Friday, March 11, 2011

Kochi, Cochin

(Being uploaded in Anjuna, on a rare day with functional internet!  Blog posts will be added randomly while I'm here -- access is slow at best and completely unreliable at worst.)

Written in Kochi – Mar 8th
So I’m leaving Kochi tonight.  It’s about 6 o’clock now, and I’m killing time till I head to the train station, to catch my night train to Goa; I get there about 10 a.m. tomorrow.  Well, to Margao train station, that is, which is at least two hours by taxi from where I actually want to be, so it’ll be a long trip still even after I get off the train.

I didn’t really mean to stay in Kochi this long; it’s been 6 nights and that’s probably more than you need here.  It’s a very pleasant city with some interesting sights, but you really only need 2 or 3 days.  But I was hampered by night train availability trying to get to Goa, so leaving today was my earliest option.  I’m travelling once again in “3AC” class, in the topmost bunk of the tier of 3; with luck none of the other 5 people in the compartment will be snorers.  Assuming it’s on time (a big assumption for Indian rail), I’ll get to Goa just after 10 in the morning.

So ... Kochi.  By Indian standards, this isn’t a big city; this is the country that has something like 49 cities with more than a million people.  Kochi’s just over a million, so in Canadian terms it’s a metropolis.  It’s got a fascinating history, and the residue of the past is littered all around the historical neighbourhoods of Fort Cochin, Mattancherry and Jewtown; Portuguese architecture half a millennium old shares space with a 400-year-old synagogue, centuries-old giant fishing nets from China, and a smattering of Dutch and British influence.  Ernakulam, on the mainland, is the commercial centre of the city, and Fort Cochin (where I stayed) is on an island and mostly caters to tourists; goats wander the streets freely and rickshaw drivers abound, eager to take you on a 20-rupee tour of the city (which will, inevitably, include a lot of shops where they’ll get commissions). 

It’s been hot as blazes here, and so humid it’s been like swimming through the air when I’ve tried walking around.  By about 2 pm each day, I can’t take it anymore and have to retreat either to a cafe for a yummy slice of cake, or to my hotel room for a nap under the ceiling fan.  Mornings and evenings are all right (still hot, but manageably so); it’s just the afternoons that are unbearable.

So I didn’t do some things I’d planned on doing here, like renting a bicycle to tour around the city and maybe one of the islands, or trekking out to the beach on Vypeen Island.  It was too damn hot to do anything so strenuous.  I did manage some long walks, but only when I set off early in the morning so it was still cool enough to cope.  I did check out the sights, from the 16th century Portuguese cathedral and churches, to the old Jewish synagogue and overgrown cemetery in “Jewtown” and the crumbling colonial buildings of the Mattancherry neighbourhood.  

Dessert at the Kashi Art Cafe, Kochi
But mostly, I think, I ate cake; it’s not a bad way to spend your time, actually (and the Teapot Cafe in the Fort Cochin neighbourhood does a sinfully delicious one called Death By Chocolate).  And watched some movies on those hot afternoons when I couldn’t take any more of the outside air; I splurged on a slightly more expensive hotel room here, so had the luxury of TV (not air-conditioning, unfortunately, but the ceiling fan and wide-open windows did wonders).

The town gets pretty quiet after 10 pm, so there isn’t much by way of night life.  There didn’t appear to be many places serving alcohol at all, never mind opening late; there was only one I saw where that was actually licensed (where I tried Indian wine for the first time — a bad decision), and a few more that would serve discreet “special teapots” with beer inside.   Despite the early shut-down, though, it proved to be a great place to meet other travellers; I’d meet other solo backpackers of varying ages and nationalities just about every time I headed to a cafe in the afternoon.  (One is my new personal hero, as she is travelling around India alone at the age of 75.  I hope to be like her in 35 years!)  My favourite night, I think, was the night of my cooking class at “Miss Leelu’s Cook’n’Eat”  (I’ll tell you about that in another post). 

Today, I’ve sworn off the cake (all the chocolate was getting to be a bit much), eaten sensibly and taken care of useful things like going to the post office.  I elected, finally, to send home some of the heavy stuff I no longer need, as I was getting tired of hoisting my backpack at its previous weight; even though I don’t have many stops left before I get home, I’ll still like having a lighter load.  And I got to experience the Indian postal system; I’d sort of figured it would stay true to Indian form and operate in the least efficient way possible, and I wasn’t disappointed.  But I got my parcel mailed after a mere two hours of effort and about six forms filled in (none of which, as far as I could see, served any useful purpose, except to keep the dozens of people in the post office occupied).

On my way out, I was further delayed by a group of school children coming in; one of them, very daring, marched up to me to shake my hand, introduce himself and ask my name.  Giggling furiously (boys and girls alike), the rest of them had to follow suit, so I didn’t manage to escape until I’d shaken about 25 hands.  Apparently I’m a celebrity in Kochi, too.

I’m done, now, and have eaten and bought a bottle of water, so am all set for my night train adventure.  I think I even get breakfast on the train tomorrow (which, I hope, includes chai).  Then, at last, I will set foot again in Goa, there to while away my remaining days in India.

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