Located on the famous spice coast of Malabar, Kochi used to be the heart of the spice commerce in the 1500. The ships were coming here and were loading the coveted culinary and health marvels and would bring them to improve the palate of the European aristocracy and the regular gents. The Portuguese were first who settled here on the entire east Coast of India and Sri Lanka and when the business proved to be successful the Dutch fought them tooth and nail and latter the Brits did the same with the Dutch. Implicitly you have cemeteries, a famous one being the Dutch one, and probably some Brits should be somewhere entombed here. The Portuguese came here with the cross and established impressive churches, St Francis being probably the oldest church in India. Inside it was entombed Vasco da Gama, his tomb being still here but the body was moved to Lisbon in Bellem. In the photo is Santa Cruz, full of people for the morning Sunday mass and sporting on the facade a large poster of the new Pope. I wonder how they were able to spread that poster so quickly all over the world. Say FEDEX!. In the entire Kerala the number of churches exceeds by far the number of Hindu temples. There are areas were you may not see even one Hindu temple but churches and mosques. In the morning I was awaken by my of old friend from Istambul, the muezzin. who somehow got up early, climbed the minaret and woke up everybody in town. It was 5:30 am and is no sunrise on this coast….But I left for a walk in Fort Cochin, one part of the town, that being by the ocean’s shore was enchanting. The town is tranquil in the morning, not resembling an Indian town. People stroll, some run, photo ops are happening, the individual fishermen were throwing their 8 kg nets, other were cleaning their boats or selling fish in the market and the fishermen using the Chinese nets that we saw yesterday on the backwaters were waiting for the current to subside. But everybody was relaxed waiting for another day of their life to, somehow, happen. Latter in the day I watched how the fishermen were using the Chinese nets and it was quite a show. 8 people were operating the contraption that was lowering in the water a huge net and when it was supposed to have some fish in it, a commotion started and all were pulling some ropes that have huge boulders at their ends, bringing the nets out of the water. After that, 2 or 3 of them were trying to get any of the presumptive fish out of the net and the cycle was repeated.
So Kochin is a town that was shaped by many European influences plus one more, a very strong and prosperous Jewish, that according to tradition came here after the Jerusalem temple destruction by the Romans and settled on the coast. They were traders and they formed a community that was dealing in spices and other goods. Somehow they had at one point a kingdom of their own destroyed in time by many and they asked for the protection of the local kings. The location was and is still is in Mathengeri, the second important area of Cochin. In the middle of the “Jew Town” is the “Jew Cemetery” and the Synagogue built in the 1600. It can be visited barefoot like everything in India and it has impressive lamps hanging on the entire perimeter of the room. Women were allowed to enter only by a separate staircase and were seated in a gallery far from the curious looks.
But the Jew Town is charming, full of shops who do not offer commission. There are so many things to check that you may need a day only for this. I entered during the day in two places that had art exhibits that were part of the first Biennial in India and I spoke with one organizers about its perspective. Also, I spoke with an old Jewish woman who was deploring the state of the community that is almost wiped out, most of the Jews emigrating in the last years to Israel. She was looking like the last standing in Kochin, an old and frail woman looking like any Jew in Europe or New York
In Mathegeri is also the Dutch Palace, that is actually a Palace built by the Portuguese and given as a gift to the Maharaja in exchange of being forgiven when they screwed up and attacked a local temple, plundering it by mistake. The palace is a museum and it has inside absolutely amazing murals from Ramayana. The rest of the exhibits are not so interesting except from a historical perspective.
From Mathengeri, I left with regrets because I would have like to stay longer, to Thavera where is located a private museum, the Folklore Museum of Kerala. Its building took 7 years to complete and is built in the airy style of the wooden palaces of Kerala. It is the pet project of some Kerala enthusiasts who accumulated an impressive eclectic collection of old artifacts from the state. The rooms were decorated in various Kerala styles and on the top floor was constructed a theater that was supposed to have daily shows from Ramayana, now more sporadic. In the museum I met a American from Manhattan’s Upper West side that was living and working for years in Kabul, deploring the entire situation in Afganisthan. But he told me that the museum is selling some items in order to raise some cash because they have some debt issues. He mentioned also the possibility to be in foreclosure. Latter, talking with the people they told me that anything is for sale. The prices were very high for India and probably for sure you could get them cheaper if you find the them but I ended up buying an overpriced shield because I thought that I will never had the chance to go in a museum, open any wall cases and pick up an item. How about I will try this in April at the Met!!!!!
From Thavera we left directly to Munnar, 120 km that took, Indian road style, only 3 1/2 hours because it is Sunday and was no traffic. The average speed here it did not improved since we were first time in Rajatshan. We finally arrived and stayed in Old Munnar in a basic place but I was able to eat some Kerala fish and find an open wi-fi Internet connection, no matter that I was told is only for the hotel’s customers…..