Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cochin, India

“Sometimes when you shake your head ‘no’ from side to side, it actually means ‘yes’ in our culture” says our guide. “It depends on your facial expression.” Now he tells us. For the past two hours I have been smiling and wildly shaking my head “no” at aggressive street peddlers pushing their wares at me with a ferocity second only to that of a cartel of Columbian coke dealers. Ironically, the body language that was intended to deter these budding entrepreneurs from following me paparrazi-like through the streets has instead drawn them towards me in a frenzy resembling something like a circle of hungry sharks surrounding a wounded seal. And so it is here that I have my first lesson in cultural relativism.

Nonetheless, Cochin is a charming little city located on the Kerala coast. With a Portuguese church, Dutch palace, Chinese-style fishing nets and a Jewish Quarter it has retained much of its cultural gumbo, a direct result of its role as a seaport throughout history. We see them all – the Church of St. Francis where Vasco da Gama was originally buried, Mattancherry and Paradesi Synagogue whose floors are paved with hand painted Chinese tiles. We creep about the temple in our stocking feet as the 16th century tiles are too delicate to handle the wear and tear of shoes. Located on Jew Street in the Jewtown section of the city, our guide assures us that this naming isn’t meant in a derogatory way. But perhaps the most interesting sight is that of the muscled fishermen using a system of weighted levers and pulleys to operate the Chinese fishing nets and we watch in awe as they pull in a multitude of prawn, tigerfish and more.

Cochin has much to offer in the way of historical sights, but it also boasts some lovely resorts and cultural pursuits. At the Taj Malabar Hotel we gobble down an Indian feast – naan, lentils, palak paneer, curried veggies and cold Kingfisher beer under a tent on the great lawn, facing the sea. We kick back and watch Kathakali dancers perform, using only body and eye movements to convey their stories – a truly impressive group of actors sharing their traditions with us – what a lovely way to finish our afternoon in Cochin.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Hey! As you probably know I spent almost a year in India. These pictures brought back the sights, sounds, smells of this amazing county! Thanks for sharing... Miss ya!