Monday, August 16, 2010

Face Changers, Mongol Fishing Nets and Jew Town? Only in India - Fort Cochin, India

Destination:  Fort Kochi, India

Number of days spent:  2 days

Where we stayed:  Anna Homestay – 500 rupees/night (NO AC) – We thought that Anna was a terrific place EXCEPT I would never ever again stay there in hot season without AC.  The hosts there were super friendly, breakfasts terrific (even spicy as requested) and they even taught us to cook spicy prawns, veg & chapatti one night.  Highly recommend (just snag a room with AC)! 

Best Restaurant:   The Lonely Planet’s “Our Pick” – Dal Roti -  was a major disappointment.  The service was horrible and the food was ehh – overpriced for what you got.  We actually had our best meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the north east corner of Kunnumpuram Junction. 

Best of:  Getting a taste of backwater life, Kathakali dance performance, unique multicultural blending in a semi-charming British raj setting.

Worst of:  Once again, Tracy’s favorite insect – the ant - attacked, this time on her feet near the Fishing nets. 

Most memorable:  The ancient dance of the Kathakali, with its blinding fast ‘face changers’ was an amazing show to watch…even if it was a bit touristy.  

Useful Tip:  The KTDC (tourism bureau) runs inexpensive tours (550RP PP) of the backwaters.  Not as luxurious as your own houseboat, nor as basic as the public ferries – these tours provide a closer glimpse into the real life of the villagers and farmers that rely on the canals.  We did both the houseboat (next post) and this and thought that this tour gave us more insight than the overnight houseboat.  

From one Portuguese colony to the next, we head from Goa to Fort Kochi.  What Kochi lacks in beaches it makes up for in culture.  It has to be said that Kochi is somewhat of a tourist town.  Cruise ships have found the place and most of the businesses and hotels in Fort Kochi rely 100% on tourist dollars.  But don’t let that scare you away.  So many come on package deals that involve backwater cruises that it’s relatively easy to get away from any crowds and do a little exploring of your own.  From colonial haunts to Chinese fishing devices to a once thriving Jewish community, Kochi screams historical significance without being too in your face about it.  

With it’s quaint and relatively vehicle free tree lined streets Fort Kochi is a pleasure to stroll around.  One of the nicer aspects of the old part of town is the absence of cars.  There are a few rickshaw drivers that are persistent in giving you a ride but you can easily shake them off.  On foot, the city bustles along the waterfront with men loading all manner of goods.  Spices are still big business around here and you don’t have to walk too far before finding a place that will sell you spices in ‘bulk’. 









During the height of Mongol power, Kubla Khan’s influence stretched all over Asia with India being no exception.  Traders from China brought these cantilevered fishing nets to Kochi and they remain still in use to this day.  Modern fishing techniques and the fact that they require four men to work them are making the nets obsolete.  While they still catch fish – the primary use these days seems to be for tourism.  For a few rupees you can walk out on them and get a demonstration….or just wait for someone else to fork out the dough.


The sun sets in Karala and it’s time for the Kathakali Show.  The shows date from around the 15th century are are mostly based around the classic Hindu tales of the Ramayana.  The tourist show lasts for about an hour and a half, but traditionally these shows would last the entire night.  Taking years of practice and dedication, the all male troupe spend several hours prior to the show applying makeup and costumes.  



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The performers are accompanied by a drum and the occasional guitar like instrument.  The highlight of the show is the ‘face-changing’ portion.  The performers change their masks so fast that that you cannot catch it with the human eye.  


The undisputed tourism heavyweight of the region is collectively known as the Karalan Backwaters.  We will go more into depth on this in the next post, but from Kochi we took a day tour through the tourism center.  Sure, it’s a tour with buses included crappy lunch and lots of stops but it did give us a little more info on the area that we would not get otherwise.  Besides the stops, we enjoyed the cruise sans motors or engines.  It was a peaceful way to spend the day and get a glimpse of life along the canals of Karala.

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Leaving the big city life, we head just a couple of hours south to the launching point of Backwater tours – Alleppey. 

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