24 March 2012
Our cruise ended all too soon and we drove north for two hours along the palm-fringed Indian coast to Kochi and our hotel in Fort Cochin, what was once an island bastion of the Portuguese, then Dutch, followed by the British until India’s independence.
Our hotel is Koder House, a Mansion from the 1800s, built in the British style. It was home to the most prominent Jewish families, and its teak-lined salons entertained the local “who’s who” for Friday night open house evenings. Even Queen Elizabeth has dropped in; her fly-spotted photo is proudly displayed in the dining room.
The island’s architecture is a mixture of modest Portuguese houses, Cape Dutch churches and villas, mixed in with grand British colonial Bungalows and warehouses. This stopping off point on the Spice Route has had an identity crisis over the last four hundred and fifty years. This history of changing invaders has left a glorious mix of interesting lane-ways of Dutch shopfronts with curved gabled roofs and terracotta tiled roofs, all of which seem to be selling spices. ‘Jew Town’, a medieval bazaar surrounding India’s oldest synagogue, has interesting curios, antiques and silk. Then along the waterfront are warehouses displaying faded signs with good British names such as Aspinwall, Bristow and Brunton.
To walk the streets of Old Fort Cochin is not only a visual walk through history, but a journey for the olfactory senses as well. Although there are the usual unpleasant Indian street odours, there are also the pleasant additives of incense, the smell of tea from the waterfront warehouses, jasmine from the many oils on sale in ‘Jew Town’, and from the Dutch shopfronts cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, cumin, turmeric and more. Each step creates a cacophony of aromas that leave your head spinning trying to identify the scents.
Our last dinner in India we ventured to Old Harbour Hotel. A beautiful remnant from the British, a colonial white building with dark teak floors, a grand staircase and an arched colonnade that leads into a garden. The dinner was al fresco, with tables spread around the garden under Banyan trees with fairy lights that cascaded from the lofty branches above. The liveried waiters delivered a bottle of not so great Indian wine to our table as we listened to the sitar player who was seated cross-legged across the pool. Then all hell broke out. A cat (of which there are many loitering around the local fishermen) tore across the serene garden with a sardine in its mouth. Completely obtuse to the linen clad euros enjoying their Indian fare, several cats mounted an all out war for possession of that sardine. The tabby won.
We don’t want to leave. And apparently the Indian bureaucracy just doesn’t want to let us leave, either.
It took us one and a half hours to get us to our boarding gate. We have had seven check points, with a long queue at each, from the moment we arrived at the airport’s entrance to our last one into the departure lounge (that makes number eight). Each with an official that with a flurry of stamping of our passport, luggage tag and boarding pass sends us on to our next checkpoint . We’ve queued at checkpoints that we don’t even understand what they could possibly be for. They just don’t want us to leave, but leave we must. The next step of the journey is on to Colombo to catch up with a friend, have dinner at one of our favourite restaurants and then head home via Singapore. So fingers crossed we’ll be able to send this final travelogue at a cafe we know of in Colombo that has wireless Internet.