globe from Macau to India. The old churches are impressive and the streets in general seem so much less...destroyed than in Macau.
Mass at the Santa Cruz Basilica
Mass sounds pretty awesome in Malayalam.
So after a relaxing afternoon we had a dinner very close to our place and to the huge amusement of Tess eavesdropping on the painful miscommunication of the French ladies behind us to the Indian waiters. Then, in betwen the random assaults of a singular but exceedingly persistent mosquito, we slept... Several days later...
It's been an interesting few days but hard to sum up. We've done the tourist thing, there's been sightseeing. We went to the 'Dutch' Mattancherry Palace almost accidentally the other day, and figured we'd see the place. Originally gifted to a local ruler by the Portuguese (What, you couldn't tell that from the name? The Dutch do ONE renovation and suddenly it's theirs) as a sweetener to open up trade (Note for all rulers: Beware of people bearing palaces as gifts; the other hand hidden behind their back is probably holding a package marked 'colonial rape'😉 which has been turned into a museum. The highlight, apart from some detailed historical maps of Fort Kochi drawn by the Portuguese several hundred years ago, are the amazingly well preserved and beautiful murals of Hindu art covering many of the walls. Sadly, photography is very prohibited in
Come in Aisha! If you can...
This town was not designed with Aisha in mind
the building so the most we've got is Tess dramatically preparing to walk in, so you'll have to imagine the rest - including the one of Krishna getting his freak on (and we means all six hands and two feet) with eight implausibly buxom milkmaids. Don't ask us about the deer having rather explicit sex in the bottom of almost EVERY picture, apparently that was considered a bit of a mood setter... The Dutch Palace has been beautifully restored to its rich dark wooded, low ceilinged, white washed former glory after the indignity of serving as a carpeted, painted, fluorescent lighted office building for many years. As well as the murals, it contained many beautiful old palanquins, costumes, portraits and photos that shed light on the royal family. With the influence of Dutch, Chinese, Jewish, British and Portuguese traders and/or colonisers, Fort Kochi has a very distinctive feel. To Tess, it feels like it might be what Macau should've/would've/could've been, before it was overrun by Chinese and western casino demons and commercialism.
We also found the old Synagogue in Jew Town (No, really, that's what its called), saw the Dutch Cemetery and the Police Museum. The Police Museum was
Chinese Fishing Nets
Apparently it takes four people to operate one ('apparently' as no one was operating them when we were there)
a small but campy bundle of fun, featuring approximately 200 photos, likely taken in the mid 1980s, of people wearing different police uniforms from different periods of Keralan history, all in the same pose (STRIDING FORWARD!!!) and some of the most effeminate police dressed dummies ever to have fake facial hair. The guy there was very nice and welcoming though and chatted to us about Australia, once we got over the initial misconception that Angela Merkel was our PM.
Another day we went up to see the famous Chinese fishing nets along the waterfront. If nothing else, this visit explained why in the postcards and photos the fishing nets are ALWAYS photographed from a low angle against the sunset/twilight. The waterfront is insane, you approach through a rundown park and then once you're up on the breakwater you can see it. Sewage smelling canals trickle sludgily towards the ocean between the stalls selling suspect looking fish (NOT a country to eat sashimi) and people flogging tourist crap. Dunes of garbage slope gently towards the weed choked sea while crows (no seagulls) circle and peck at scraps in between the pulled up fishing canoes. In the background, on the other
Santa Cruz Basilica
About 1 minute from where we were staying
side of the inlet, an oil refinery or similar industrial facility sits low and squat against the horizon. Perched in between this, lurk the giant spidery silhouettes of the fishing nets, poised as if to jump into the water and swim away.
On our last day we thought we'd visit the Indo-Portuguese Museum, although it turned out to be more the Museum of Portuguese Catholic Church Memorabilia. There was one cool thing there though, the 'Kerala Lock.' This was a lock that used to be on the doors of many houses and public buildings in Fort Kochi. It is quite intricate and into its design combines a Hindu trident, Muslim crescent, Jewish menorah, Christian cross, Chinese 'fu sho' symbol (we made up that spelling sorry) and possibly something else that we can't recall; the meaning of course being that everyone is welcome through these doors. Multiculturalism was and is alive and well in Kerala. It really is an extremely tolerant and accepting society - we've been told that when there is, say, a celebration at the mosque, everyone from the church next door will attend and vice versa. And there is no fence between the church and the mosque.
In this and many other ways, the world could learn a lot from Kerala.
Fort Kochi has been a good place to stop and take stock over the last six days. The rich and multilayered history of the place has meant there's been a lot to see and our lovely homestay has been a good base to explore it from, as well as providing a place for respite when we've needed it. And air conditioning. Compared to everywhere else we've been in India (and many we haven't), Fort Kochi is really quite chilled out - although the auto touts are the pushiest to date, they are also relatively easily foiled. Fort Kochi is made up of main(ish) roads with the blocks in between filled with houses crammed in this way and that along a maze of alleyways too narrow for cars. It means the second you're off the road and down an alleyway you find peace, shade and quite a sense of a little community. Each morning, men on bicycles or wheeling carts ply the alleyways, their distinctive calls in Malayalam selling fish, milk, newspapers or whatever it is that is their livelihood - much to Tess' delight and
Aisha's chagrin at the chance of a sleep-in gone for another day.
Incredible !ndia, the campaign tells us: Uh-huh. Just don't wear thongs, the garbage will get in your toes. For kids who've participated in Clean Up Australia Day and grown up learning to care for the environment, it's incredible to see the piles of garbage and crap everywhere and the toxic tang of burned and burning plastic and refuse is omnipresent. If it wasn't for that, the urban decay would probably slide as being post apocalyptically charming. At this point it feels a bit like infrastructural development has been more or less an afterthought and that population growth long ago eclipsed any ability to keep up. We're both hoping that Munnar, a hill station, will prove to be a bit of a cool change temperature wise (Tess: *shaking fist* Blast you Y genes and your prickly heat! And while I'm at it, blast you M genes for your red faced tendencies!). And maybe, just maybe, there's going to be less garbage.
Love Tess & Aisha
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