Exploring Kochi!

Yesterday was quite a day and was an almost exhausting load on the senses. Today we started nice and slowly with a Keralan breakfast courtesy of our hostess Jeen. We had some pancakes filled with coconut and some nuts accompanied by bananas and some sugary, milky strong tea. They were delicious and set us up well for the day.

The plan today was to get some SIM cards for the phones and then take a more leisurely stroll around the Fort area of town and really try to soak it in. Our hosts at the guesthouse were very helpful in sorting us out with all the correct documentation, well almost all the correct documentation, we had to do a quick run back to the guesthouse for some extras but that’s wasn’t too much of a problem.

We had decided today to be more firm with the rickshaw drivers in terms of what we wanted. Sure enough the driver who had been hired to take us to the phone shop started off with the usual patter asking us where we were from etc and then started immediately offering tours of the city and reduced fares if we “just visited one shop” “No buy, just look!” We replied that we would prefer to just pay the figure on the meter.

Well he wasn’t happy about that and said that he would wait while we were in the phone shop and we could sort payment out later, after we had “just visited one little shop!” Also I noticed that the meter that we were going to sort out later was still running!! So much to his annoyance I managed to pay the fare then sort out the phone. He was still there when we got out and so we had little choice but to use him to get us home again, negotiating our way out of tours and shop visits all the way back into town.

I think India is going to involve a fair bit of negotiating!

First stop today was the Jain temple which is a temple for those practicing Jainism which is described as a small religion of just 0.4% of the population. Another way of putting it is that it has 5 million followers!! That would be just under 25% of the Australian population. It’s just amazing how many people live here.

Anyway back to the temple and Jainism. They are known for practicing non violence in thought and action towards any living being and so sweep the floors regularly and even wear cloths over their mouths so as not to ingest any animals. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of this and I have a feeling that all the practicing Jains hide away during the 1 hour a day that the temple is open to visitors. Still with millions of them around I am sure we will come across another temple in our travels.

We then went for a wander through the streets to see what we could find. Even though it was stinking hot we still had a wonderful time wandering around the area where the traders were based. There were trucks laden with bags and bags of produce and then men sat in offices or shops with scales and bags open and ready to sell their spices. We have often marvelled in the past when we find a great spice shop but this was another level completely. Traders have been coming here for over 600 years and even though its mostly set up for tourists now there were areas were it seemed pretty authentic and the buildings, while not spectacular, certainly had a charm about them.

I think we are going to be able to people watch for days at a time in India and that’s pretty much what we did. There is obviously a huge amount of poverty here and even only after two days that is very evident but people so far have been very friendly and very keen for a chat which has been really lovely.

We then headed back to the more touristy parts of town where we discovered that the number of tourists had swelled dramatically since yesterday. It turned out that a cruise ship had arrived and bus loads of cruisers had come to visit the area. There was general excitement from the local rickshaw drivers and food stall guys who were all obviously trying to make as much money as possible out of them in the 7 hours they were docked. When I was paying one rickshaw driver I noticed that he had a US $20 bill in his small wad of change. I commented on it and he smiled and winked at me. He must have taken the customer who paid him that for quite a ride!! The other way of looking at it is that, what’s not a lot of money for some people is a fortune for others. I think we might have to respect that when we are here.

Our hosts had kindly given us some complementary tickets to go to an art gallery so we couldn’t not stop in for a look. I am so glad we did as it offered another distinctly different side to the Indian culture. It was a modern art gallery set in a most unusual collection of buildings called Aspinwell House. It was a modern art collection set in a group of old warehouses and the whole thing was very cool. It was also being enjoyed by a younger generation of Indians who were also looking very cool.

By about 2 pm we had had just about enough of the heat and stopped in at Kayees Biryani. An establishment praised for its biryani. It was full of locals, which is always a good sign, but no menus. Just when we were deciding what to have a waiter came up and gave us a bottle of water and told us we were having chicken biryani. It was absolutely the most delicious biryani I have ever had, finger licking good (no cutlery offered)!

Our guesthouse had suggested a visit to the theatre to watch a Kathakali performance. This is a local art form with actors dressed up in fantastic costumes with brilliant face paintings being accompanied by some singing and drumming. The participants have to spend 6 years training to be able to perform and the show we went to see allowed us to watch them preparing their make up too.

We arrived early and scored some great seats right at the front and as the rest of the crowd came in the actors sat on stage and began applying their make up. It was fantastic to watch. The colours were all so vibrant and the skill with which they painted their faces was amazing. The most amazing was one lead character who not only had his face painted but had paper gill like structures attached to his cheeks with rice paste. The whole process took 1.5 hours and was actually quite amazing to see.

We then had an explanation of what the hand gestures mean along with a demonstration as to how the actors represented certain emotions and common phrases. They are not allowed to speak during the performance so the hand gestures and facial expressions are very important.  

Then amongst plenty of wailing/singing and drumming the play started. Luckily we had a summary of the plot of the play so we could understand what was going on. It really was fantastic to see the costumes and the actors and all we saw was a tiny portion of a play that normally lasts about 6 hours. Great experience though and we felt very cultured indeed.

Restaurant recommendation number three was a more upscale place where mains were going to set us back about $4 each!! The menu was huge and not too dissimilar to a curry house menu from the UK. Sarah had a superb looking Thali and I had my first “Indian” jalfrezi. I am not going to say any more than that they were both amazingly delicious. I have a feeling we are going to very much enjoy this trip!! T

Outside one of the many shops which seem to sell just about everything.

Fantastic looking trucks waiting to be loaded outside of the warehouses.

The buildings, the shops and the electrical cables…all typical of the trading area.

We were expecting cows to be wandering around but here in Kochi we saw more free range goats.

There were dozens of these shops lining the roads.

Chilies and spices by the bag full, just adding to the smells.

Just wonderful buildings.

The interior of the Santa Cruz Basilica.  It was actually painted wood on the interior.

The first but certainly not the last stop at a roadside for a samosa chatt…a great tasty treat for 20 rupees (40 cents).

Adapting to the pollution?

The exterior of Aspinwell house where the art gallery was.

One of the exhibitions which involved walking around in the water.

We started making this puzzle in the exhibition and soon enough we had plenty of help.

If it’s one of the best biryanis in Kerala it must be right up there and it certainly was the best I have tasted.

The star of the show beginning his make up.

The final scene of the wonderful production.

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