Saturday we arrive in Kochi, which immediately wins the best looking airport award, at least from the outside, very attractive. It is hot and humid the moment we step off the plane.
Our welcome committee and the car are waiting (our flight has been delayed) and we set off for Fort Cochin which is home for the next three nights. The first thing notice on the drive are the ‘proper’ houses, in many colours, green, blue, pink, red, yellow; you name it, they’ve painted a house in it. The other thing we notice is more Christian churches in the couple of hours our drive takes, than we have seen in total for the rest of the trip. The trip includes a vehicle ferry across the water.
More accurately, we’re staying in Mantancherry, in a ‘heritage hotel’ since 1954. We think the furniture hasn’t been changed since. More alarmingly, the mosquitoes in the room out number us about 50 to 1; although we think we have the gecko’s measure. After lunch, we head into town to buy fly spray and water, but also take the opportunity for a look around. We see and hear a young Australian man, complete with blue tank top, we say hello and swap travel destinations for a while. He’s here with some mates, he’s been living in Melbourne for a year, but is from a small town near Bega. Would you believe he is looking for a pair of thongs to buy?
The streets here are winding narrow country lanes. There is not a lot of traffic, and it is quite flat, so is both pedestrian and cycle friendly.
Kerry has an itch to have some clothes made, having missed out in Mumbai. She has no luck in the local tailors around Princess Street where we are shopping. The local small stores don’t carry the same colours and prints we have seen elsewhere.
The sweat is simply dripping off us, and we negotiate an auto-rickshaw back to the hotel. Note: for the benefit of tourists they are called tuk-tuks here; but we stick to auto rickshaw. We have turned down this driver earlier in the day, if he takes us to a particular store he will get a litre of petrol. On the exchange rate petrol is about $1.40 here, and they are complaining like you wouldn’t believe. He takes us to the shop, we do our duty by looking around, but we will not be persuaded to buy.
At the hotel we use two-thirds of the Mortein killing 44 insects in the bathroom, and Kerry gives up counting the dead in the bedroom. That much Mortein doesn’t do either of us much good either. Happily that is the end of them.
The saving grace of the hotel is the swimming pool, and we spend a couple of hours in it, cooling off. Eating out is more than Kerry can do, so we stay at the hotel.
Sunday, and we head off on our guided tour, by auto-rickshaw. We see the Dutch Palace, which has gorgeous rosewood ceilings, and fabulous Hindu murals in two of the rooms. The palace was a gift of the Portuguese to the local Rajah way back in the 1500s, although the Dutch renovated it about 100 years later, hence the name. No photography allowed. (Fort Cochin was also settled by the Brits, after the Dutch).
We go to St Francis Church, the oldest in India, which may have been re-built a few times too. It started Catholic, became Protestant under the Dutch, and Anglican under the British. We cannot get in, because the morning service is being conducted (in English). Under our own steam we go back later in the day, and Her Majesty visited the church in the late 1990s. Vasco de Gama’s tombstone is in the church, however his remains were long ago taken back to Portugual.
It is worth pointing out that a local Mosque claims a date of 1300 and something, but how much of the original is left, we don’t find out.
We head for the foreshore, and the Chinese fishing nets. These seem as much for show as catching fish, and they operate on a counter weight system. For a price IndianInterlude can help raise the nets. Are they crazy?
The foreshore has some persistent hawkers, but we have long been immune, and can outlast anyone standing still, or walking with us.
Next stop, the Dhobi Ghats, where laundry is washed and ironed. Some of the ironing is with an electric iron (a long way from the latest model, but electric nonetheless), or with older iron filled with hot coals and which weighs plenty.
Kerry takes up the ‘ladies tailoring’ question with the guide. We explain that our efforts yesterday we fruitless, however he takes us to a sizeable store being frequented by Indians, if not locals, and Kerry arranges to have four cotton tops made. They will be delivered to our hotel at 8.00pm tonight.
We head for the area known as Jewtown, which surrounds the local synagogue, which is some 400 years old too. There are less than 10 Jews living in Fort Cochin and the Rabbi sent from Israel has visa problems to conduct religious teachings. Again dating back to the 1500s, the Dutch partly re-built it in the 1600s. It has floor tiles from China, and light fittings from Belgium and Italy. No photography or bags allowed. The clock tower has different numerals on each side, but we cannot confirm this.
The shopping here is tough (note, Kashmiris run the shops, we only have one person identified to us as a Jew). Kerry has her bargaining feet at last, and walks away from a price the shopkeeper won’t match. Ian gets last minute gifts at very nearly half-price, and lower than the price he was prepared to pay. Of course, the store owner is still making money, and quite possibly our guide and driver are in on the commission too. They are both refreshingly honest about this.
Tour over, and over-time, we get dropped in a street where our guide notes say there is a good option for lunch, with real cakes, and great coffee. We cannot find it, and neither of us remember the name. We take the alternative which still has good cakes and okay coffee.
Kerry opts to walk after lunch, and we see more than a handful of cricket games underway, including one which looks almost formal. Most of the team seems to be wearing a uniform, and there are very definitely two umpires.
We go back to the hotel for more pool time.
This night we have tickets for a Kathakali dance performance, which looks to me like Indian kabuki, and we opt out. Our guide, and the driver Salim, have told us there is a temple festival on tonight, complete with elephants, and this we agree to. Salim picks us up at 5.00pm for a ‘performance’ that may start at 6.30pm. We get an alternative tour of Fort Cochin, and are amazed by how much of it there is. We see the elephants early, before they are led off, and then Salim takes us to Santa Cruz Basilica. We can’t get in here, either, but from outside, the inside looks really something, very colourful and with paintings on the ceiling.
We go back to the elephants who have been placed in position, and a small band of sorts makes a complete racket in front of them. We see enough of the elephants, and ask to be taken to dinner, at Oceanus, a very good restaurant indeed. We are there before the kitchen is open, but we are soon joined by table after table of foreigners. We have one of the tastiest curries of the trip. Salim collects us an hour later for the trip back to our hotel, where Kerry’s new clothes await. Shop staff come later to collect the money.
During the day I have been in contact with our tour coordinator to organize a car and driver for Monday. We have agreed to eliminate the risk of excess baggage for the trip home, and visit the DHL office on the mainland. Kerry also wants to see some Indian shopping malls before we go.
First stop however is the Santa Cruz Basilica. We’re confident there is no Mass on Monday morning. The gate is ajar, but the man on security motions to us to go around. We try another gate, but it too is locked. We try the school gate, that won’t get us to the church, nor does the entry to the convent. We go back to the main gate where I notice locals being admitted. I try my luck again. Regrettably we do not speak each other’s language, and he is getting angry, and I am becoming belligerent. More locals walking past me does not help. An earthly voice comes from above. Someone with English tries to explain the church is closed because it is a holy day. I explain because it is a holy day I would like to attend church. This is greeted with some amusement. Our driver appears and tries to get an answer from the man on the gate, but the explanation, whatever it is, I don’t understand.
The DHL experience is a nightmare, or at least feels like one. I have written down the address, but the driver cannot find it, and stops three times to ask before someone knows. We have nearly 12 kilograms primarily of clothes to send home. They need my passport, and this I am ready for. They want my onward ticket, this I do not have. The DHL person wants to come to our hotel to get it, I tell him Thursday at three o’clock, this he will not do. We eventually agree that I can send him my itinerary by email. We have to take an inventory of everything we are sending home, which is written in long hand, and then entered on the computer system.
The DHL person finds someone more senior to deal with us (where have they been?) and the process improves a little, but not by much. I am not allowed to send the items to myself, so we have Kerry’s name attached to my address. We left our hotel at 10.00am, and it is now well after 12.00. I have signed my name eight times.
The driver has checked the location of two malls we have identified. The first, Gold Souk Grande, is entirely mis-named. It is mostly empty, desolate and generally horrible. We take our chances on eating in the food court outside the cinemas. There is nothing in the bain-marie, so we assume the food will be freshly cooked. We leave earlier than scheduled, and head for Oberon Mall.
This at least has retailers occupying the space, and many western brands dominate. We spend most time in the bookshop component of the Reliance Superstore. It is a lot like Borders. Note: books are very inexpensive by our standards here.
Our return trip home is painless, we plan to visit another restaurant recommended by Salim for dinner, before readying our lighter bags for a car journey to Alleppey where we board our houseboat for our last two nights in India.