Traveling to Kerala, Part I: Fort Cochi

I so want to do this part of my trip justice, but I am running low on time.

Kerala was a wonderful place — so different from Delhi — quieter, cleaner, greener, cooler. Kerala was the reason I wanted to go to India in the first place. I loved Arundhati Roy‘s novel The God of Small Things, which is largely set in Kerala.

Fort Cochi is a port on the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. They have been dredging the bay so larger container ships can come into port, but the port has historically been a center for the fishing trade. Along the coast, one sees many fishing nets — Chinese fishing nets.


There are also small fishing boats.


Because there are many fishmongers there, unlikely customers (who may be unlikely to pay) show up as well.


We even saw a customer looking over his purchases, one of whom was trying to make a break for it. A crab darted toward the sea, and frankly, it was sad to see that last desperate effort. The customer nabbed him before he made it.

As I have been mentioning, there are wild dogs all over the place. We saw this cute dog…


…and then we saw her pups in the greenery behind her:


It is said that the Syrian Orthodox Church was brought by St. Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD, so Christianity is very common in Kerala and throughout much of the south of India. The Portuguese later brought Roman Catholicism to Kerala in the early 1500’s. Churches there are highly decorated (inside), unlike the stark churches of New England. Here is the Santa Cruz Cathedral:


We stayed in a lovely guest house, the Grande Residencia. Because we were there off season (monsoon season), we got great rates. Unfortunately, that also meant a number of restaurants were closed. We ate at one particularly bad “italian” restaurant. The restaurant, an outdoor number, next to our hotel was very good. Stick with seafood in Kerala. Oh — and order the Keralan paratha. Oh my god, is it good! It’s made with coconut milk. Yum!

Our time in Fort Cochi was pretty relaxed. We strolled around the coast and did a little shopping. My niece and nephew had a great time in the pool.

The second night there, we went to see a Kathakali performance. I really wanted to see one, especially because it is referenced in The God of Small Things. I’ve got to be honest — it was not at all what I was expecting. It clearly takes years and years of training (they said six) to perform this art — a story dance filled with non-verbal gestures that tell the story. There is some singing, but the bulk of the story in conveyed in complex movements, including eye movements and stylized facial expressions. It is a painstakingly slow process to communicate the story, and in its traditional forms, kathakali performances begin at about 8pm and go on until sunrise. They are religious in nature, and traditionally, they are performed at temples. We saw a performance at the Keralan Kathakali Center, where they gave is a primer before the two hour performance.

Here the actors are applying makeup:


This is just before the performance:


A man made these prints using a chalk-like powder. The performance surprised us all. The demon made this screeching sound that truly sounded demonic. The nuances of all the movements were pretty amazing, but as a short attention spanned westerner, I think I’d have a hard time with the all night performance.

After Fort Kochi, we were off to Alleppy, Marari, and the houseboat on the Keralan backwaters.

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