We'd heard much about India, especially in Sri Lanka, when meeting other travelers. Most had said it was good that they had gone, but - at least from the opinions we'd heard - they had also hated it: the dirt, the grime, the filthy bed sheets, the forceful salesmanship, and the dead dogs in the street seemed to be too much for them. There were others that loved it, on the other hand, for the fascinating culture, the food, and just the crazy "Indianness" of it all. In other words, there was no lack of opinion and no ambivalence in terms of the opinions; and, on our end, if the feelings engendered during the first few days of our trip are any indication of what the future in India holds in store for us, I'd have to say that we're really going to like it here. Although I'm far from being able to define anything yet - it's simply too complicated a country - there is a definitive vibrancy to the culture and life here: as a Portuguese man we’d met at the Cochin airport emphatically stated, “India is just that – India; and there is no other definition”. Realizing that
the statement in-and-of-itself is a tautology, I’d nonetheless have to agree…
We flew into Cochin a few days ago from Colombo and immediately felt almost weirdly at home, an impression shared by the foreigners on the bus to Fort Cochin (an area of the city), including a Polish couple who also had flown in from Sri Lanka. Perhaps it was the Portuguese influence on the city, perhaps something else, but the energy amongst us was highly positive.
Once we’d found a place to stay, we headed over to a nearby bar for a beer and some food. I ordered Fish Curry with some of the best Butter Naan I’d ever had in my life (sorry, Dave, forgot the picture again, but we’re getting better, as you’ll see later) – since this was at a tourist joint, I knew the food was only going to get better.
We went on a Kerala Backwaters tour the next day that wasn’t really worth it and – with the locals pushing us along the water using large bamboo sticks at less than a snail’s pace - I literally snoozed through some of it, though Klaudia took some good pics of the
locals. The best part of the tour, as someone stated, was the end.
We then took in some culture in the form of a traditional Kathakali play and a Kerala martial arts show. The former’s chief characteristic is the actors’ use of hand gestures and dance instead of dialogue to convey the story, making it a mime show extravaganza with elaborate make up (you can watch them put the make up one before the play) and costumes. The “MC” provided some background before the play began, explaining that the usual play typically lasts around 6 hours – thank God this one did not. Perhaps it would all be more interesting with an intimate understanding of the meanings of the various gestures, but 1.5 hours was more than sufficient. The martial arts show was exciting and entertaining, and much of the staged fighting included real knives and swords, adding an element of apprehension in the audience.
Having over packed, we visited the post office to send a package home, which gave us some excitement as well due to the interesting packing methods used in India: every package has to be wrapped not only in a box, but
inside an especially sewn cloth. If you can do it yourself, I suppose that's great, but this cannot be done within the post office, so we had to run down the street and find a seamstress that would sew our package up in white cloth, with 15 minutes to spare before the post office closed. We were successful, but with severe admonishment from the seamstress for the time allotted her. I didn't comment, but thought, "Where else in the world might I need a seamstress to send a package?"
Not far from the post office stands St. Francis church, which onced contained the remains of Vasco da Gama, who died in Cochin. His remains were later moved to Lisbon.
We stayed an extra night when we’d found out from the Polish couple that a festival was going to occur the next night and that there would be elephants, in the plural. We immediately understood that to mean that there would be “an” elephant, and hoped that is wasn’t wooden, although we honestly kind of expected it to be. We’re still unsure of the occasion for the festival, but there was “a” real elephant walking along the streets of
Cochin, with music and dancing. Interestingly, they did not close the street to traffic for the event, so there were some close calls with buses clamoring through the crowds surrounding an elaborately adorned elephant. Amidst this liveliness, our new Portuguese friend almost put us in jail when he tried to open a beer bottle in the street, which incited the locals to almost tar and feather us and threaten us with legal ramifications of fines up to 5000 rupees; so, we drank the beer behind a small truck, which then seemed to be alright – out of sight, out of mind, I guess.
A bit tipsy, we followed the elephant procession to a small temple, where, after I’d exited, some young boys tried to sell me something:
“No, I don’t want anything. But, tell me, what’s the god in the temple?”
One of the boys stated a god's name from the almost infinite pantheon of Hindu gods which I did not understand. After a couple more unsuccessful attempts at clarification, I asked, “Ok, so what is the symbolism of this god?” Having received confused stares, I realized my question was wrong and rephrased:
“What do you
pray to this god for?”
“To kill people,” one of the boys responded.
“To kill people?!” I asked, dubiously laughing.
“Yes, and for successful studies,” another one added.
“To kill people and for successful studies?! Wow, good god for a student: if you fail your exam, you can pray that your teacher gets killed.”
“Noooo!” they all shouted in unison. Obviously, I was misunderstanding something here, or at least I hope I was…
We ended the night with some great curry in the company of new-found friends.
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