December 23-27: Delhi–>Fort Cochin–>Allepey
I saw Delhi during daylight for all of the 10 minutes it took for me to stumble, miserable and bleary-eyed, from the train station to the hotel. The rest of my time in Delhi, while my friends were visiting sights, I slept the day away with the curtains drawn.
The next day, Christmas Eve, I had to emerge from hibernation to catch a flight south to Kerala, where we were to spend the last week of the trip. Kerala is a state on the far southwest corner of India, bordering Tamil Nadu, which is the state where I was originally supposed to be teaching. Arriving here from Delhi almost felt like arriving in a different country–a warm, sunny, place where men wore lunghis (a sarong-style skirt), people spoke a different language (Malayam), and the pace of life seemed much more relaxed. Before we could enjoy this new laidback lifestyle, however, we had to leave the airport. When our flight arrived, late at night, all of the taxi stands at the airport were swarmed with people, and one endlessly long line was arbitrarily diverted to a different long line. Then a new line would open, and somehow we would still end up at the back of it. It was over an hour before we managed to get a taxi. In the meantime, Mark was feeling increasingly ill. While in the cab, hurtling through the warm southern night, he suddenly yelled for the car to pull over, and reenacted my roadside sickness of a few days earlier, except on a bridge. Points for style.
We were staying in Fort Cochin, the old colonial town that is part of the city of Kochi. Many places in India have two names–a colonial version and a national, local-language version–and they are used interchangeably. So Cochin, Kochi–it depends on who you ask. Once we finally arrived, the relief was instant. We were staying in the Taj Mahal Homestay, and were welcomed by such a friendly family that we immediately felt comfortable and at home. We arrived thinking we might only stay one night, and ended up staying for three just because it was so pleasant. That first night, we left to walk to find somewhere for dinner, and the night felt so different from northern India. It felt very safe, the weather was pleasant, and even though my stomach wasn’t ready for Indian food again yet, I felt much better. As we were walking to dinner, a man called out to us. “Excuse me?” We walked faster, sick of all of the attention from people trying to sell us things. He approached us anyway. “Excuse me? Mass is in English at 10am tomorrow morning,” he pointed to the cathedral we were walking past. “Merry Christmas!” The small downtown streets were strung with paper star lights, whose colorful glow reminded us for the first time that it was the holiday season.
On Christmas Day, we went on a relaxed walk around Fort Cochin. Mark was feeling very sick, and I was still feeling weak from my own food poisoning experience, so we took it slow, enjoying the warm weather and the feeling of walking down the streets without an overwhelming amount of attention. Not to say that we didn’t get any. A few tenacious autorickshaw drivers did laps around the small downtown, asking us each time they passed us if we had changed our mind about getting a ride. Fort Cochin used to be a Portuguese, then a Dutch, colony, which was still evident from the colonial architecture and Christianity that remain in the area. All of the sights were in walking distance: the old Dutch Cemetary, several basilicas, old Chinese-style fishing nets, which are still operational, the Dutch Palace (now a museum), and the Paradesi Synagogue (located off of “Jew-Town Road”), which is the oldest synagogue in India (and in fact in the whole Commonwealth
). The highlight of food in the south is the ubiquitous thali,
a banana leaf with dollops various sauces and curry dishes that are absorbed with bread. Unfortunately, I didn’t taste the best thalis
in Kochi, since my stomach was still in a toast and jam phase, but they certainly looked good. One of the highlights of Christmas was seeing a snakecharmer who was entertaining passersby outside a church with his four dancing cobras.
The day after Christmas, we got a car to take us to Allepey, a nearby city that is best known as the entrance to the backwaters of Kerala, described by some as the “Venice of India.” We hired a slow-moving, covered motorboat for 5 hours to take us around the surrounding backwaters, which are basically villages connected by thin and tranquil waterways. Once we got out of town and into the network of canals, there was nothing more peaceful. We passed charming houses that hugged the canals, with women out washing their laundry, and children playing and bathing in the water.
On our final day in Kochi the group parted ways. Lisa was on her way back to the US and Mark had to return to work in Singapore, leaving just Andrew and I to continue the exploration of Kerala. After saying our goodbyes, we boarded a local bus to take us five hours inland to Munnar.