I am on senses overdrive! I have just returned to the ship after spending a day in Cochin, or Kochi as the locals call this charming city in India along the Arabian Sea. I was with three friends, Suzanne, who teaches art on board, Kat, who plays the flute while we draw, and Sandy a fellow passenger. We left the ship at 9am.
Allah, Vishnu or whomever was smiling down on us when out of the crowd of tuk-tuk drivers, Shakeel came forth and offered us a great deal. He says he can take all four of us in his huge brand new tuk-tuk for ten dollars each. When we get to his “huge” tuk-tuk, it’s just like all the rest and we know we won’t fit it and it’s too hot to cram. He found a fellow tuk-tuk driver, and with two gals in each tuk-tuk, we set out in tandem to explore and experience what turned out to be a fabulous day.
Driving round Kochi, or any Indian city for that matter in a tuk-tuk is an experience in itself. Buses cut you off, people walk in front of you, motorbikes swerve around you, trucks barrel past you squeezing through spaces where you think they could not possibly fit. All the time horns are blaring away. Dogs, goats and cows all contribute to the chaos and I must say, no one makes rude gestures or screams epithets at you. It is very polite chaos!
Shakeel speaks pretty good English and in between showing us the sights, he is trying to find photos of his new granddaughter on his phone. I told him in Canada he would be fined for using his cell phone while driving. He just laughed.
It is Sunday, and the streets are somewhat quieter than they would be on a weekday, thank God, and everyone is dressed in their ‘Sunday best’, standing around on the side of the roads chatting in groups, while the children run around playing. We see tons of churches, of many denominations, but mostly catholic. Also temples and one synagogue. Every single one is bursting at the seams and the congregations are spilling out of the doors. Today must have something to do with Easter because we come upon several big processions that go on for blocks. Always there is a banging, clanging band at the front and the people follow, some carrying crosses. One had a pantomime in the back of a pickup truck of Christ carrying a heavy cross. Unfortunately we missed the ‘parade’ with the elephant taking part. But we saw him being trucked home later. Big truck.
Shakeel then took us to a wonderful warehouse, off the beaten track, full of beautiful carvings, and carpets, and pashminas, and jewellery. We spent quite a lot of time there. One of the salesmen, Happy, was quite smitten with Suzanne and we teased all day about “happy”. Or being “happy”, Or making Suzanne “happy”. Happy was probaby already Happy because the four of us dropped a few dollars here. Shakeel is probably happy also, as I am sure he gets a kickback for bringing us all to the warehouse. She will have a funny little story to take back home and we were all happy.
After we depleted the warehouse, Shakeel thought we should have some lunch. Shopping is hungry work. So he took us to the Seagull Restaurant, right on the water. The weather is oppressive, hot and humid, and in the high 90s, and water, read sweat, drips off the ends of one’s hair. So we were ready for a cold beer and a breeze off the river.
The beer, a local brew called Kingfisher, comes in huge quart bottles, and it was ice cold. We ordered chicken curry, garlic nann and ginger nann, steamed rice with cashews, and a fish platter that consisted of a whole fish in the centre, shrimp, crab, calamari, fries, & veggies, for all of us to share. Lunch was delicious, but we could not clean our plates. Everything cost us about $10 each.
Speaking of fish, this part of Indian has a huge fish industry, mainly tiger shrimp and we saw acres and acres of shrimp ‘farms’ that look just like huge lakes. I know nought of how shrimp procreate, grow and/or develop, and I didn’t learn that today, but it was an impressive area. They even had these little “houses” or rooms on stilts over the water, with a tiny canoe, where a watchman would stay overnight to make sure poachers don’t come and steal the shrimp. When the shrimp are ready to be harvested, like the rice paddies, the water level is lowered to give access to the shrimp.
We also visited a shrine to cows, and right across the street one to snakes. We got Kat to play her flute – some snake charming music – at the snake shrine and it was beautiful. People stopped to listen. We also visited a laundry operation that has been in the same family since the 1700s and they still do the washing as it was done back then. Very primitive, but they manage to do not only private washing, but also for some of the hotels. Trust me there are no washers and dryers here and the iron is a huge iron iron that heats up by putting burning coconut shells inside. Incredible that they could get the clothes clean. Or remember what belonged where.
This portrait below was painted on the wall as you entered the laundry compound. He’s probably part of the family, and I actually found him inside working. A little older but still had a quiet dignity about him.
We shopped for spices, so we could all go home and make perfect curry and then went to see how the old chinese fishing nets work. There we ran into Shakeel’s family with his daughter and two month old granddaughter. A beautiful little girl and she was wearing makeup!!! Kohl on her eyes and eyebrows and lipstick. Our Indian/English was not good enought to find out the significance.
I don’t think there was an area of Kochi that we didn’t visit, and on the way home, Shakeel asked if we would like to go to his home. We said yes. We walked in through a maze of pathways to his house and it turned out to be a very modest home with a living room, dining room and three bedrooms. Not sure if there was an indoor bathroom and we didn’t ask in case it was outside. We met his wife and mother and they wanted to serve us tea. But it was getting late and we had to get back to the ship. They all live in the same house along with his children and the baby girl we met earlier. Shakeel was obviously very proud.
Then…. the “brand new” tuk-tuk would not start. Finally a bunch of the guys, in their short ‘skirts’ that drop to long ‘skirts’ at the flick of a hand, got together and pushed to jump start it. Whew! We were really getting worried about missing the ship. On the way back we saw these beautifully painted vehicles that we thought were school buses. But no, they are trucks and each driver personalizes his own with a special name and artwork.
The end of a beautiful day in India and tonight we head out for Rangoon, Burma.