First Stop in India: Cochin

We really enjoyed Cochin. It’s not the crazy India you expect; it almost feels like India Lite. And it’s a very chill place to hang out for a few days. Cochin is a little city in the state of Kerala, one of India’s smaller states (but it’s still got 33 million people!) located on the southwest coast of the country. Our first three stops in India were all within Kerala (Cochin, backwaters and Munnar).

It didn’t take long for us to get confused in India. We de-boarded our plane and, unable to find a working ATM inside the airport, skipped the pre-paid cab station that required rupees. Once outside and armed with cash we couldn’t go back in and so decided to take the airport bus to Fort Cochin. It didn’t take long before the bus was packed like sardines and we were stuck in traffic. It took a while longer, but the two of us took the two-hour ride (plus a quick auto-rickshaw ride from the bus stop to our hotel) for under $2 total, air con included (well, natural air con in the auto rickshaw). Welcome back to India!

We stayed at a great little guesthouse with an impressive common area in which we were served breakfast each morning.

::Chiramel Hotel::
::Chiramel Hotel::

Our first day in town was spent mainly trying to make sure we had places to stay through Christmas and New Years. As always, the planning takes lots of time, and we tried to see if we could switch up our plans to meet my friend Aash in Goa, but couldn’t make it happen (super crowded Christmas to New Years, couldn’t find anything available in the area she’d be in). Oh well, we will save Goa for next time. Other highlights included buying a three-day pack of Zithromax for less than a dollar (yay prescription drugs in India) to try and clear up what now seems to be sinusitis that is occasionally prohibiting my left ear from hearing (to no avail – wahhh), and jumping through the unexpected hoops that are required to obtain a SIM card in India.

On our more eventful day in town we hired an auto-rickshaw driver for the equivalent of $1 an hour to take us to the handful of sites in Cochin and around. The highlights include: (1) Saint Francis Church. OK, nothing that exciting to me. (2) Next we saw the Dhobikhana where the former “untouchables” do all the town’s laundry. Apparently lots of tourists come here and see their skivvies blowing in the wind, including an Aussie woman we saw later that day. Funny. They have some old school irons and the real old school use irons that are heated with burning coconut shells.

(3) There used to be a substantial Jewish population in the area, though now there are only seven Jews in Cochin (8 counting Alan ;), and we saw the Jewish Synagogue which has a Chinese flair and is rather flamboyantly decorated. The floor is covered in blue and white Chinese tiles and there are tons of colorful chandeliers, lots of red and gold. Unfortunately no pictures allowed 😦 (4) Around noon we went to the Jain temple where we got the most useless tour ever, consisting of an Indian woman hastily walking us around and saying things we could not understand except for “OK tour over, you tip me now.” Haha. Again, no pictures inside (though this was also quite colorful and lovely). We stuck around for the guy to call the pigeons, at which point they fly around the temple four times and then gather to eat seeds out of peoples’ hands. That was pretty neat. I fed a few while a handful of people sort of sang. Very cool experience. Meanwhile Alan got pooped on – good luck!

(5) Stopped by the spice warehouse and a little area where they dry and preserve ginger (using chalk and lime juice). (6) Last, we saw the Dutch Palace, which is actually built by the Portuguese, though later improved by the Dutch. It’s rather unimposing on the outside, but there are beautiful paintings inside made from all natural colors (again, no photos allowed of the good stuff 😦 ). Also, note that entrance fees to these places were either nothing or 10 rupees each (that’s less than 20 cents total).

We stopped and bought bottle of wine at a liquor store for our upcoming trip to the backwaters. The windows to the packies are barred and we saw no women come by, though several men brown paper bagging it. Not much in the way of choices here, we opted for a Sula Chenin Blanc over the mystery white.

::Indian packie::
::Indian packie::

In the evening we watched the traditional Kathakali dance. Pretty impressive, though with sinus pain and front row seats I spent a lot of time hoping he’d bang the cymbals a little more gently. All the makeup is natural – made by rubbing various stones and coconut oil together. Pretty cool. The dancers have some legit skill – they train for a minimum of six years, learning to express the stories through facial expressions (some serious eye control) and gestures akin to a full-body sign language. We saw them applying the makeup, giving a demonstration of the dance and the meanings behind the moves, and then a short scene. The whole dance is normally around six hours long. Moves a bit too slow for my taste, but it’s definitely a worthwhile experience to check out the two and a half hour show!

We also ate a lot of great, really cheap food in Cochin (think meals at around $4 for the two of us). In fact, for lunch one day we just grabbed a fistful of the tiny bananas from a guy on the street for a few cents. Other highlights included Malabar tiger prawn curry, chicken biriyani, mango lassis, cardamom lassis, and of course, lots and lots of paratha. Though the paratha is a little different here than I remembered it in Northern India. I would be super content with a paratha and something to dip it in for every meal. But it’s hard to do that when all the food here is so freaking delicious. We also went to the fancy hotel (Malabar House) restaurant one night. We split a main because the portions are so huge everywhere. Good lamb, nice live music, but you can get such incredible food for practically no money, I’d say skip it.

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