Down to Kerala

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Our flight from Mumbai to Cochin (called Kochi now) was a journey from a North Indian culture to that of the Karnatic South, from Hindi/Marathi to Malayalam language, from wheat to rice based cuisine and from men and women in pants to some men wearing the traditional cloth lungi wrapped around them from waist to ground, and more women wearing saris.  It is a different country, as are so many regions in India:  all interesting but all with unique heritage..  You have not seen India but only a regional version, albeit fascinating, and beautiful, if you just visit the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. There is so much more.

Courthard of Brunton Boatyard

It is a long ride from the airport as we pass through congested chaotic streets with shops both new and old creating a landscape of active commerce without any planned design or restrictions.  I begin to question my memory of a relaxed culture in a peaceful setting but then we cross into the Fort Cochin area and the scene changes to green playing fields and old red tile roofed wood houses and shops which make me want to get out and explore.

We pass into a beautiful courtyard of our impressive heritage hotel, Brunton Boatyard, a property that has been re-built and run by the CGH Earth group to replicate old Kerala architecture, with antiques in the rooms and a garden with swimming pool at the water’s edge.  Everything and everyone we encounter is warm and welcoming.  South Indian flute music plays in the background as we establish ourselves for two nights in our beautiful rooms facing the water.

Entryhall of. Brunton Boatyard
Swimming Pool and Water outside my window at Brunton Boatyard

Our dinner is at another CGH property, the 8th Bastion, where we enjoy a personally cooked meal in an almost empty dining room.   This is not tourist season as it is hot outside with occasional rain (about 34 degrees centigrade/94 fahrenheit and 66% humidity)  so we never experience any crowds.  But it is summer break for school children so there are Indian tourists with their families out and about but very few foreign visitors.

We take a morning walk to the Chinese Fishing Nets, where fishermen face an uncertain future with the depletion of their catch through over-fishing.  We pass the Dutch built St. Francis Church and the remaining military facilities once used by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and then the English before being ceded to the new India.  Our visit to the Mattancherry Palace Museum gives us an overview of the areas history and some background of the people who once ruled this land.

Fishermen after their morning catch.
Fish being sold in harbor
St. Francis Church

A word about dogs and cats. Although in the past wild dogs were rempant throughout India, they have been controlled through government efforts. But now I see many cats, that I had never seen before! My guess this is the next project that will need to be addressed.

The special aspect of today is a cooking class with Ninny at her beautiful home in the South part of the city.  She eloquently speaks about what she is demonstrating to us pumpkin soup, a masala sauce for vegetables or chicken, a white coconut sauce for vegetables, fish preparations, and for desert a crepe with mango sauce and cardamom pudding. We eat a sumptuous lunch but it is uncertain any of us can replicate this cuisine so we enjoy it greatly now in the present.

Our Lunch after Cooking Class at Ninny’s House

We are just skimming the surface of what Kochi has to offer but are enjoying whatever we are given to experience.   We touch the traditions of ancient Kerala as we attend a Kathakali dance demonstration and performance, the local all-male form of dance drama with a religious Hindu basis, once mainly performed in temples and for wealthy patrons.  The two dancers and drummer are truly excellent so I am very happy that the tradition is still on-going and hopefully will be passed on to future generations.  I must have a strong connection to Kathakali as I realize the image attached to my varyatours email is that of a Kathakali dancer’s face.

Kathakali Performance with the Wicker Demoness trying to seduce the Young Hero

Following a spectacular meal at our hotel in the evening, hosted by the property’s manager, we head out of Kochi the next day with an early morning stop at the remaining Dhobi washers community area, where some aging men and women are still taking in laundry to hand wash, dry and iron on a daily basis. 

Remaining Dhobi washers in Kochi

Our last stop in Kochi is to the area once inhabited by over 600 families of Jews but which now has only 2 remaining Jewish inhabitants, one of whom is 92 years old, all the others having emigrated to Israel and other countries since independence.  What remains behind are an old cemetery and a street that has been re-born into a movie-like set, with bright-colored well-maintained shops and new street lamps decorated with Stars of David and an overhead entrance sign of “Jew Town”, the old name of this area leading to the beautiful old Synagogue.  I understand this name is surprising and a little offensive to some foreign Jewish visitors, recollecting a history of confining Jews to ghetto areas in many parts of the world.  The street today is being used as the photo backdrop for two brides, one Muslim and one Hindu. The synagogue itself, with a blue and white tile floor from the 1600’s is beautiful and has been well-restored.  The tourism bureau of Kerala has definitely put effort into spotlighting this part of its history.  However, I heard a story from our local guide about a Lubavitcher Hasidic Rabbi who came fairly recently to Kochi to live and practice within the synagogue.  He was forced to leave because the Muslim community started a rumor that he was proselytizing.  I don’t know how much of this is true but it does seem that a majority of the store owners on the main street leading to the temple are now Muslim, as there are no Jews left, and that the current shop owners could feel threatened by Jews moving back to the area.

The main street leading to the synagogue. Note new lamp posts with Star of David.
Muslim Bride showing us her hennaed hands
In the old Pardesi Synagogue. The eternal light is still lit as there are still 2 practising Jews nearby.

Now on to our next location, the lake and canals of Kumbakonam.