Kochi to Bengaluru

Two days in Kochi (Cochin), for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – nothing research-related was open, so even the most diligent historian was forced to do something else.

So I had the chance to discover, yet again, that knowing something about India’s history doesn’t translate, even slightly, into being a good traveller here, and it was a bit of a come-down to go from working, interviewing, and being with friends, to moving anonymously amongst tourists and touts.

That said, the south of India is generally a lot let hassle for visitors than parts of the – let’s be kind and say ‘entrepreneurial’ – north, and the Fort Kochi area was undeniably atmospheric, retaining something of its past as a hub of the old sea-borne spice trade.

Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Kochi

The one-time Portuguese presence lingers in all sorts of ways, including the beautiful Santa Cruz Basilica.

Santa Cruz Basilica

Built right at the beginning of the sixteenth century during the Portuguese period, it subsequently survived a Dutch interlude but was destroyed by the British.

(Sometimes it’s not much fun being British abroad – on a trip to Beijing earlier this year, I lost count of the number of times I asked the phD student showing us around why so many historic buildings in the city were labelled ‘rebuilt’, to be told that it was because the British had either knocked them down or blown them up).

Santa Cruz Basilica

On New Year’s Eve there was a large candlelight procession to the basilica, much like the one in Ranni, featuring the local priests and a glass-encased statue of the Virgin Mary pulled along on the back of an auto-rickshaw that had been specially souped up and kitted out for the occasion.

As in Ranni, fireworks and the presence of a Hindu temple band were essential to building the atmosphere as the procession neared the church. If you can excuse some poor camera work (plus it was dark…), there are a couple of short bits of footage worth looking at:

 

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(Lengthy) Kathakali prep...

The same evening, with a lazy nod to what Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor say I need to ‘experience’ in Fort Kochi, I went in search of the Kerala dance-drama form known as Kathakali. I wonder whether there is legit Kathakali and not-so-legit Kathakali in Fort Kochi: I was pleased to stumble across the ‘cultural centre’ I’d been looking for, where they offer evening shows, but later stumbled across two more establishments bearing the same name and offering the same shows. Who knows.

Anyhow the performance we watched, once we’d seen the players put their make-up on (which gets quite boring surprisingly quickly) and received some instruction on what various hand movements signify, centred around a man being propositioned by a young lady. Thinking his luck is in he rapidly agrees to marry, but she seems to want to ‘have an intimate encounter’, as our guidance notes delicately put it, right away. He finally realises that she is not what she seems, and he takes appropriate action…

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After staying on the beach until midnight to see the New Year’s fireworks and to watch Santa Claus effigies (known as ‘pappa’) being incinerated, it was on to Bengaluru (Bangalore), where my credentials as hopelessly naïve traveller were further burnished by a near miss with a taxi scam at the airport that was surely screamingly obvious to everyone but me.

Inside 'The Collection': a shopping mall for the uber-wealthy with a disneyfied palatial look...

Finally getting to the city, it was more beautiful than I’d expected: I didn’t see the south side, where all the silicon-valley-of-India stuff goes on, and instead I saw some of the posh green neighbourhoods near the city centre – situated conveniently close to enormous air-conditioned shopping malls selling designer brands at terrifying prices – as well as the bustle of Mahatma Gandhi Road and its environs.

And then it was back to work in the peaceful but relatively unexciting environment of United Theological College, with even the fabulous Bangalore Palace just down the road unable to tempt me back into my gormless tourist persona…

Happy New Year 2012…!

 

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2 Comments

  • Chris Grainger
    January 8, 2012 - 11:58 am | Permalink

    Happy New Year Chris. It’s great to see where the research is taking you. I’m quite jealous!

  • Avening friend
    January 10, 2012 - 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! I too am very envious!
    Take care!

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