Friday, November 18, 2011

Kochi, Kerala, day 1; Fort Kochi, Kathakali

Just after 5am, we finally pulled into Kochi. It was still dark but we were relived to find the ferry terminal a short walk from the train. We got our tickets and waited for the approaching ferry, as the first hints of morning began lighting the horizon across the water. The sliver of moon was the only night orb still visible.

Across the bay, in Fort Kochi, we wandered the streets looking for a taxi to take us the guest house we'd booked. Kiran had a sort of arrangement with the manager of this guesthouse, that they would recommend each others places to people traveling between Hampi and Fort Kochi. It didn't take too long to get one, and we drove around a few blocks until arriving at a nice colonial house, went through the usually ordeal of signing in, then laid down in a bed for the first time in two days.

Arround noon, we walked around the main tourist area of the fort and walked down to the waterfront, which is lined with giant Chinese fishing nets, famous in the area. A basic pulley system, using big rocks as leverage, lowers the net into the water and after it's pulled back up, what ever gets caught is pulled up from the sagging net and sold right there to tourists and restaurant owners. You could also buy what ever seafood you liked and pay to have it prepared in one of the restaurants along the water.

Fort Kochi has a very chill atmosphere. Not a lot of traffic, streets are generally clean and the people very laid back and frienly. It was hot though, really hot, which just may have something to do with the people's attitudes. Who wants to make things any hotter?

Later, Kambu, the guesthouse manager, brought us for an amazing waterfront meal, where he introduced me to Kerala biryana and from that moment on biryani became my favorite Indian food! After lunch, he drove us arround to a few shops for Shelley to do some shopping, and for me to spend about 20 minutes trying to talk my way out of a carpet store where the clerk was trying to convince me to buy a several hundred-dollar rug. They were beautiful, which is why I wanted to look at them, but I wasn't going to buy one. He had 101 reasons why I should, saying that it was an investment for my children, blah, blah, blah, (I'm sure it wouldn't be worth much after my kids would be finished with it!) and I waited for someone to come get me out, but they were waiting in the car wondering where I'd gone...

The next shop we stopped by was a much nicer experience, where a young man named Adil all the way down from Kashmir sold jewelry, clothing, and Buddhist art. He was Muslim, but he didn't seem very serious about it, admitting that he drinks, that it was more because of his family than anything.

Shelley had a great time chatting with him while I examined the Tibetan singing bowls. The conversation ending up catching my attention over the shrill hum of the bronze bowl. Adil began by describing a beautiful black woman who'd come in looking to buy a sari. He was quite attracted to her (" as put it, he "had attraction with her") and offered to show her how to tie a sari, so, while he was knelt down around he waist, he noticed something move, which lead him to notice, "hands were very, very big, like hands of a man." He didn't seem nearly as concerned with the man's style of dressing as he was with that he was attracted to him/her. "How can that be, I make attraction with her but she has a man's part I think maybe I am gay."
(Thanks to Shelley's blog for reminding me of the details of this one. She's still in India and now has a family, check out her blog!)

About this time, tea arrived and I joined them (ordering milk-tea in India is like ordering Chinese in New York). One of the things he told us made me realize how little I know about the world. d  Discussing the pros and cons of love marriage vs arranged marriage, he told us that dowries have been banned, though the tradition still continues, because if a family's son chooses a love bride and her family can't afford the dowry, they will have her killed.

And with that, we made our way back to the guest house to freshen up for the Kathakali performance we'd booked tickets for in the morning.

We got to the Kerala Kathakali Center about 30 minutes early to see the last bit of make being applied to the actors. It takes 90 minutes to do their make up, the same amount of time as the performance. Kathakali performers train for 6 years before they are ready to perform. The performance has no words but relies entirely on the body language, hand movements, and facial expressions of the actors. It reminded me of the Legong performances in Bali as far as costume and mudras but with different spices.

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