Multicultural Kochi

Our final stop in the state of Kerala was Fort Kochi. It was less relaxed then our other stops but that only meant we had more to visit and explore.

We turned up in Kochi and headed to a home stay recommended by the guidebook. It was a cute welcoming place set in a residential area. We were welcomed in with handshakes, pieces of chocolate cake and tea before we got shown to our room. The word room is a broad term for what could be described as a bamboo shack. It was a pretty swish shack with comfortable bed and western bathroom (with a tap and bucket shower) so it was definitely an experience. We were on the top floor in amongst the tree tops so it was nice and cool in the room. We were also next to the roof top area complete with hammock so it was a perfect place to stay.

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After we settled in we headed out to explore Fort Kochi which was one of the most multicultural places I have ever visited. We started our day by walking along the beach and past the Chinese fishing nets. They are left there from the 1400’s and while there are many other ways to catch fish nowadays they still get used occasionally. Luckily for us as we were wandering by we saw four men using them so we got to see how they worked. From there we wandered along the sea front past market stalls selling fresh fish and other trinkets and along to the St Francis Church. Built back in 1503 during the Portugeuse reign, it is believed to be India’s oldest European church. The church is just one of many scattered through Kochi.

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One of the other main sights in town is the Santa Cruz Basillica which unfortunately was closed off to us due to preparations for a procession. We decided to take cover from the heat of the day in a little cafe called Teapot. It was cute little kitchsy cafe with a to die for chocolate cake so it was easy to spent some time in there. Next on our to do list was the Bishops House and the Indo-Portuguese Museum. The museum hosts many religious artefacts from the period of Portuguese rule and we wandered around looking at their beautifully carved wooden crosses and bejewelled head dresses. The friendly curator told us about the special locks that were placed in the doors that each have a symbol of each religion on it so that people from all different faiths knew they were welcome inside. It was not only a really interesting design but such a great idea for tolerance and I was so glad that he had explained it to us.

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We stuck around in town long enough to view the procession. We had been told it would start between 4.45 and 5.30pm so we found a cafe with a second floor window space and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally as the sun had just gone down at about 6.45 we saw the first part of the procession. We watches for about an hour as different groups from the church walked in two lines down the road dressed in their best finery singing and praying. It was interesting for the first few minutes but after a while I used it as a fashion show, checking out all the different sari’s and picking my favourite. The parade was finished off with a long and loud firework display that we watched from the second story of another cafe. The waiter then told us that this had been happening every day for 10 days and this was the final night. It may not have been the most thrilling of processions but I was glad we got to see it on the final night.

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The following day our multicultural tour continued and we hired a rickshakw driver for a few hours. First stop on our tour was Kerala’s biggest laundry where we saw people washing clothes by hitting them against stones, drying them in fields and fields of clotheslines before ironing them with a 6kg iron full of hot coals. It was all a bit of a process really and as much as I hate doing my washing I’m thankful its only wacked in a machine and dryer.

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From there we were taken to Mattancherry which was home to the spice markets. He took us to a few of the larger shops before taking us to a ginger factory. We could smell it even before we got out of the rickshaw and we walked in to find it drying in the sun. We were then shown the sorting room where women were sitting flicking bits of ginger into different piles by hand. It looked like a long and laborious process and I didn’t envy their job for a second.

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Next stop was a Jain temple and was one of the only Hindu temples we have been allowed in to visit. I had to wear a shawl over my shoulders and we had to leave our bags and shoes behind but it was worth it to go in and have a wander. We went from that temple to the Synagogue which was closed due to a Jewish holiday so unfortunately we didn’t get to go in there. We did have a quick wander around the un-politically correct named streets of Jew Town. The area is famous for is linen and tailoring but the streets are also lined with the usual touristy kind of shops. From there we were shown a few more temples on our way out to see the fishermen at work. By this stage it was steaming hot and we were a bit temple out so we decided to leave the tour there and retreat to somewhere cooler. We headed to the waterfront for some cool sea breeze via the Dutch cemetary filled with bodies of soldiers and workers from the time of Dutch rule.

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The next day we skipped the cultural stuff of churches and museums and instead caught the ferry over to the mainland to go shopping. We had lost or used up a few supplies along the way and thought we may be lucky to find them in one of the malls. It seemed to us however that all that malls were filled with mobile phone shops. After visiting three and having no luck and also attempting to wander through the markets we gave up and headed back to Fort KochI to relax in a cafe before our overnight train that evening.

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After a few days of relaxing on a beach or house boat Kochi was a pleasent reminder of a hustly city filled with things to see. It was good to get off our bums and walk around and sight see for a change especially when it is a town filled with places of all different places and religions. It may not be the most picturesque place we visited in Kerala but it was definitely the most interesting.

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