Nearly six months ago now, I travelled to India for the second time this year (the visa allowed double entry, so we wanted to make the most of it, and visit the part of India my husband Jeremy was most keen to see). I took a long break from writing my travel blog posts as I dealt with finishing up the publication of my novel, and music video editing, as well as dealing with my mental health, so thank goodness for my note-taking, or I might not have been able to write up much about this trip.
My husband and I left our children in capable hands in Malaysia on the 20th of June, and we headed off to the airport. Only to discover our flight was delayed an hour. And, considering we were staying in a homestay in Kochi, this meant our hosts were up quite late waiting for us to arrive. At least they had arranged transport for us. It must’ve been after midnight by the time we got into our room, so we went straight to bed.
Friday June 21st, 2013
We’d organised a late breakfast with our hosts, though apparently the change in timezones meant we didn’t sleep as late as hoped anyway. We were downstairs a bit earlier than our scheduled 9am breakfast, and met the people who were staying in the other room in the homestay, before moving into the kitchen where we were served masala dosa.
After breakfast, we headed back upstairs and waited for a man to come and talk to us about the tours and shows on offer, and so we left him to organise the things we were interested in. After he left, we borrowed an umbrella from our hosts, as it was a little rainy, and started wandering around the Fort Kochi area to get our bearings of the town. Unlike Delhi’s cows, which were seen everywhere, the most common animal found in the streets were goats.
Eventually we found what direction we were supposed to head to get to the first sight we wanted to go to (I’d started out by taking us in the wrong direction). We stopped in at a small souvenir shop and picked up our first souvenirs – a nice shoulder bag (which I still regularly use), and some chocolate tea (which is long since used up). Then we continued on to find the kathikali theatre where we had organised to see several shows, so we would know how to get there later.
Not too far from the theatre is where we finally found the Santa Cruz Basilica. This cathedral was originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, though later destroyed and re-built by the British. We took a couple of photos outside, until the rain started getting a little stronger, where we then went inside to admire the decorations and painted walls. We sat in the pews for a while until the rain let up.
After leaving the cathedral, we headed north toward the Arabian Sea, and walked the coast for a little while to see the Chinese fishing nets, until we arrived at Vasco-da-Gama Square.
From there we headed down Church Road, and browsed some of the markets along the road. I fancied some of the clothes at one of the stalls, and the owner kept talking to me, trying to show me the different options and engaging with my Australianness by telling me he was a fan of Ricky Ponting. At one point he either accidentally but probably just inappropriately touched my boobs when holding something up to my torso. I didn’t end up buying anything.
We then stopped into a saree specialist, but didn’t last long there either, before heading on our way to St Francis Church, another Portuguese building, and the only other one that hadn’t been destroyed by the Dutch. This wasn’t as pretty as the Santa Cruz Basilica, however.
After visiting the church, we wandered along to look for the restaurants we had been recommended, since it was time for lunch, and came across Oceanos, a combined Indian and Portuguese restaurant. Jeremy and I got a few dishes to share, which included Kerala chicken curry, Kerala rice, cauliflower fritters, pumpkin soup, appam, and masala pappad. I opted for the banana lassi to drink. The recommendation was well received!
Further East along the road, we headed to Bishop House, which is also the location of the Indo-Portuguese Museum. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside, and since we were the only visitors when we arrived, the ticket man came to talk to us about some of the artifacts in the museum’s collection, which were mainly old Catholic items. This is where I learned about the monstrance, which, despite being raised Catholic, I’d never heard of before. But they had a couple of beautiful ones that I admired. We were also shown and taught about the Kerala door lock, also known as manichitrathal in Malayalam, the main language spoken in Kerala. What was so cool about the lock we were shown is that different parts of it represented 5 of the religions present in the state of Kerala (This blog post has a good photo of it, and talks more about it, if you’re interested in learning more). As we left the museum, I noticed that the basement was completely flooded. Thankfully it looked completely empty! It was only a small museum, but at only Rs25 (less than 50 US cents) for entry, it was worth the trip.
As we left the museum, we had an auto-rickshaw driver try to convince us to let him drive us a few metres to some place, because if he did, he’d get free petrol. We had none of that, though… the place we wanted to go next really wasn’t worth hiring someone for, either. So we wandered along to try and find the other restaurant we had been recommended, called Dal Roti, so we’d know where to come back to another time. We managed to do that, and then headed back to the coast again.
At this point, we found Mahatma Ghandi Beach, which had a terrible rubbish problem. I suspect at least some of it had been washed onto the shore from the Arabian Sea, but it was by far the dirtiest beach I have ever seen. I can only hope that it’s cleaned up during the non-rainy season, because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to swim there with it looking like that. Just about every speck of sand was covered in seaweed or rubbish. Being the rainy season, the waves were also very high, and crashed way up the shore.
After checking out the beach, we wandered back to find the Dutch Cemetery, which was gated shut and overgrown with grass and moss, but still interesting to look at. Then we headed further down the coast, which was a long walk, until we eventually found the Maritime Museum, which cost Rs75 to enter. It took us so long to get there that I kept thinking we must have accidentally passed it somewhere along the way, even though there was a lot of stone wall and barbed wire fencing.
The museum was relatively interesting, showing a lot of the history through photographs, and old uniforms. I found it somewhat amusing that all of the mannequins that wore the uniforms were white, though all the name-tags on them had Indian names. There was meant to be a free video screening at around 4pm that we stuck around for, except it didn’t start and Jeremy had to ask them to put on. I think I may have fallen asleep instead of watching it, though, as the day had worn me out. It was also raining a bit more heavily again at this time, so we were lucky to be inside. It had cleared up again by the time we left, and found a shortcut back through some tight people-sized alleyways to our street, and then our homestay, where we got to lay down for a proper nap.
It was dinnertime by the time we finished napping, so we decided to head back to Dal Roti. I tried the stuffed parata egg paneer, and got a chai masala to drink. It was absolutely delicious and, again, we could see why it had been recommended. We couldn’t finish all our food, though, since there was so much, so they packaged it up for us and told us it would still be good until lunch the next day.
Some of the things that I noticed in comparison to our trip to North India was the fact that there were more white tourists here than North India, despite off season (we’d been told by our driver from the airport that only Arabs really came at this time of year), the traffic is a lot better, and you don’t notice the poverty anywhere near as much. I don’t recall seeing anyone living on the streets, for example, like I did in Delhi.
On our way back to the homestay for the night, we ran into three cows. So I guess they do still have them, just not as many as the goats. When we got back, we tucked in for the night to watch a couple episodes of Millennium, which we had been making our way through at the time.
Saturday June 22nd, 2013
We got up earlier for breakfast this morning, and were served idli (which is like a small fat white savoury pancake) with coconut chutney, and toast. After breakfast, we spent some time in the foyer area, and were invited to use the Internet, so we called home to Malaysia to briefly talk to our sons.
Once we were ready to head off for the day, we headed east, down one of the busier looking roads (which still wasn’t all that busy), to the Mattancherry area. Once we got vaguely to the area we were looking for, we asked for directions, and made our way to the aptly named “Jew Town” where the Jewish community once lived in Kochi (not so much these days), to see the spice markets and an antique shop. Silly us chose Saturday to find the Synagogue, which was closed, but still somewhat interesting to look at from the outside. We ate our Dal Roti leftovers, and then headed into a café/bookshop for drinks, and I tried a nice honey lassi, then bought a couple of books. I picked up Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat, because I thought it sounded interesting and worth checking out an Indian author. (You can read my review on Goodreads).
It was raining when we left the café, so we got our umbrellas out and hurried over to the Dutch Palace Museum, which wasn’t too far away. It was looking a little rundown, and mostly consisted of the Royal family’s family tree, though some of the history was interesting, and I’d recommend it just to see the painted walls. It was only Rs5, which is pretty much a bargain.
As we left the Dutch Palace, we found a flooded field and a few cows, and got to see the back of the synagogue. We ended up catching an auto-rickshaw back to our homestay, since it was a bit of a trek to get back there, and Jeremy was in the mood for a nap. I took in a bit of reading, and probably napped a little as well.
After that, we headed to the Kathakali theatre, where we had tickets to see all of the shows/performances for the night, though it was pretty rainy on the walk there.
This next section is going to be a little image intensive, because I took a lot of photos at the shows we saw.
The first show was a demonstration of kalarippayat, a martial art that can be traced back to the 12th century. The men who demonstrated the art wore just a bit of cloth around their groin area, and fought both with and without weapons, which included sword and shield, and a very scary twisty metal that could be wrapped around the waist to carry, but had a number of blades that could easily draw blood from several lashes at once. It could be used somewhat like a whip. I don’t know how else to describe it.
We went downstairs briefly after the show, but then headed back up to start watching the the makeup being put on the performers for the Kathakali show. The makeup took about an hour to put on the three performers, and it was very interesting to watch how they made the beards out of paper.
The show itself then ran for about 90 minutes, though the start is just a demonstration to explain what various noises and movements mean during the story. They don’t do the same show every night, so the one we saw was called “The Killing of Baka”. During this story, a green-faced Bhima, the second and most powerful of the Pandava princes, must face the red-faced demon Baka. The third performer played the supporting role of Brahmin, a villager who is menaced by Baka. We were given a sheet of paper to explain the story to us, but I didn’t follow along with it, instead choosing to just watch the show and photograph it.
We only had about 30 minutes, if that, to get dinner in between the theatre and the next performance – Indian classical dance, which is only on Saturdays – so we headed down to the closest restaurant, which was just next door. Unfortunately, they weren’t particularly prepared for customers, so whilst I had time to drink my pineapple lassi, I grew impatient for the food and left Jeremy to collect it when it arrived, so I wouldn’t miss the show. I’m very glad I did that, as Jeremy missed 4 of the 6 dances (in part because they only accepted cash, and Jeremy had to find an ATM). I did video parts of the dances, though I don’t have those online, so I’ll just share some photos of the costumes and various positions below. It was really cool to watch, especially how much their facial expressions told the story in a similar fashion to the way the Kathakali theatre did.
It was raining very heavily when the show was finally over, but we had no choice but to brave it and drench ourselves on our walk back. Our hosts graciously allowed us to eat our food in their kitchen, despite how wet we were. Dinner consisted of briyani rice, chapatti, dal, and pappad.
Sunday June 23rd, 2013
Our day started with a cold shower, which we later discovered was because our new neighbours had accidentally flipped the fuse. I did a little reading in the morning before we met the new neighbours, Brianna and Amber from Geelong, Australia. Jeremy and I then headed downstairs to have our breakfast, which was idli again, but this time with vegetable curry, which I loved. We used the Internet for a bit before heading back upstairs, and I talked to Amber and Bri a little about my novel, which was in the final proofreading stage at the time.
Today was a day of relaxation, and so Jeremy and I wandered over to the Ayurville spa where we each had a massage treatment, stripping down to nothing and then having to wear the flimsiest of disposable g-strings. Having had similar treatment at other spas across Asia, it wasn’t too surprising for me, but it might catch other people off-guard.
As we headed off again, Jeremy requested that I find the local rundown-looking cinema again, because he wanted to catch an Indian film in a proper theatre. We walked past some houses, some with cool art on the walls lining the perimeter, and eventually I got us back there. It looked so rundown that I didn’t even believe it was still open, plus the carpark was flooded, so I sent Jeremy inside without me to find out what the deal was. He came out telling me the times they screen movies there, so it turned out I was wrong.
Then we walked some more in order to find a place for lunch, and ended up at a place called Casi Nova, which was under renovation at the time, but still serving people. We had to wait an hour for our food, but they offered us cards to play with and Internet usage. Lunch consisted of onion pakkavada, aloo mattar, masala omelette, and garlic chapatti, and I had sweet lassi to drink.
After lunch, we headed back to the homestay for a little while, before it was time to head over to the cinema again to catch a flick. We ended up seeing the Malayalam film Money Back Policy, and tickets were cheap as anything, but of course there were no English subtitles. We had to deduce the story just by watching what the actors were doing, and there was an intermission in the middle where Jeremy and I were able to discuss what we thought it was about. My interpretation was that there was this dirty old man who was trying to have an affair with a much younger girl, who actually wasn’t interested in him. There was, of course, more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil the ending (you never know who might read this and want to watch it!)
I may have fallen asleep a couple of times during the film, too, as I was a bit tired, so when we headed back to the homestay again after the film, we had a nap, and I did a bit more reading.
Then for dinner we headed back to Dal Roti again, since they had so much more on the menu that looked enticing. Jeremy and I shared a chicken (tandoori) kati roll with roti, and I had strawberry ice tea to drink. The owner recognised us from the previous visit, which was cool. Then, since we were still a bit hungry, we went to a nearby ice-cream place, which was combined with an art gallery. We admired the art as we waited for our ice-cream to arrive.
It was finally time to head back to the Kathakali theatre, where we had tickets to watch the Indian classical music concert, which on this particular night was North Indian music of the sitar and tabla.
I really enjoyed the music, and it was basically the epitome of what I associate with Indian music. We sat at the very front, in perfect view of the tabla player, who kept looking over me, both when I was taking photos and when I wasn’t. I felt like we’d made a connection somehow, and I wanted to tell him, “Thanks for noticing me in a non-creepy way.”
As we left, when other audience members stayed to talk to the host and sitar player, I waved goodbye to the tabla player, and he waved back. It was a really nice moment.
Monday June 24th, 2013
We had an early start to the day today as we’d booked a tour in the Kerala backwaters, which is the #1 thing I’d heard we needed to do in Kerala. We started out with dosa, curry, and watermelon juice for breakfast, and then were collected at 8:30am for the tour.
On our drive to Vaikom, we spotted a truck that had crashed through a wall, which kept traffic slow for a little while. Now, the tour we thought we’d booked was meant to take us to Mahadeva Temple at the beginning, but when we arrived in Vaikom, we were joined by another family and then shuffled into a cane boat. At the time, I just thought we’d be going to the temple by boat, but a few hours into the trip, Jeremy asked if we were going there, and we were told no. I was pretty disappointed finding that out because visiting old temples is one of the things I like doing when I travel.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the boat tour, because it was nice and relaxing, and we still had a great view, and some interesting stops along the way — it was just only half of the tour I’d wanted to go on.
Whilst on the tour, our guide explained what backwater means. Here, in Kerala, the backwater lakes and rivers are fresh water for 5 months, during the rainy season, and the other 7 months of the year, which is considered summer, the water is salt water from the Arabian Sea. Obviously, we were there during the rainy season.
The guide, at one point, pointed out a fruit that looks like mango, but told us it’s actually poisonous, and anyone who tries to eat it will die within 24 hours unless they consume copious amounts of water.
When we arrived at the largest backwater lake, we saw a new tourist resort being built, and to my mind I’d thought it looked a bit like a temple (at this point I thought that’s where we were headed, because I didn’t know yet we weren’t on the tour I wanted). I think it’d be a cool place to stay once it is finished.
At around 11:20am, it started raining quite a bit. We were protected by the cane roof, but I still had to change seats. And the boat had to stop a few times to avoid strong currents caused by the wind.
Later on, we stopped by a coconut processing place, with a big pile of coconut husks out the front. We got off the boat and the guide explained to us how coconut is processed. During the summer, they dry it naturally with the sun, though it can take a few days for this to finish, but of course they can’t do that during the rainy season, so the artificial way is to smoke it with sulphur, which is faster, but not as good for the coconut.
The next stop on the tour was to a farm where we first saw a demonstration of coir making, which is a spinning of coconut fibres to make a rope, which is then turned into things like welcome mats. That was pretty interesting to see. Then we had a tour of the spice farm section, and saw various plants for things like turmeric, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg, and curry.
While we were there, we had lunch, which was the traditional Thali, or banana leaf, and we were served piles of rice and other food all on a banana leaf. It was very yummy, and very filling — we were given seconds without even asking for it.
Once we returned to the boat is when Jeremy finally asked if we were going to do the other part of the tour I’d wanted to do. After discovering that we weren’t, I decided to take out my phone and relax for the remainder of the journey by reading stories from Jax Goss’s The Edge of the Map (Click for my review on Goodreads) on my Kindle app.
Occasionally I’d glance up from my phone and snap a few photos, admire the view, but it was nice to relax like that. The backwaters got narrower on the way back, sometimes barely being wide enough for the boat we were on. At one point there was a sign at someone’s house that read “Please no photography,” and the other tourists we were with disrespected the sign and took a photo of it anyway.
Then, we finally arrived back at Vaikom. We met with our driver again and talked to him about the possibility of going to the temple we’d missed out on, and ended up on the phone with his boss, but in the end decided it was going to cost us too much extra to add it on, and so we just had him take us back to Kochi instead.
Once we got back to the homestay, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and chatting with Amber and Bri from next door, once again having the conversation where I say I’m ordinarily very shy. I don’t know what makes things different for me when I travel sometimes. We ended up deciding to go watch the music at the Kathakali theatre with them, which this time was meant to be South Indian flute mridangam and ganjeera (a drum), but the flautist was ill, so there were a couple of teenage girls who came and sang instead. It was still very harmonious and cool to listen to, though the girls didn’t look especially thrilled to be there.
After we left the theatre, the four of us walked over to the Oceanos restaurant, where this time I opted for the Portuguese food, and had peri peri chicken, and masala tea. Then it was back to the homestay, and bed.
Tuesday June 25th, 2013
For our last day in Kochi, our breakfast consisted of puri with potato curry and bananas. We then finished off watching more of Millennium, and invited Amber and Bri to join us in the car we booked for the afternoon.
Before the car, though, we hired an auto-rickshaw to quickly take us to Jain Temple (pronounced like the name “Jane”) in the Mattancherry area, and back again, because we’d missed it when we’d travelled to that area before. We had to take our shoes off, and it was still a bit cold and wet, which meant we ended up with sandy feet, which isn’t so pleasant when you’re wearing socks and shoes! A lady took us through to have a look at the different parts since some of it was off limits for tourists.
The car arrived for us at 12pm, and our first stop was the train station, as Amber and Bri were hoping to get to the next town on their holiday, but they couldn’t sort things out right then, which meant they ended up joining us for the rest of the day.
We asked the driver to take us somewhere near our first sightseeing stop for lunch, and ended up at a hotel restaurant, which had a really nice vegetarian Indian buffet that we all decided to have. It was pretty well priced, too.
After lunch, we headed over to the Siva Temple Ernakulam, which didn’t end up looking as interesting as I expected when I’d read about it online, though I can’t recall my source now. I thought I’d read something about a solid gold bell, which I thought I found, but I might’ve been mixing it up with Thirumala Devaswom Temple’s “second largest brass bell in Asia”. Otherwise it didn’t seem too interesting, especially since we weren’t able to go inside the actual temple. The outside wasn’t colourful, and there was a lot of (wet) sand. I did like looking at the adjoining Hanuman Temple, though, which we could see without taking off our shoes. Which, by the way, had to be left with special people and we had to pay for the privilege.
Our final stop before the airport was to the Hill Palace Museum, once the residence of the Kochi Maharajah. We were fortunate enough to arrive before the room with the crown jewels closed, which meant we got to see the pure gold royal crown that weighs 1.75kg and is crafted with 95 diamonds and 2,000 other precious stones. It was a gift from the Portuguese to Veera Kerala Varma on his coronation day, but no Kochi maharajahs ever wore it, because it was too elaborate for their tastes.
There were, of course, many other artifacts in the museum, and I considered it well worth the trip. After viewing all of the rooms in the main part of the palace, you can then find a number of old sculptures in another building, a deer park, and even a massive dinosaur statue for no reason.
When we returned to the car, our driver told us that because of the peak hour traffic at that hour, it would be best for him to take Jeremy and I to the airport before returning Amber and Bri to the train station, so that’s where we headed next, and said our farewells to our homestay neighbours before heading home to Kuala Lumpur.