Finally, everything went smoothly! Everyone showed up on time for the tours; the only people that canceled were the 2 couples that had canceled all of their tours due to the Rupee situation. One woman was still sick but I had been able to find a replacement. What a nice change of pace! Once again, Magic Tours were right outside the ship waiting for us and escorted people to the bus as they arrived for the tour.
I was really dragging this morning. Five days in a row of touring is quite exhausting. I know, I know, it beats having a real job, but still. These old bones were mighty tired. I could easily have slept another hour or two or three.
Our guide today was Tommy. We had a nice, big bus for our group of 18. The only problem with it was the sound system. There was terrible feedback coming from the sound system. To get rid of it, he had to turn the volume down which meant that the people sitting towards the back of the bus couldn’t hear him. Our tour today would consist of a visit to old town Cochin (Fort Kochi area) and then on to Allepey for a houseboat luncheon.
Fort is a bit of a misnomer; there is no fort in the area any longer (there is one wall left; I took a picture of it). Originally, the Portuguese built a fort many centuries ago. It was the first European settlements in India. Previously, Greeks and Romans had traded in the area but Vasco de Gama really expanded the spice trade in the area (remember him from your history classes?). The Dutch and English also settled here, so there are influences from all 3 countries. Cochin is the 2nd largest port in India (after Mumbai) and is known as the “Queen of the Arabian Sea.” It is located in the state of Kerala. Kerala is known as “God’s Own Country” (you see the phrase printed on the street signs).
Though the town is only a few miles from the port, due to traffic, the drive took about 30 minutes. The traffic here is as horrendous at has been at all of the other ports. To add to the fun, the roads here are really rutted; potholes everywhere. I wasn’t sure it was possible, but the driving here is even worse than the other ports we have visited. The road we were on was two lanes (one in each direction). Cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters would pass other vehicles at any time; it made no difference at all if there was oncoming traffic. They would just swerve into the other lane and assume that the other cars would move onto the shoulder. The horn-honking was continuous. We spent hours on the road today so perhaps it was just more noticeable how hectic the driving is. What is truly miraculous is that for all of the hours we have spent on a tour bus over the past 5 days, we have seen no accidents. We have witnessed plenty of near-death misses, but no actual collisions.
We finally reached the town and parked the bus behind the church where the headstone of Vasco de Gama is located. Today is International AIDS Day and so we watched a protest parade before we were able to enter the church.
De Gama came here in 1498; the church was originally built in 1503 by the Portuguese. This was the first European settlement. A fort was built here (Emmanuel Fort) but was destroyed in a battle between the English and Dutch. The church we were visiting was originally Catholic but was rebuilt by the Dutch and changed to a Dutch Reform Church (protestant). It was renovated in 1729 and IMHO, could use a little refresh now. I guess we have been spoiled with the splendors of the cathedrals and temples we have visited. This church is very plain inside. We had to remove our shoes (an Indian custom) before entering. The fabric strips along the ceiling are fans. They are operated by someone that stands outside the church and moves them back and forth using some type of mechanism. The person that does the job is called a Puncta Walla (Walla is a term that means “unskilled”). The only interesting thing was De Gama’s tomb. He died on Christmas Eve in1574. His body was sent back to Lisbon but a tombstone was installed in the church floor.
We walked a short distance to where the infamous Chinese net fishermen work. We passed by the only remaining Bastion from the original 7 that existed. Do you like the sign? Just in case you were wondering how far it was to the Bastion Bungalow!
Chinese nets are a concept that the Portuguese brought with them from China. The ones in China are operated by a single fisherman. The ones here are much larger and take 5-6 to operate. A cantilever system is used to dip the nets into the water to catch the fish. Large stones are used as a counterbalance; they are removed one by one and the net drops. After 5 minutes the nets are brought back up. The fish is sold immediately because there is no refrigeration.
We were not able to see any fish being caught. The fishermen have to start early in the day when the waters are cooler. Because of over-fishing, some days there is no catch at all. In order to bring in money to compensate for the poor fishing, they have turned the nets into a tourist attraction. There are stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs surrounding the area as well.
On the way back to the bus we passed a red house that Tommy pointed out was owned by a Jewish family. No big deal, right? There are only 4 Jewish families in all of Cochin! And, only 5 Jewish people – one man, 4 women. This poses a bit of a problem for the man since you need 10 men to hold services. Kerala only has 15 Jewish families. Jews arrived in the area in 72 AD and were not persecuted by the Indian people. Later, the Moors (Turks) did persecute them. Still, it is strange that there are so few left.
Anyhow, we started our drive to Allepey. It was supposed to be a 90-minute drive but took around 2 hours. Many on the bus slept (I was not the only tired person today). Allepey is known as the Venice of India due to its canals. They are clogged with water hyacinths and lined with a variety of boats. After our “lunch on the Nile” experience in an old beat-up boat, we were not sure what to expect. We passed by some scary looking boats that looked like they might be used for tourists and were getting a bit nervous. Thank goodness, we were wrong!
Our boat was lovely. There were two levels. We stayed on the bottom level and were joined by some of the friends we have made on the cruise. Others went up to the top level. The boat had three bedrooms (each with a bathroom – very welcome after our long drive); it can be rented overnight. The cooks were already onboard working on our lunch. They brought us some delicious pineapple-mango juice as we floated gently down the lake. The scenery was very lush. There were many birds – mainly herons and egrets. I asked about snakes and was told that there were water snakes (vipers). Oh, goody! I kept my eyes peeled, but never spotted any.
We spent a perfect couple of hours on the houseboat. Other boats passed us; we waved to each other. Some were obviously tourists, but many were filled with local people as well. There were houses along the shore and rice paddies tucked away behind the houses. Unlike the wild ride that we had on the Dhow cruise in Khasab, Oman, the water was perfectly calm. They fed us a delicious lunch of a variety of Indian specialties and provided fried bananas for dessert.
We had another crazy drive back to port. If I never have to get in another vehicle in India, it will be too soon!
I highly recommend the houseboat tour. The only downside is the length of the drive, but the float down the lake is truly worth it. Another great tour from Magic Tours of India!