Pass the Kochi on the left hand side

Posted: January 31, 2011 in India
Tags: , , , ,

We rocked up to Kerala more frisky than a litter of kittens with a bag of cotton wool. We’d been strung out by the cold for 3 weeks in Northern India and whilst we had an amazing time, we longed for the sunshine once more. The heat that hit us as we stepped out the airport reminded me of the slap you get when you first go on holiday as a kid. You know, that magical moment when the doors open to another world and your face melts in the solar glare. Boy oh boy is Kerala hot. And humid. With no breeze. The decision to take the non-AC taxi the 30kms to Kochi was a schoolboy error as our skin melded with the cheap plastic seat cover. We became as one sweating organism.

Marching to the Fort Cochin beat

We decided to stay away from the more hectic streets of mainland Ernakulam and head to the sleepy colonial charm of Fort Cochin, one of the peninsula islands that make up Kochi. We lucked in with our choice of accommodation; we phoned around and could only find 1 place with availability and it just so happens that Costa Gama Homestay is a really cool place. Run by the friendly Benson and managed by the lovely Midhu, we couldn’t have picked a more relaxed homestay.

We spent a few days ambling around the old town. It’s not a beach resort but it has a lot of charm. The vibe is so relaxed and Keralan people are incredibly welcoming. Alas they speak Malayalam here so Muneeza had to stop busting out her Hindi and we reverted to English.

The highlight of the visit was seeing the traditional Chinese fishing nets in action by the northern bay. Centuries old, they are still hand operated by the locals and we got stuck in, for a fee of course. Reeling in the nets involves 5 mean heaving on gnarled ropes, hauling down a series of concrete weights that in turn pull the wooden stilts out the water and unload the net onto a wooden platform. Words don’t really sell it but up close and personal, it’s lot of fun. Although it’s quiet season for the fish, there is still a large daily catch. We came back the next day and bought some tiger prawns and white snapper (not a reference to a tourist) and I whipped them into an improvised platter for dinner. For a bargain R500 we dined like kings. Except there were no goblets of wine or silver cutlery and we were in a guest house. Apart from that, we ate like kings.

Exploring the Keralan backwaters

On Thursday 27th we took a day trip on the much touted Keralan backwaters. The morning involved being punted in a wooden canoe through small canals, getting off on various islands to see local women spin rope and to check out spice plantations and coconut farms. It was a very chilled experience.

After a quick lunch of Keralan thali, we were picked up by a large wooden sailing boat and sailed gently down the river to our pick up point. The backwaters are stunning and the backdrop beautiful. We’re glad we did the trip but I’d be lying if I said it was a fascinating and well organised trip. The guides practically gave up after lunch and the return journey was rather dull.

Cherai beach, faraway in time

We’d come to Kerala expecting stunning white sand beaches but hadn’t really done our homework. The stunning beaches sit to the far North and South of Kerala. Kochi is slap bang in the middle. Luckily a bit of reading of the faithful old Lonely Planet revealed a beach within striking distance.

The journey to Cherai beach is half the fun. First we took perhaps the grottiest ferry over to Vipeen Island and then hopped on a local bus to cover the 20kms to Cherai. All in all it took 1hr30 door-to-door and cost a whopping R26 (less than 50p). From the bus stop we had to endure a 20min walk in the midday sun and arrived at the beach sweating like crazed Brits. Our tiredness and heat exhaustion was stripped away when we caught sight of our first beach in oh so long. We chilled out for a few hours and had a random encounter with the Aussie couple who were on our backwater trip.

We got back to Fort Cochin in fine fetter and relaxed after a very calm and enjoyable day trip. I treated Muneeza to a slap up meal at the pizza shack. I know how to treat a lady.

Kathakali dancing

We were told by Midhu that you have to see the live Kathakali dancing when you come to Kerala so we gave it a pop on the last night. It turned out to be the strangest live performance we’ve ever seen. Kathakali is a traditional interpretive dance performed using only facial expressions and dance, accompanied by a singer who sings the story as it unfolds. The make-up, which you can sit and watch, takes over 1hr. It is so elaborate; I don’t really understand why.

The main character is an evil man, the General of the Army and the Queen’s brother. His face is painted half green and half red. He has this odd white plastic protrusion from his cheeks. He mimes his part of the story with strange hand gestures and every now and then lets out a base scream. Opposite him is the Queen’s lady in waiting, the unwilling target of his desires. Her face is yellow and she wears a sad expression. Every emotion is acted out so elaborately that it takes 30mins to portray 3 lines of written plot. Crazy. Those Keralans must have had a lot of spare time back in the day.

I could sit and describe the bizarre ritual for hours but to be honest, it wasn’t that interesting. The pageantry and detail is quite amazing and I have to applaud their dedication to tradition, but it just wasn’t floating our boats so we left early so Muneeza could watch the Bollywood Awards!

So it’s au-revoir Kochi and on to the hills to find respite from the sun and dive into the realms of wildlife spotting.

love jamer & muneeza x

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