Category Archives: Fort Kochi

The Road to Tiruneli.

I don’t know what to think, I might be bored. We are now at two hundred and fifty kilometers, and have stopped once in seven hours at a truck stop, transport cafe type place, rather small, in fact very small, seated about twenty. The curry was ok, the bits on the side were better, the customers were exclusively male, lunch for two was six dollars. The drive north has been quite eye opening, a two lane road all the way, there are no passing places, ha, not even any any passing lanes. Overtaking just happens when necessary, blind corner, sure, brow of a hill, go for it, what is most alarming is when we are four wide barreling down a two lane road and a truck appears coming in the opposite direction. Of course the reverse happens too, we round a corner and there are four lanes of traffic coming right at us. Oh it’s a bundle of laughs. Unfortunately the scenery is deadly dull, village after village after village all looking fairly much the same and about a mile apart, all the way.
Ok, now it got dark and it got interesting. The Western Ghats just sprang out of the dull plain, one minute it was flat flat flat, the next we were climbing, through a series of eight hairpins and still we climb. I can look down at the lights on the plain far far below, it is reminiscent of the approach to Masa Verde. Of course people try and overtake on the hairpins resulting in beeping beeping, gears grinding and much hullabaloo. Looking up I see truck or car lights impossibly high up, are we really going all the the way up there. Cars are parked beside the road, people sitting on the walls enjoying the view. We pass through a check point, papers are handed over, not sure why. We are on a high plateau and everything is different, there are spice stalls, tea booths, honey for sale, tasty looking restaurants.
I kept thinking, we must be nearly there, we must be. But no, the driver started showing a lack of confidence also, stopping and asking the way frequently, not very inspiring I thought. The procession of villages started again, more interesting as the populations were out and about, but less navigable due to them spilling into the streets. We continued until finally driver said, would you like beer? Well sure, but no bar in sight. We climbed some dingy stairs and I joined a queue of the local, er, well, I have to say, drunks, to buy two bottles of beer to bring along for dinner. To say it was seedy would be an understatement, I think it was the only liquor outlet for miles around and attracted some pretty rum characters (pardon the pun), I feebly tried to protect my pockets from thieves, looked as if I knew what I was doing and emerged unscathed and triumphant with two bottles of warm beer, total price, one US Dollar. Good I thought, we must be getting close, it was nine pm by now, how close are we, I enquired, only about an hour he says. Despondency and near sense of humor failure. More stops to ask the way, road gets narrower and narrower, until really only a single lane. Funny how those expressions spring to mind, but couldn’t help thinking, if there is a hotel at the end of this road I will eat my hat. There are mile markers and I saw one that said fifteen, ok, if nothing appears after fifteen lets turn back to that Holiday Inn I saw a while back (not). By this point the road had ceased to be a road and become more a boulder strewn, bone shaking track. We came to habitation, not only habitation but a vast three storey building full of marauding children. Incongruous, yep. Apparently a school for the local, tribal children, a boarding school. Oh, then the track ended. Driver turns down what appeared to be a dried up river bed, oh come on, hat eating reconsidered. We bounced down and there was a man, standing by an open gate, he waves us in, we park. He turns out to be a charming young man who runs a “home stay” way the bleep out here, takes bag out of trunk, puts it in room, is that my room, I enquire, oh no, that is your tent. After ten hours driving it looked like a palace. At ten forty five I declined the offered dinner, I felt bad, but that late, curry, I just couldn’t handle it. One beer and I felt a bit better and walked about asking questions and getting acquainted. He has two rice paddies, a field of cabbages and one of carrots. He has a large plot of Capsicum. Roses, Morning Glory and lots of palm trees. I wandered over to the gate and he came scurrying after me, no no, you mustn’t go out, the elephants are coming, maybe tigers too. WHAT ! Any snakes I asked, only cobras, and king cobras, any scorpions, oh no. Well that’s a relief. I considered the second bottle of beer, and drank it.
Slept very soundly until five am when the chanting started, there being a Temple to Vishnu directly up the mountain behind, quite famous I hear. Sara, you would have loved it. A simple flute and a lady who had this knack of harmonizing with the echo of her voice, which came back, reflected off the surrounding mountains so there were two of her voices simultaneously. Not sure about these things but it sounded like she was joined at the important bits by other female chanters. Morning Ragas for real. Quite memorizing. It went on for an hour. Can I tape it and put it on Soundcloud? Well no more sleep for me. Wandered about in the dark, looking where I was going ! The sun came up, warming everything, quite cold at night. The day passed quickly, we had a stroll to the temple, straight up, vertically, for about a mile. No comment. Went to the temple but of course I couldn’t go in, being a heathen and all, but the grounds were pleasant and contained a four hundred year old working viaduct, and Maurice, a tunnel, fifty kilometers long that the locals used to escape the British years ago. It goes right under a mountain and comes out, well, fifty kilometers away. Interesting. It is/was hidden amongst the religious artifacts and was never discovered, or so the story goes, I had to take my shoes off to gaze upon the entrance and was not allowed to take a photograph. (just in case the Brits come back?!). Not much else happened for the rest of the day.
That was it then, a day in Tiruneli, high up in the Western Ghats. Perfect.

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The lunch stop.

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The dried up river bed approach to the Home Stay.

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The four hundred year old aqueduct.

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The four thousand year old ritual bathing pool at the Thiruneli Temple.

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Back breaking work planting rice.

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Sunset’s golden glow.

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Peppercorns in the sun.

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The Kerala Backwaters

Thwack thwack is the background soundtrack to lunch, tied up to the bank of the seemingly endless waterway known as the Backwaters of Kerala. There too is birdsong from many unknown species and screeches of animals further back in the low jungly islands all about. The floating wild Hyacinth, fondly remembered from the Mekong, is prolific, I wonder, do they harvest it ? There is constant bank to bank canoe traffic, visiting, trading, schooling, I have no idea, but the pace of life is very very slow. Children cycle up and down the adjacent path crying out “What is your name? Where are you from?”. Men in the traditional dress, a longi, a kind of skirt, amble about doing apparently nothing, but I do notice they keep their eyes on the water, perhaps judging the fishing potential. The ladies, bright in their saris, thwack thwack thwacking the daily wash on convenient rocks.
The boats, which are everywhere, appear to be low draft barges with intricate bamboo woven roofs and walls built on top. Some are big fifty or sixty feet long with two decks, the upper one being an observation deck and the lower containing sleeping cabins, lounging and dining area, bathrooms, kitchen and crew quarters. My boat is quite small, room at the bows for two deck chairs and a table with four chairs, behind which is the cabin and bathroom with the kitchen at the stern. More than adequate for one, me. I count fourteen boats at this moment and that is just off the port side. Local bus boats speed along taking locals to and from, much faster than ours and creating something of a wash.
South and South we go, I can tell by the position of the sun, deeper and deeper into this vast waterway, I am completely lost. We follow narrow channels maybe three hundred yards across for half a mile or so, emerging into long wide lakes, perhaps one mile wide, two miles long and then on, to another distant channel. As we pass a narrow channel I can look down it, straight and palm lined into the distance, reminding me of the Canal du Midi with its famous Plane trees, are they really going to be cut down ? Wracking my brain to come up with an equivalent of this geographical feature, and failing. Is the Inter Coastal of the eastern US seaboard anything like this ?
We turn into a very narrow channel, too narrow for most of the boats, and we are in a village, on both banks, incongruously there is a pedestrian foot bridge, boys swim, men bathe, more thwacking, there are shops, well kind of, a bus boat rushes the people home, it will be sunset soon. Ferry, let’s call it a ferry. There is a Church, St Mary’s, I hear Mass. There are nuns, and a hospital . We stop, negotiate fish prices for dinner, king prawns it will be, curried presumably. I enquire about beer, a bottle is produced from behind a pile of empty boxes, Kerala seems officially dry. I was told proudly told that there are two liquor stores in all of Kochi, in some of the larger street food booths beer is sold, and consumed, out of tea pots.
We have joined a procession of boats all heading down a narrow channel into the setting sun (this is live narrative folks!) I assume to a place to tie up, or anchor, for the night, tea is served, no snooze, I might miss something. I see my first rice rick, like a hay rick, only rice stalks. I am not sure of the American translation, in fact I don’t think we have hay ricks in America, piles of straw ? Evening approaches and the ladies are fishing off the banks, come on guys, where are you ?
We tied up, strangely, along with many other boats onto a kind of tow path across from which is a house, in fact a whole row of houses, each with a boat tied up across the narrow path. Our front end is almost right in the lady’s wash area, evening ablutions are carried out within inches of the boat, very odd. Walking along the path I found others who also found it a bit odd, Brits, of course, a Polish lady, Daga, a Norwegian lady, Christina and four year old Angelina and none of us could figure it out, why are we here. Oh well, not going to stress about it.
Brilliant dawn and sunrise, will try and post photos as and when. PROBLEM. My camera has stopped working, lens jammed. So to tuk tuk back to Kochi and now at Canon repair center. Motor is blown, too bad, camera only three months old. Hope then to be off to mountains for six days, the Western Ghats. So this might be bye bye until Goa on March 9th. Will have stories to tell and photos to share.

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There is much visiting from shore to shore.

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More visiting.

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The Backwaters.

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More houseboats.

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Suddenly, a foot bridge.

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A rice rick !

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Something of a balancing act.

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My small boat, tied up for the night.

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Heavy traffic on the waterway.

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A houseboat Armada.

Well it is India!

I have read of the newcomer’s potential exasperation when trying to get anything done in India resulting eventually in the expression “well it is India”, so I have kept a large reserve of patience in case things begin to take their time. The first cup of tea for instance that took ninety minutes to appear. Today, being the last full day of my hotel reservation period, is the day I set about planning the next phase, a houseboat overnight in the backwaters. I had been checking out the many many boat ticket offices as I walked about town so headed to my first choice, A Fair Trade Boutique, and found them to be most obliging. The price seemed right, about half that of some other places I had looked at, they took plastic, but could I come back later after the boat Captain returned their phone call. Sure, no problem, I will go and find a domestic SIM card for my phone, they told me where to go.
Found a booth type shop manned by gentleman who feigned no English, but I caught him muttering understandably, and the we got to business. Oh no, not just any foreigner can buy a SIM card, you must have passport photo and permission. Really ? Ok, I left my photos at the hotel, but spotted a passport photo taking booth across the street. Be right back says I. A certain amount of dithering, pondering and decision making took place and then they took the photo. More of same and then they printed it, four photos, one dollar. Back to phone person armed with required photo. He produced a massive form and stuck my photo to it. I quailed, form filling not my strong point, but persevered to his satisfaction and then he wanted my passport. How difficult, how humiliating, how embarrassing, but I retrieved it from my document/money belt buried three layers deep upon my person, right there on the street. Nobody seemed to mind. So on it went. Another form appeared, he filled it in and faxed it, somewhere, then told me to return in half an hour, go have a juice says he. Ok fine, it was getting hotter and hotter. Juiced, I returned. He seemed pleased. Not me, no no sir, that is not a micro SIM that I need, do you have a clipper. No, no clipper and he produces a razor blade and sets about the SIM with that. On and on. I returned to juice bar and he came too, still trimming the SIM. Then we had to find a paper clip to eject current SIM from my phone. OH. Of course it didn’t fit, more trimming with blade until yes, it now fits. Great, back to phone booth with SIM installed but no signal. On and on, hotter and hotter. We are two hours into this by now. More calling, dialing, pin # entering, finally my phone chirped. Let me outa here. Thanking him as graciously as possible I ran away. To the Post Office!
I will cut this short. You must wrap your package to Seattle sir. Hmm. Ok. See sign in clothing shop that says package wrapping. Please wrap this for me, oh yes. A custom made linen wrap is created, my package goes in and the whole thing sealed with wax. One dollar. Back to Post Office, lady takes package, and money , no customs forms, no nothing. Will it ever arrive on East Thomas, only Nat and Erin will know.
Back to the beginning, to the boat booking and ticketing office. Everything was done and they will pick me up at 10.00am tomorrow.
Well it is India.

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Lots of kind comments about the nets so here is another. Interesting to see the old and the new.

First Day in Fort Kochi.

Daylight on Tuesday reveals Fort Kochi, strangely quiet. Last evening there was the predictable busy busy business, motor scooters, tuk tuks, cars, buses and much pedestrian traffic. Only a little like Viet Nam, obliviously walk out into the traffic, keep going, don’t stop, don’t look and be optimistic. Woke up this morning at eight thirty, oh good, a lie in, pottered about, made tea, looked out the window, then discovered I had left the clock gadget on Cambodia time. It was a little after 6am. Oh well, sunup is a good time for a stroll. But, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ! Ok, there were a few goats, the occasional policeman, some soldiers, that was about it, well early I thought and kept walking. 7am then 8am and still the streets were deserted, the shops shuttered, no hubbub, no action. Hungry, I made my way back to the hotel and then it struck me, someone mentioned a strike last night, a 24 hour General Strike! Well that’s it then, innit, all the shops are closed, the banks, offices, gas stations, restaurants, the Post Office, the railways aren’t running, the airport is shut down, the port traffic halted, there are no buses, tuk tuks or taxis. It’s so strangely quiet, like going to Safeway on Thanksgiving morning.

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Nothing, nobody, anywhere.

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The story behind the Chinese Fishing Nets

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The Nets Waiting for the new day

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The net is lowered into the water.

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After a suitable period of time the net is hauled up, gradually.

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There may or may not be fish.

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Last photo of nets for a while, promise.

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General Strike activity, cricket. I counted four matches on this one “pitch”.

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Another pitch, more cricket. Do check out the Banyan Tree, there are many in town and provide welcome shade.

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Everyone goes to the beach to watch the sunset, over the Arabian Sea.

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Having fun.

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Crowd. Beach. Fort Kochi. Sunset.