15 April 2013

Kerala: Fort Kochi

No wonder Kerala has labeled itself God's Own country. It is the most educated state, the cleanest and has the highest quality of life than anywhere else in India. Kerala is rich in culture and traditions and has nature and beaches you can only dream of. The people are probably India's friendliest; warm and humble. But the most memorable experience of all? Travelling with a puppy.

The city of Kochi  has grown into a commercial hub the last few years with economy expanding quickly. One of the most interesting parts is Fort Kochi that has an incredibly rich history. It has been colonized by Portugal, Netherlands and Britain for centuries. It was originally a fishing village, and a hub for trade of spices with Arabic and Chinese traders.


The Chinese influence can be spotted by the shore. The traditional Chinese fishing nets lie in a long row and is each managed by six men lowering and pulling the construction every few minutes.
One morning we had a stroll by the water watching the early morning fish markets, sipping on chai and eating fresh and delicious street food from a stand. Stray cats and dogs were roaming the little path that lead us through the markets, maybe hoping for a tasty breakfast. Anywhere I went in India I noticed that it's a much happier place before 9 in the morning. Before the hustle, bustle and busy bees have started their day. 
 
On the second day we decided to hire bikes from an older gentleman right outside our guesthouse(a cozy little Inn, classic old wooden building looking very much European). We saw this many places in Fort Kochi: Very cheap second hand bicycles made into a business. For a day we paid about $1 each. Ridiculously cheap, at least after a bit of bargaining. It is by the way ridiculous the way we were in India. Bargaining for anything, even refusing to buy street tea for more than 5 rupees, which is about 8 cents! The mentality changes once you plant your feet in India. So hungry for a bargain that it changes your personality into a greedy, unsympathetic jerk. Enough said.

Let's get back to the bicycles. Fort Kochi and the surrounding area is completely flat, and is therefore easy to travel by bicycle. We had heard of the backwaters in Kerala, and even though Alappuzha(further down south, I'll get to that later) is a better place for that, we were determined to go there in Fort Kochi as well. We were strolling along happy and careless, when a smiling construction worker stopped us, holding a puppy in his hands. "His mother left him, can you find a home for him? I can't help him and if you don't, he'll die." Taking on a stray puppy might not seem like the best idea, but this little fellow melted our hearts. We relieved him from the worker's hands and said determined: "We'll find him a home," and carefully placed him in a bicycle basket. We hid him from the boiling sun with a scarf, and gave him water.
When we finally found the backwaters, we were determined to find a boat we could explore it in. The puppy, hereby known as Kochi, came with us. We found a group of fishermen who were willing to rent out their boat(everything has a price in India), and some of us had a couple of minutes adventure with it.
However, our biggest responsibility of the day was finding little Kochi a home. We asked each and everyone of the fishermen if they wanted or knew someone who would want a puppy.

Finally one of them said: "Yes, I'll take care of him". A beautiful little chapter had come to an end. Even if we could only hope this man would take care of him, we could return with a clear conscience.

On the way back we went to a secluded beach(which wasn't really nice enough to have a swim in, but the sweetest people lived close by, smiling and greeting us, interested in where we were from and our histories.
We also saw a banana truck, picked beautiful flowers and stopped for what at this point had become more of an addiction, amazing cardamom chai tea and street food. I didn't trust the street food everywhere in India. Some places it looked like it had been laying out the whole day, maybe even from the day before, but Fort Kochi was different. There was always a little stand with fresh delicacies and the most amazing chai.

The third most memorable experience in Fort Kochi(after the puppy and the morning walk) was traditional folk theatre from Kerala, Kathakali, classical dance-drama revolving mythical creatures. First of all, I didn't even know this existed and second of all I didn't have a clue how interesting it would turn out.

The first fifteen minutes a makeup-artist put paint on one of the actors on the stage. He was followed by a dancer showing us the history of the play, including what the different signs and gestures meant.

Just to be clear: This was no ordinary theatre. The play was without dialogue, instead the story was told in advance played out by the before mentioned gestures of the actors. While a narrator explained, the dancer played it out.
This was followed by two men performing traditional martial arts with swords.

The main play could then get started. The story, Narakasuravadham, revolves around Narakasura, a vicious demon and Jayantha, the son of lord Indra(King of Gods). Nakrathundi, Narakasura's sister falls in love with Jayantha, and approaches him as Leilitha, a beautiful woman. But Jayantha rejects her love and Nakrathundi turns back into a demoness and attacks him. Jayantha injures her, and her brother goes out to revenge his sister.

Fort Kochi isn't only about Chinese fish nets, theatre, puppies and street food. It is also a variety of classical European style coffee shops, restaurants and galleries. It's clean, organized and modern. An absolute contrast to most of the places that followed after. In hindsight, going to Kerala, was like going to a whole different country.  


2 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff, many good stories, geography, history and culture well mixed together. I still claim India looms a bit large for me. I have memories from the NORAD fishing project about 50 years ago in Kerala where we should teach Indians our fishery methods .

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