I must perhaps be the last person in my circle of friends to have visited Cochin. Everyone person to whom I have talked after my trip has had his/her share of Cochin stories and just writing about it seems a bit pointless. However, as the wise men would say, everyone makes a different journey (Ah, I made up that quote actually..)
Thanks to our local newspaper, which actually gives news about things other than movies, I had had a chance to read about the Cochin Jews. So like everyone else I flocked to the Jew Town to see the Synagogue as also catch a glimpse of the fast dwindling race. I must admit doing the latter made me feel quite pathetic since it is an invasion of people’s privacy to say the least. I did not have worried. Jew Town was filled with Malayalis selling antiques and Delhites selling silver jewellery and shawls. The Synagogue was closed and I had no option but to browse through the shops. They turned out to contain some fairly interesting curios. Of course, the natives had even managed to put on sale the black and white photographs from two generations ago – neat rows of people in their Sunday best pasted onto a big fraying brownish cardboard. I mentally decided that if I actually saw anyone buy it, I would go and raid my grandmother’s house for some snaps and put it up on E-bay with some fancy title such as ‘Young girl in traditional Tamil dress, circa 1920’. Just when I was leaving the place, I managed to see a couple of Jews. Atleast I think they were Jews. There was something Parsi-like about them – the same white and withering skin symbolizing the lack of sufficient people in the younger generation and signaling the end of an era. Most Cochin Jews have already migrated to Israel and other places and the rest would probably have to make a choice about maintaining ethnicity and dying single or marrying outside and changing the gene pool.
The next stop was at the Dutch Palace. A signboard informed me that the Dutch had given it to the then reigning king of Kerela from the Varma dynasty. Hence the palace was filled with Hindu murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana. The murals were pretty colourful and only if you looked carefully and read the instructions given below you could understand what stories were depicted. After some careful looking and reading the instructions, I finally figured out what the drawings were and my eyes grew wider, to say the least. The murals definitely did not toe the line of today’s moral brigade. The palace also contained other interesting trivia such as Dutch and English coins, maps of Cochin, dresses worn by Royalty (some pretty nifty handwork). Being a lone traveler I could wander about at my own pace and felt glad about not following the mandatory tourist-on-a-tour-bus route of giving the place a quick run through.
From there it was to the singularly unimpressive looking St Francis Basilica. The place would not have been so popular but for its ‘history’. It started off as Portuguese Catholic Church, passed through Dutch hands, moved on to become English Anglican and is now under the Protestant care of the Church of South India. In the middle of all these changes, it had been razed down, built again, and been a Cathedral and then a Basilica. And this interesting background was gleaned from a Cox and Kings Brochure, which an enterprising native was selling for ten rupees. I just hoped that the money went towards maintenance of the Church. The Church had indecipherable Portuguese and Dutch tombstones on the walls. It was interesting to see dates from the 16th century though. The original discoverer of India, Vasco Da Gama had also been buried there at one point. A non-descript stone marked this spot. However, in line with promoting tourism, the Government had thought to adorn the place with a small half-foot high fence of golden coloured chains in burgundy jacket. My personal guess is most people in charge of monuments, center their idea of what constitutes ‘grand’ from childhood viewings of ‘Mahabaratha’ and ‘Ramayana’ which used to come on DD.
The final stop was at Fort Cochi. I went for a long walk on the promenade watching the sun stream from behind the clouds onto the sea. I also browsed through the nearby shops. Before I could examine the stores selling antiques or visit one of the gloriously ancient looking hotels for a spot of tea, it began to rain. I decided to press on to the Bolgatty Palace but halfway through ended the venture when the rain began to come down harder. Instead, I decided to wait out the time till my flight at Cochin’s new wonder – the Bay Pride Mall. Apart from the ubiquitous Metro Shoes, Fab India and Barista, the place also had a lovely food court from where you could watch the backwaters as you munched your food. I did exactly that, accompanied by a nice book while a bunch of kids nearby strummed simple melodies on a guitar. It is nice to do the Tourist rounds. It is nicer to find a good place to rest your tired feet.