As soon as I set my foot in Kochi I knew I would like it. I spent 3 whole days there not doing much, just wandering the streets.
On my first day I reached the beach with Chinese nets spread across it. The sand was full of rubbish, mountains of it. There was a terrible smell in the air of rotting food and fish. The local men sat in the shade of the trees, or were drinking tea at the small carts that lined the edge of the beach. The atmosphere was lazy.
Before I set out on my walk I had hidden my cash everywhere. I held my bag close to my body. I was prepared to defend myself from street hawkers. After around 10 minutes I was only approached by one girl, who asked me (with the most beautiful smile) what time it was, and a couple of rickshaw drivers, who wanted to give me a tour for a 100 INDR. No one followed me, no one wanted to snatch my bag, no one begged me for money. Was this the India I had heard about?
I stopped at the St. Cruz Bazilica, which from the outside looked like someone had made a mistake and built it here instead of South America. A tiny, little church turned out to be a true relict of the past. It only looked modern from the outside. Inside, it was hundreds of years old, with fading paintings and squeaky benches.
I quickly found out that there was not much to do in Kochi. I walked along the beach and went to the Maritime Museum. I wasn’t interested in anything that was to do with military, but thought it was going to be a nice break from the sun. The museum turned out to be boring. Although I did learn a couple of things about spice trade and discovery of Kerala. The best part of the visit was an officer that worked there and who insisted of taking photos of me with the statues of the sailors. ‘Now, you can show your friends you have been to our museum’ he said after which he disappeared.
Tired with the heat of the day I hired a rickshaw driver to take me to the most important sights. He took me to a traditional laundry place, where men and women worked since 5 am every day and washed clothes, collected from the houses. They ironed everything with 8 kgs irons. The people who washed the laundry stood in dirty water up to their knees and were doing everything by hand. They claimed their skin didn’t damage and didn’t wrinkle from the water and detergents.
The other couple of places turned out to be not very interesting with boring exhibitions and lots of things to read. The Dutch Palace, former headquarters of Maharajas, was not different. But, I met a whole family from Bangalore there, who insisted on showing me some of the artefacts on display in the museum and asked me a lot of questions. When I said that I was travelling alone the fear, worry and surprise on the faces of the older women was so great that I had to lie and say that my sister was actually with me, but she was sick and stayed in the hotel. The head of the family introduced me to every single person. There were about 12 of them all together: his wife, mother in law, his daughters, sons, sons and daughters in law…Everyone came together for a short holiday to Kerala. They had never met a Polish person before, but they knew the Pope and they were very fond of him.
In the evening I went to eat to a nearby bar. The young boys that served there were watching me and making comments about me. I lost my appetite quickly and decided that from then on I would eat only in a place, where they have women serving food.
The next day I went to Enrakulam to see if I could buy some nice clothes. I took a rickshaw to the Broadway market, which was mostly a place for the locals. AS soon as I got off the ferry from Kochi I was overwhelmed by the noise and traffic. I don’t feel comfortable in environments like that and I soon enough wanted to go back. But, I went from a shop to shop and looked at saris and colourful dresses. In every single one I was approached by the male shop assistant. There is something strange about the Indian men. Even if they try to be helpful and polite it still seems like they want to touch you in an appropriate way.
After passing all the clothes shop, I reached a market with vegetables and fruits. I turned into a street, which at first looked like it was a great place for pictures: tones of fruits piling up in corners, and men working hard to separate the good ones from the bad ones. That was the thing…there were only men around, no women. When they saw me walking in there most of them stopped. They were staring at me. Some of them said hello, one blocked my way and was insisting on me taking a photo of him. Nothing really happened, but the whole situation was intimidating enough for me to want to run out of there.
I got back to Kochi soon enough. That day I found a little place near my home stay, where a lovely woman and her friend prepared home made food for me that was so delicious and so full of flavour I came back to them for more the next day. I felt like I was back at my mum’s kitchen. They hovered over me, poured me more tea, asked me if I wanted more nan bread and, most importantly, they showed me how to eat the food properly.
On my last day I didn’t do much. I went for my first Aryuverda massage. Another strange experience. The massage was really relaxing and good, but you do lay on the bed completely naked, except the little one-use thongs they give you. Since the massage was performed by a girl, I did feel comfortable after a few minutes.
In the evening I attended the Kathakali performance, which can only be seen in Kerala. It is over 1500 years old, and it takes actors, singers and musicians 6 years to train. The performance started with a make – up session. The artists sat on the stage in complete silence and during an hour they carefully applied natural paint on their faces. Each of the characters in a play has a specific colour-green is for a good character, red for a bad one.
The actors during the play don’t speak. They communicate with defined gestures and facial expressions. The performance is accompanied by traditional Indian music and singing.
I thought that I wouldn’t understand and appreciate the play. I had gone to a similar performance in Bali and I wasn’t very much impressed by it. However, this time I found myself staring at the actors, observing them closely and looking at every detail of their make up and dresses. I even laughed a little. It was one of me most exhilarating experiences I have had during my travels.
I had to leave Kochi for Kovalam early in the morning. My home stay owners order a rickshaw for me. The driver took me to a very busy and chaotic bus station. I thought he was going to leave me there, but he waited for 30 minutes with me to make sure I jumped on (literally) on the right bus. You see….a lot of times as a woman travelling alone in India you can find yourself intimidated by the local men, by their stares and some of the comments, but most of the time you meet people like this taxi driver, who are willing to help you out, who want you to feel safe, and who are kind to you. From what I have noticed so far, Kerala is not about the sights, or the food. It is about the kind and lovely people you meet.