Sights in Cochin

Jan 17, 2009 by

[note that these posts are going to be somewhat out of order due to the sporadic Internet facilities on our trip]

Our first night in Cochin we met our traveling companions for the next two weeks – an English couple (John and Ali), two swiss women (Rosetta and Karin), two Aussie women (Emma and Val), and two from Ireland (Robert and Shiela) – later we will be joined by Jason (from Canada) but that’s another story.

Strolling around in Cochin is unimaginably difficult – the “sidewalks” are laughable as sidewalks. There are gaps, holes, slanted paths – the sidewalk suddenly starts and discontinues into gravel with no apparent rhyme or reason. Low hanging branches in your path can give you a sudden concussion if you don’t pay attention. Cars, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes park on the sidewalk, forcing you into the street to walk on occasion. I suspect that the shops would do a better business if the passers-by could actually look up to see what they were selling. I’ve spent most of my time walking in Cochin eying my feet! Crossing streets is really an exercise of courage – at some point you just have to take a chance and trust that the coming traffic will flow around you. I almost made a blog post the first night that said: “We’ve crossed the street twice – trust me, that is worthy of a blog post!”

So, now imagine navigating all of this with no sight! One of our group members (Robert) is blind and I can’t decide if this is actually a handicap or an advantage. Sheila (his companion) does an amazing job of navigating for Robert and although she is probably about to have a heart attack taking him across these streets, he’s pretty undaunted (the advantage to not seeing the traffic bearing down on you).

We took the public ferry to the island of Ft. Cochin to do a bit of sightseeing. Native passengers navigated the two to three foot jump (and height difference) from the dock to the ferry with relative ease (sometimes even carrying bicycles). We were a little more hesitant – although you figure that if Robert can do it blind, than the rest of us have no excuse. Sheila has to try to explain exactly how to “jump” the gap between the dock and the ship. We’ve made about six successful boat-dock navigations now, so I think we’re starting to be a little less nervous about it now (Robert was never nervous). This is Robert and Sheila on the first ferry.

At Ft. Cochin, we took a look at the Jewish Synagogue (the white building in the first photo below) built in 1958 by descendants of the Spanish, Dutch, and other European Jews. The paintings inside the entrance to the synagogue preserve some of the history of the jewish religion in India. The inside of the synagogue was simple – and in typical eclectic Indian fashion, the chandeliers were a mismatch of a variety of styles, hung low to the ground (maybe 7 feet above the floor) and furnished with modern energy-saving bulbs.

From the Jewish Synagogue, we went to the Dutch Palace, which today houses a museum of some Indian artifacts and a hall of portraits of the maharajahs of India.


Now when I say “museum” it’s not exactly what you might be thinking. Many of the “tourist sites” in India are in various stages of repair and (sometimes) restoration. So far there has been a pile of construction materials at every site we’ve visited (although never any obvious restoration work taking place). The Dutch Palace had extremely poor lighting and the artifacts were not under any kind of modern preservation. I am fairly certain that some enterprising museum curator with $1,000 to spend and a good work ethic could perform miracles in a week’s time.

I did find the examples of doli’s and palanquins interesting. These were for carrying the female members of the royal family. Let me describe the doli, in partiuclar (no pictures allowed). Imagine a coffin of dark wood, about a foot wider than normal and about twice the height. Put a glass window on one end near the top (for the woman to look through) and then add poles for carrying this contraption. That’s a doli. The paraquen is a similar idea, the woman is carried without being visible, only it is more like a canoe platform and the platform is hunt from above with material to obscure the women from visibility. I’m thinking that some unfortunate rider in a doli was the designer of the paraquen.

Next up was our first tuk-tuk ride to St. Francis Church. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tuk-tuks, these are little three-wheeled taxis (a bit like rickshaws, but with a motor). You can seat about three foreigners in a tuk-tuk and a seemingly infinite number of Indians (we counted 4 adults, 3 children and 2 babies in one). Tuk-tuks can turn on a dime and are really the taxis of India.

Inside St. Francis Church, there was a novel system for keeping the parishioners cool. A long board with a heavy decorated drape of cloth ran the length of the pews (overhead). The board was attached to a rope system and it would be some poor guy’s job (on each side of the church) to pull on the ropes throughout the service at a steady pace. The effect would be to fan the parishioners with this giant board-cloth contraption. Like the Jewish temple, St. Francis Church also had an odd collection of chandeliers furnished with modern energy-saving light bulbs. These chandeliers ran off electricity supplied through various cables and metal pipes that peppered the space over our heads. Unfortunately, no pictures in this one either – so you’ll just have to use your imagination!

From the church we walked to our first glimpse of the Chinese fishing nets that are a famous Keralan sight. The Chinese fishing nets are an ancient mechanical contraption for lowering and pulling in a catch of fish. It’s difficult to explain how it works (since I haven’t seen one in action), but we are told it is quite effective. The nets themselves are a shimmery blue color, and in a heap it looks like a pile of baby blue chiffon. To get out to the fishing nets, you would have to walk along a pole about 4 inches in diameter (but you do get a rope to hang on to).

While walking along the shore, we came across a couple of interesting sights. Here’s Joel with two boilers that used to be used in engines on the coast.

A man fishing out on the rocks (note the motorcycle helmet out on the rocks with him).

And many families enjoying an ice cream.

You can tell the popularity of the location for ice cream by the ice cream boxes and wrappers strewn in every crevice on the rocks (yes, India has a garbage problem – if you can get over this, you can enjoy the rest of the scenery).

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