Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kerala, Kalypso and Kathakali

We knew Kerala was monsoon riddled, but the kids were off school and being Brits we knew we could cope! Courtesy of Kalyspo Adventures (I have to give them a plug - this was such a well put together and executed trip) we had embarked on a 2 week family eco-tour of Kerala. 

I had thought as Bangalore is, so all Indian cities are. But not the case - as we approached Cochin/Kochi from the airport, our first impressions were green, so green, clean, quiet - only the intermittent horn beep - not the unrelenting barrage of street noise we are used to, and so many fewer people - much slower and calmer! Bangalore is a melee of half finished projects - construction, roads, overpasses......The small country roads in Cochin were devoid of potholes, better maintained than the major highways here in Bangalore. Poor folks, yes of course. But not the deep, desperate, despairing type you find in Bangalore. Here it seems everyone is smiling - and in "Gods own country" there is a lot to smile about!

We spent our first 2 nights in Cochin/Kochi (it's so confusing how India cities change their names, some of the changes infusing into colloquial use and some just used on formal documents - so I'm still not really sure if I should be saying Cochin or Kochi!!) The hotels we stayed in were all small and full of character. No big chains of impersonality. This meant we felt safe having the boys in a separate bedroom for the first time - peace!! The hotel was set round a courtyard of green lush plants and statues, with archways over looking the water.

The tour was essentially us, a car and our guide and driver, the long suffering (he had to put up with the brats!) and ever smiling Deepu. This meant we had lots of flexibility on timings, working round the weather, and the kids requirements - all of which were happily accommodated. 

I would have been raving more about the food if on my first foray back to the gym yesterday Anand, the torturer, had not welcomed me with, "Maam have you put on some weight?". So I am now regretting all that wonderful sea food cooked in calorific coconut sauces, and we won't talk about the banana chips and banana fritters!!

Kathakali is the traditional dance of Kerala. Drag queens, eat your hearts out - this is something else! All male actors, overly made up, dramatically hysterical but oozing class and tradition told the old stories with their eyes. We watched a skinny little kid, professionally and competently transform mere men into larger than life characters. 
Above is the before, below the after!

The old stories are told through a language of expressions and gestures - and the facial expressions of the performers surely told a story! The traditional performances last for 4 or 5 hours but apparently (and truthfully) us foreign tourists don't have the staying power and can only manage a curtailed hour at most!

Old Cochin has quite a history - first explored by the Portuguese, leaving their trace in the Roman Catholic Churches and Basilica. Its so wonderful how, as in most of India, the churches, temples, mosques and even a synagogue were all cheek by jowl. 
We stopped at the dhoby, the laundry.  The "collectors" on bikes pick up the laundry on a daily basis from the hotels and restaurants and deposit it the dhoby where they are manually washed and scrubbed with vigor. 

They are then hung out for drying row on row. Somehow they do dry between the rain showers!

Ironing appears to be a male domain. Even our ironing guy at Vista is male.  This could be because ironing here is quite physical, involving quite some muscle power. The big heavy iron is fueled by burning coconut shells inside the base of iron which seems to be very effective as sheets and towels are quickly returned to looking as pristine as if they were fresh off a shelf in a high-end department store!

Fishing is a big industry here but well regulated, no danger of the waters being over fished -  these summer months there is no fishing in the sea as it is breeding time. As well as boat fishing, big Chinese fishing nets are lowered into the sea - by a system of weights and ropes. 

As the fishermen were currently unemployed as the fish go forth and multiply they were all too happy to let us try our hands and working the nets.

We do as usual stand out, but here it is Wills with his exotic looks and still chubby cheeks, not Adam with his pale skin and blond ( well, not so much these days, having arrived in India his hair has seemingly contradicting logic and has gone darker) who is getting all the attention. Unfortunately Wills hates it, whereas Adam doesn't seem to mind, and is always quite happy to chat to anyone and have his picture taken. 

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