Due South

The tranquil city of Kochi has been drawing spice traders and explorers to the region for more than 600 years. A blend of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. In no other spot around India would you find giant cantilevered fishing nets from China (from the age of Kublai Khan), a 400 year old synagogue, an ancient mosque and colonial British infrastructure. A signature event for tourists is an opportunity to watch the Kathakali.

Chinese fishing nets

An artistic dance prominent in southern India utilizing elaborate masks, bold costumes and a unique form of mime, which dramatizes Hindu literature. It reminded me of opera…theater in a foreign language where something is happening but I don’t seem to understand. That being said it was fascinating, colorful and just long enough to bear the uncomfortable chairs. The picture is more out of focus than I would usually include in a post but the best that could be achieved without a tripod or more steady hands.

Kathakali performance

We checked out the waterfront and perused some merchant stalls. I thought I had finally found an Indian shirt I liked but unfortunately it was a slim fit. We continued on until we happened upon a lovely Tibetan store. Just our second haul of small trinkets for gifts. A conveniently located ATM across the street and a dash into a fabric store where I did find two very comfortable shirts, one which was tailored while we waited. Another benefit was the shop accepting cashless payment – more on that later.

We continued our tour around the city as we headed for Jew Town. The oldest community of Jewish peoples in India dating back to King Solomon. When Israel was created after WWII a majority of the community emigrated leaving behind most of their belongings (furniture etc). A bustling port village with an aroma of bold Indian spice vendors, and antique/curio shops. The Paradesi Synagogue still maintains a small congregation but it is mainly a tourist mecca.

We took a backwater river tour about an hour from the Fort Kochi area. The company “Ethnic Voyages” was an excellent choice. This is in the top five experiences that we have had during our trip. Chelle spoke with our guide Aishi at length. Not just about the backwater flowers or geography but Indian culture, her family, commerce and even American and Indian politics. It was a very informative tour. I chimed in two or three times but mainly took some photos. Our riverboat had two oarsmen, forward and aft. The guy in the stern was in charge of steering the boat. Both used two distinct bamboo oars. A twenty five foot pole for deep water and an eighteen footer for closer to shore. This is the traditional method for plying the lake and small rivers inland from the Arabian Sea. We saw a couple of ferries but the predominant boat traffic was this method or canoes with small outboard motors.

 


We toured a unique home weaving operation using coconuts. The husk is opened and the fibrous threads are removed and piled in mounds to dry. The threads are collected in a waist pouch of the woman operating a loom type of device. As she walked backwards the crank spun the threads together into long fibers creating small ropes. The loops of rope are then left out in the sun to dry. It was used in the boating industry to lash bamboo. We also toured the spice operation and introduced to different spices like cardamom in plant form. A first for me to taste a nutmeg leaf.  Our guide discussed the process from plant to completed spice. Then it was time for an authentic Keralan lunch, which was served on a banana leaf  plate.


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