Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Discovering God’s Own Country

The Indian state of Kerala is one of the many places that describe itself as God’s Own Country. Kerala’s tropical climate, natural beauty and a rich culture (that includes an amazing cuisine and interesting history) no doubt puts it in the running for the number one position.  

I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Cochin which I used as an excuse for a 12 day adventure in this amazing country. I visited Kerala as a baby and I've always had a slight fascination with India which was increased when I did a journalism project two years ago.   

I didn’t really know what to expect as I touched down in Cochin (or Kochin)a few days before the wedding. I knew that India was a British Colony but I didn’t realise the extent of the Portuguese and Dutch influence. Like most countries in the South East Asian region, India played an important part in the Spice Trade dating back to the Roman times (St Thomas is said to have brought Catholicism to India) and as a result it has a fascinating eclectic history with many influences.

Cochin is actually more spread out than I thought it was going to be or maybe because travel by Auto Rickshaw in Indian traffic is slower and which distorted my perception. I loved the local churches whose architecture was so different from what I've seen before.

Cochin is also where I feel in love with Indian dress. I don't normally spend much time thinking about clothes but here I fell in love with the colourful outfits and could help looking at what the ladies were wearing and wondering where they got them from so I could get the same. I did go on a couple of sprees and as a result I could only just shut my suitcase but I could have gotten so much more. 

I stayed in the newer part of town called Ernakulam which seemed more functional than historical. My hostel was off a highway that had car yard/auto accessory shops and cement factories down either side. Not far was LuLu Mall which is the swankiest shopping centre that I have seen for a long time and seemed out of place in the poverty and chaos.

The area that seemed to be the most interesting was Fort Cochin as this was where the historical sites where. The most famous of these were the Chinese Fishing Nets which were donated to the locals as a Thank You present and are about 400 years out and are still being used today.

Another Thank you present was from the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Dutch palace was originally made by the Portuguese but later was done up by the Dutch in the 17 century. It has a beautifully carved ceiling and gives an interesting history of the area but it does get busy with tourists so go early. Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis church are both well worth visiting.

Not far from Port Cochin is Mattancherry which is home to “Jew Town” and its famous Paradesi Synagogue.  This Synagogue was built in 1576 (it’s the last of 7 Synagogues in the area) and established for a Spanish and Portuguese community that were given asylum after fleeing persecution. It is a pretty amazing buildings that are home to many beautiful objects including dozens of floor that are all handmade and slightly different.   

Unfortunately, the last day in Cochin I got really sick so I didn’t get to see as much as I had hoped for and plus there was a strike on which meant that a lot of places were closed.

My tips   
  • There is so much to see in Fort Cochin that it is probably better to use it as a base as that is where most of the action is;
  • Visit the Backwaters as they supposed to be amazing;    
  • Try as much food as possible;
  • I know that you expect to get sick when you go on holiday but when booking accommodation, choose somewhere that you wouldn’t mind getting sick in. When I got sick I was so glad that I hadn’t booked the cheapest place with no aircon or on suite as it made such a difference;    
  • If you want to buy Indian clothes go to the Boardway area.
  • Try and see some of the local dance, it is very cool.

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