Thursday, December 20, 2012

So what's with Fort Cochin?

Having been here now for 8 days, I do wonder what makes Fort Cochin such a resort, so popular. It hasn't got a beach to speak of: Sunset Point is unswimmable and debris-strewn and Cherai, at the end of a 15-mile trek, can hardly be called convenient.  Nor has it the got ruins or monuments of the sort that tourists normally flock to. Neither is it rich in wildlife: the crows and the sea eagles compete, with the former winning in terms of sheer persistence and numbers, and out on the rafts of weed in the harbour there are herons and egrets.

So what is there? In brief: history, atmosphere, relative seclusion, location and facilities.

History it has in spades, from the early arrivals of Jews and Christians in the vicinity in the first century A.D. through to the explorers (Vasco da Gama died here), traders and the colonial period - first Portuguese, then Dutch, then British - each leaving behind marks and buildings, which have survived more or less, often less, into the present time.  The general feeling is of genteel decay, with old trading warehouses, glorious in their day, now crumbling back into the clay. Some buildings do survive, such as the ancient synagogue, or have been renovated for new functions.

The atmosphere comes partly from the silt of history and partly from the fact of its being still a living community, mainly dependent on the water - fishermen, customs officials, port activity - but also on its historic role in the spice trade, with a range of aromas scenting the air as workers lug great sacks of the stuff around or merchants sit sleekly complacent at the doors of their laden premises. Every morning early there's a fish auction, with a wide range of fish, sharks, prawns and some unrecognisable by me as any of these. Traders come and bid and carry away their purchases on the back on scooters/motorbikes but some fish remain to be bought by locals and tourists for instant fresh fish dinners. Meanwhile out in the port, large container vessels load up, dredgers pass back and forth, tugs busy around, tramp steamers sneak in and out, customs frigates rule the roost and towering above most the occasional cruise liner calls by.

Relative seclusion? Well, these days you wouldn't call Cochin quiet as it once was. It's the victim of its own success as a resort - but still it's quiet compared to the "mainland". In fact, although it feels like it, it is not an island but the end of an extended promontory. The island feel is emphasised by the usual way of getting here: by ferry and by the fact that traffic tends to be smaller-scale and less aggressive than across the water.

Location: Thanks to the success of Keralans in getting work in the Gulf there's an airport very close, which principally serves their needs but is also well located for tourists who come for what Kerala has to offer: backwaters, hill resorts, seafood and a gentler pace of life than some other areas of India.

Facilities: Above all, Cochin stands as a working port as it has done for many centuries - and currently the Archaeological Department is excavating the remains of a harbour dating back to Roman times. More recently, in the time of the Raj, the area was radically dredged to form a deep-water port facility - as well as a huge new island. In fact, I remember a conversation with an Indian on a previous visit who was certain that the Raj had been a "a good thing" above all because of the infrastucture (railways and ports principally) that the British developed and left behind. Of course, it must have been the Indians that did the donkey work but the Brits who made it happen - and if you believe my dentist those are our relative strong points.  The infrastructure helped unite the country and although the colonial power ended up by bequeathing Partition the unity of the rest has survived. But subsequent to all this has been the development of tourism and the facilities that come with that - so that it is now possible to stay in a converted merchant's house and take day trips out to many of Kerala's attractions or maybe stay overnight away and return to the familiarity of Cochin the next day. And of course the usual stuff - shops, restaurants, homestays as well as lots of Ayurvedic therapy centres for those with time and money to spare. Oh and ...

As if that wasn't enough, there has been one more thing to add to the mix right now:  India's First Biennale.(Isn't that a contradiction - you don't know it is one until you've had at least two!) But, pedantry aside, it was a revelation - lots of mixed media art work displayed in renovated old warehouses and traders premises - the buildings almost as interesting as the exhibits. One highlight was a series of 4 videoed performances by street/informal performers in sequence one on each wall - a blind North African singing on the Paris Metro, a Tibetan (I guess) performing throat music to the accompaniment of a sort of ethnic cello, a black woman standing in a swimming pool playing percussion on/in the water, a black (?)taxi driver just whistling but beautifully.  Downstairs in that venue a Saudi photographer had a vast room themed on crowds - mainly Mecca pilgrims. Some of the most effective pics were after the crowds had gone but with crowd noises echoing through the warehouse. Anyway lots of that sort stuff and very varied and interesting.
It began on 12/12/12, the day I arrived, and will go on until 13/3/13 (didn't they just wish there were 13 months in the year?) but didn't really get going until after the start date, which is why I only woke up to its possibilities a little late.

 Smell the spices!

So all in all, although it isn't "my kind of place" (too urban, too touristy) it's been a good place to be while getting my teeth fixed. Every day, except Sunday, the day of the epic bike ride, was punctuated at some point in the morning by The Dental Appointment. Around it, there was plenty of things to do.  Now at last I'm all teethed up and ready to go. I'll spare you the Before-and-After pictures (and absolutely the During) - the first you may remember, the second you may see. Anyway, glad that I've done it and glad that's it's over.

The equipment hardly led to confidence but the expertise was excellent.

This afternoon I take the overnight train to Goa, not knowing what facilities I'll meet there. I'm thinking beach huts so maybe limited or no internet access - so don't worry if those quiet for a while. The beach I'm heading for is not the deserted strand it once was but still reportedly quiet. (At Christmas? Quiet? - we'll see.)



Anonymous tourareas said...

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so it will be a better information’s for me. Try to post best informations like this always

Thu Dec 20, 05:36:00 pm GMT  

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