Indians are great at bureaucracy. This is the only country on our itinerary that required visas, pricey one at that. We have three government officials onboard for the next week whose job it is to check us in and out of each of the four provinces we will visit. We had a face to face encounter with them to stop here and had to carry tourist cards with our photographs on them. As we got back onboard we handed those tourist cards in and some fairies are going to bring us new ones for the next destination while we sleep tonight. Much ado about nothing.
Cochin is in the jungly part of southern India; 90º with 90% humidity. Put a stick in the ground and it will grow. Put a North American there and she will quickly wilt. I’m not a big drinker, but after today’s tour which included a bottle of water and a can of Coke Lite, I got back onboard and drank four large glasses of ice tea. I’m still thirsty. Monsoon season starts in June. I can’t imagine what the humidity is like then.
This climate is well suited for growing spices. When Columbus headed off to the Indies to try to get some, he thought he was heading here. Arab traders have been coming here for spices since the Europeans were in the Dark Ages. They learned that the winds blow east six months of the year and west six months of the year. A well timed voyage makes for hardly any rowing once the sails are unfurled. When the Europeans finally learned this trick they came over to claim various Indian territories from the rajahs who ruled them for their kings and queens in the European way. Vasco de Gama, the first European to circumnavigate the globe, came here three times, and died and was buried here in the first European church built in India. It took Gandhi’s leadership and much blood shed to finally get the British out in 1947. Today India is the largest democracy in the world. The Communists did well in recent elections in this province. Our guide said they are really more like socialists. It was strange that we saw many more posters of Fidel and Che here than we did in Cuba.
Cochin is not a big tourist mecca. The commercial dock where we tied up is especially unsightly with mud pits, gravel piles, old heavy equipment, rusting buildings, and garbage everywhere. However, the parking lot was full of A/C buses waiting to take us away to all sorts of interesting spots. Our tour began in a community theater sized building where male dancers performed a classical dance which was hundreds of years old. They were accompanied by a three piece band: two drummers and a discordant singer who also clanged tiny symbols. One of the dancers was dressed as a woman with heavy eye make-up and glittering clothing. The other had a bright green face and layers and layers of petticoats, which made his skirt stand straight out. The demo began with the woman rolling her eyes and making a variety of expressive faces. We were sweating bullets; I can’t imagine how they felt. The demo started with an explanation of the emotions conveyed with each roll of the eyes are finger position. If we could have remembered what each eye roll meant, we would have gotten a lot more out of the dance. It ended with the male slicing off her breast with a sword. And a good time was had by all.
Then we walked along the seashore between food and trinket vendors to see the Chinese fishing nets. They are suspended on long poles and pulled in periodically to reveal which fish have been trapped while they are hanging in the water. Dolphins gamboled nearby, waiting for left overs. A boat ride took us around the bay and eventually back to the ship. There’s a lot of modern construction going on; this would probably be a nice place to live if you could used to the humidity. We sailed along with a variety of ferries carrying locals. They found us as interesting to observe as we did them. White people are a rare sight in southern India. It’s always nice to be appreciated.
At the dock vendors had set up a long series of tents amidst the mud and garbage. They brought clothing, handicrafts and some mighty tempting fine jewelry. We’re not used to buying fine jewelry dockside and finally demurred. But if we see those necklaces again at the next port, my self resolve may waiver.