Day 1 in Cochin kept us very busy. After a breakfast of a huge Egg and Bacon Dosa (crispy pancake) we met up at 10am with our guide for the day Mary Griffin. She was not the softly spoken Irish lady we’d been imagening but instead a very colourfully dressed Indian lady. You can see her in some of the photos here. She explained to us that she was an ex banker who had changed jobs after she had started her family as the hours worked better for her. She was really lovely and looked after us very well in our half day walking tour of Fort Cochin. She was also extremely knowledgeable so my desire to learn a bit about the history of this part of the world was soon fulfilled. Our first stop was very near to our hotel , the St Francis church. This is said to be the oldest European church in India and was built by the Portuguse during their time here in the 16th century. It contains the Tomb of Vasco da Gama. Here we stood by a map and then sat in the pews whilst Mary taught us all about the politics, religions and caste system in Kerala. Essentially Kerala is the most well educated state in India, it welcomes all religions who mix well and it has a socialist (communist?) state government. The caste systems is not offcially recognised but for all of that, it still seemed to be alive and kicking for example in terms of who you marry etc. It was quite fascinating and also to learn about how all this education and wealth (lots of people work abroad) has actually lead to the need to import food from neighbouring state Tamil Nadu as no one wants to work the land. The net result is that the average age of mortality has actually gone down from 90 to 65 in th last 20 years. That’s all working out well then.
This was all very interesting but I was already finding it hard to stay awake. The heat and humidity is exhausting and Mary didn’t really pause for breath! Anyway, next week walked on past the Real Marigold hotel where Lionel Blair and his mates stayed. We walked on to the Chinese fishing nets. These are very famous but Mary explained that since the Tsunami the fish numbers had declined dramatically and really these nets only survive on government subsidy and tourist income. So we paid our dues and enjoyed going out on the nets and helping the fishermen tug on the robes to haul the net up and down. We sang a nice song as we worked ‘Um Jala, Hey Jala’ or something similar. They were very friendly and it was fun. Then we walked past the fish market and admired the stalls with their catch of prawns, red snapper , shark and squid. It was a lovely colourful scene.
Other stops along the way today included the Santa Cruz basilica , a Catholic Church which was much more ostentatious than the other one. We learned that there were Lots of different types of Christians here including the St Thomas Christians and the Syrians Christians. Then we went to the Synagogue which looks after the five remaining Jews in Kerala. No pressure then on the 45 year old woman running the reception. This old building was really quaint, very basic but it had beautiful glass chandeliers.
Next up was the Dutch Palace. Not really Dutch at all but Portuguese originally but used by the Maharajas. Here again we learned lots, this time about the Hindu religion as there are some amazing murals on the wall. However, I will spare you the ins and outs of Vishnu and his many wives and the monkeys. By now we were both really struggling to pay attention as we moved from room to room although the paintings of the different maharajahs with the shoes that pointed at wherever you stood in the room were a highlight.
Next up we drove (oh yes by now we had been joined by our lovely air conditioned car and driver) to see the Dhobywallas . Otherwise known as the local laundry. This is a place where a local family can rent one of the stands and do washing for a career. Strangely, many young Keralans chose banking over this these days. No wonder as the irons weighed 8kg (4 bags of sugar) and Jane could hardly lift it. Whilst we were here it reminded Jane of her Dad and all the ‘Wallahs’ he had known from his time in India. Chaiwallahs, punkahwallahs etc. Me it just reminder of It Ain’t Half hot Mum.
After this we came back to our hotel to relax and I had a swim in the pool whilst the rain came down. It was bliss.