Category Archives: India

Cochin (Kochi)

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The “Queen of the Arabian Sea” seemed “aptly nicknamed. We enjoyed this city much more than Goa and Mangalore. The featured areas (and our docking point) are on islands off the mainland and everything we wanted to see looked fairly close together.

The two of us walked from the boat to a nearby pier and caught a local ferry from Willingdon Island to Fort Cochin area. We’d planned to just walk but soon realized that the map was deceptive. So, we availed ourselves of the services of a tuk-tuk driver, Babu, and he taxied us from place to place.

The oldest church in India is Cochin’s St. Francis, built in 1503, it has very little ornamentation. Theres more evidence of Vasco da Gama here but, this time, it’s his original grave. His bones were actually shipped to Lisbon 20 yrs or so after he died but the “grave” remains a sacred place.

By contrast, the gothic-styled Santa Cruz Basilica, was rebuilt in 1905 after it was destroyed by the British and it features some large frescoes and murals. One, high above the alter area, features the Last Supper.

We were able to walk right into Dhobi Khana, Cochin’s municipal laundry. I felt awfully like a voyeur but it was soon obvious that they were very used to tourists (and smart enough to have a donation box). One old man was slapping the clothes and laughing away – I took a video but, unfortunately, can’t attach it while travelling.
As Tony said, though, the material can’t last long with regular beatings on rough concrete!

Babu also took us to see the ancient Chinese fishing nets that are still in service (although with paltry hauls) on the beachfront. As everywhere else in India, the water is filthy and both it and the beach itself are littered with garbage. So sad…it could be beautiful. Ironically, every time we see a sign urging people to stop littering, the area around it is a mess!




















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This is one of the major ports of India and we could see evidence of this as the ship was docked close to mounds of coal off-loaded from massive container ships from China.

Vasco da Gama evidently landed on islands near here in 1498 and the Portuguese assumed control in the mid 1500s. We toured the Jesuit Aloysois College (including all levels of eduction, from primary to university) but that was the most we saw of the Portuguese influence (few buildings that we saw appeared to be from that era).

A tour of a cashew processing plant was fascinating. Started by women, all of the nuts are processed by hand by female workers. The nuts are first steamed in what look similar to stainless steel wine vats; this loosens the kernel from the shell. They are then slowly (in order to cool along the way) piped to a huge room where pipes feed them down to each woman sitting in rows working with few breaks. The shelled nuts are then washed by hand and heated again to loosen the skins. The women cut the skin off with small knives and the baskets then go to the packing department, the only place I saw where men are employed. Quite interesting, despite the hordes of trippers from the Oceania tours that we couldn’t escape.

We went to a rather grand temple comprised of multiple buildings, most gilded in gold leaf. It was obviously fairly new. By contrast, we visited a much older complex that looked like they had some sort of mini-festival going on. Tony sprinted up hundreds of steps to caves in the hills above with Arun – Pam and I waited and caught a glimpse of some of the festivities.

The last stop on our tour was a fish market for both fresh and dried fish. Not quite as humming as some we’ve been to elsewhere (and the fish weren’t swimming as they would have been in HK) but it was interesting to see.
















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A former Portuguese enclave (they wrested control from the Muslims in the 1500s), Goa has a number of similarities to Macau. While India kicked the Portuguese out in 1961, it retains many vestiges of Jesuit life. We were here in 2010 and saw then the magnificent churches of old Goa.

This time we picked up a taxi at the port and took off to the area called Panaji, about 25 km away. The taxi ride was, itself, interesting. How the cabs do not get into multiple crashes is due to their amazing driving skills. There were many near misses but never a tickle! The city is not my favourite – it’s dirty, busy, and just not too exciting but we did still enjoyed wandering the streets (punctuated with mostly rundown old Portuguese style buildings) and stopped into the same little local restaurant, George, to quench our thirst and have a snack. We also checked out some Indian clothing in order to attend a costume party onboard (one picture of us making fools of ourselves included).








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Our first port in India, we found this city much quieter, prettier and gentler than Delhi (which we visited in 2010). As India’s financial and entertainment centre, it is a younger city than the capital. Britain formally took over the islands of Bombay (reclamation later joined them into a single land mass) from the Portuguese in 1665 but leased it to the East India Company for a mere £10 per year. It eventually became the trading headquarters for the whole west coast of India. Britain took back control of the region in the early 1800s. In 1996 the name officially changed to Mumbai but I was surprised to hear how many people still refer to it by the English name.

We joined with four other people for a tour with Mumbai Magic, a tour company started by an enterprising young woman who hires young female college students to show tourists around their city. We had one guide, a trainee, and the sister of the owner who helps out from time to time. One guide per 2 persons. It seemed like overkill at first until we realized that we were going to have a multi-modal experience: first walking around the city centre, then hopping on a local bus to get to a market, then grabbing a train to see the dhobi ghat (the municipal laundry). Just crossing the street was an experience, let alone piling into a bus and jumping on a still moving train.

We loved the architecture of the major buildings – most with a mix of religious motifs called Indo-Saracenic style. The Taj Mahal hotel, which you’ll remember was one of the places bombed in 2008, reminded us of the Peninsula in HK. It was built by JN Tata for all to enter after he was refused entry by the Watson Hotel. Sadly, you must now go through very tight security – even to get into the one Starbucks we saw, on the corner of the hotel. The hotel, right on the ocean when it was built in 1903, is now across the street from the Gateway of India opened in 1924.

The nearby Watson Hotel still stands, but only just! It has actually been condemned but tenants, mostly law firms, will not leave because it is very close to the Law Courts and, of course, has more than reasonable rent. We were not permitted to take photos as we stood inside the lobby but I snapped a shot of the law firm signs showing the old, rather scarey, wiring inside the lobby on the top left.

The train ride was a hit for Tony but, sadly, we didn’t end up in the incredible Victoria Terminus. We did see it from the outside and it is quite beautiful (built in 1887).

The dhobi ghat was quite sobering. From a bridge above you can see how the laundry is done, day in day out, by men beating each piece of linen or cotton on the sides of concrete open-air troughs and then hanging them up to dry on twisted lines above. It was relatively cool when we looked down upon them but it’s difficult to imagine how they do such work in the summer months. Evidently during rainy season they actually have to iron the clothes dry. My goodness how incredibly fortunate we are to have been born into relatively affluent western families.

The next day Tony and I struck out on our own and caught a ferry from the Gateway of India to Elephanti Island. This island has rock-cut temples that are reminiscent of both Khajuraho (the voluptuous maidens) and Petra (the amazing columns of the temples). Believed to date between AD450 and 750, the sculptures are mostly in tact despite damage by the early Portuguese military.

We rounded off the day with a visit to the “fortified” Starbucks at the Taj Hotel in order to get some free internet!