Monday, 18 January 2010

Daytrip to Fort Kochi (Cochin)

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India; October 16th; Day 25; Ernakulam

Another early start start and after a coldish shower we have breakfast downstairs in the empty and cavernous dining room. very sweet banana pancakes as I recall. In the lobby we arrange for a big pile of laundry to be done. almost everything we have is still dirty from the Himalayan trip.

We stroll out into the town and find a scruffy tourist information place in the a bus station. Apart from a few day trips they can’t help us much. Apparently all the backwater stuff is organised from Aleppey which is further down the coast. We search for and find anther Tourist Information place but it too has nothing much to offer. Their is no doubt that they are trying to be helpful it’s just that aside from a few brochures they know next to nothing. This will turn out to be a feature of our time in Kerala. We do however have a Lonely Planet Guide to Kerala with us so we will see how useful it turns out to be.

Back at the hotel we read through some info in the book and Keith phones a place near Kottayam and books us in for two nights. At least we are getting out of this town tomorrow now all we have to do is think about today. It’s easy really as only one place springs to mind. We will go over the water to Fort Kochi and do the tourist thing.

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The ferry terminal is back out through the old bus station and past the first tourist shack. The ferry building itself is not too bad but no infrastructure has been built to get to it! We walk over a pile of rubble and jump a couple of ditches to get to it. Inside we see a timetable on the wall and a line of people queuing. Their is a separate line for women! We clamber into the broken old boat and chug across the limpid water to Kochi. It takes about 40 minutes.

When we disembark we walk towards the main part of the old town. Almost at once we find a restaurant that serves beer and seeing as it’s still a novelty for us we sit down and have a couple. the weather is warm but the sky is hazy.  The restaurant has a stall out front where they sell fresh fish. two huge blue lobsters are moving slowly on a bed of ice. A huge fresh water fish is swimming gloomily around a small tank. I fancy those lobsters though.

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Continuing our walk down the street we come across a small dock where the fishermen are unloading their catch. Huge blocks of ice are being put through a crusher on the back of a truck and the fish is being packed into crates. Along the street a row of tiny vendors are selling fish too.

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Where the seafront building give way to a promenade we come across the famous Chinese Nets. Almost every photograph of Kochi features these nets against the unset. The legend goes that the design of these nets was brought to this coast of India by fleet of the Chines Imperial Navy during the 15th C. Some historians believe that this armada circumnavigated the globe and discovered the Americas long before Cook and Columbus.

We watched these fishermen lower the shallow nets into the water. They are balanced by boulders tied to ropes. But when they haul them out again after a few minutes the catch was of a few paltry little fish only. Keith got roped into helping out a team on one of the nets and they asked for money after I’d taken a few shots. It’s possible that they make more money from tourism now and who can blame them?

On walking further down the shore we passed some fish selling stalls. In places the boys merely had a rug on the floor with the fish spread out. the novelty here was that you bought the fish from them and then they carried it to a local cafe and they cooked it up for you! We walked further down the promenade and then back to through a children's park to find a row of shacks selling fish lunches. We stopped and had freshly grilled prawns and kalamari on the little tables outside on the pavement. We expected this place to be heaving with tourists but we didn’t see that many at all.

Our guide book noted a few museums to visit so we duly attempted to find them. Down a long empty street past some dilapidated villas we came to the Maritime Museum. It had a boat outside! It was lunch time. It was closed. The guard at the door made no sign that we could go inside anyway and it didn’t re-open for another hour. We didn’t wait.

We retraced our steps toward the main part of town and come across a schoolyard full of screaming kids. Beyond them was the entrance to the Indo-Portuguese Museum which was open. This part of India was ‘discovered’ by Vasco de Gama when he sailed he with a fleet of four ships in 1497. We would later travel to Kappad which is where he first landed in Kerala. The museum here was merely a collection of early Christian artefacts and really quite dull. It is alleged that Christianity was first brought to this coast by St. Thomas in 52AD. Certainly the Christian churches in Kerala are called Syrian Churches. The stuff in the museum though is related to the churches that the Portuguese built in the tears after Vasco de Gama. They must have been surprised to find Christians here already.

In the same grounds of the museum was the Bishops Palace where the Cardinal of Kochi resides. A couple of weeks later whilst we were in Tamil Nadu we read in the paper that the Cardinal had died.  The curator at the Palace noticing that we were wandering about invited us in to look at some of the rooms in the Palace. This was interesting. On one wall was a long list of the Cardinals of Kochi spanning five centuries.

After this we wandered back to the narrow streets of the old town and nosed around the tourist shops. I spent five minutes in an Internet Cafe but couldn’t deal with the dingy light and crappy keyboard. It was time for another beer and it was not easy to find. On one street we saw a tiny written sign which pointed down a scruffy side-alley. At the end of that was a small cafe. Inside we enquired after beer and the man led us through the cafe to a small garden out the back, We sat down and waited and he re-appeared five minutes later carrying a tray of tea-cups and a teapot. We looked bemused, but the teapot was actually full of cold beer and we were expected to drink it from the cups! Beer, all alcohol,  is still largely frowned upon and licences to sell it for the locals are still hard to come by. Our search for beer will become another theme of our journey through the south of India! When we emptied the teapot we ordered another couple of Kingfishers and this time he just left the bottles though he asked us to put them on the floor under the table so they’d be out of sight. The ubiquitous Kingfisher beer. It tastes great now after our three week abstinence but it wont be long before we are sick of it! Not enough to stop us searching for it and drinking it though.

We’ve done a lot of aimless wandering about today but the mission now is to find that first place where we had beer and see if the lobster is still available. We do and it is. At the restaurant we settle down and then change tables. I can’t quite remember why. Maybe it had no air-conditioning. In any case the meal was great and we enjoyed a couple of beers. Marvellous.

It wasn’t far then to walk back down to the ferry dock to get a late boat back to Ernakulam and from there the short walk back to the hotel.