Joined by Liran from Israel, who I met in Alappuzha, I headed to my final stop in India for this trip: Fort Kochi, formerly and still known as Cochin, and known for being a former Dutch colonial town that’s preserved its old flavour. Liran had already spent some time here before, so it was more for me to take a quick look around for a day before we both made the jump to Sri Lanka the next morning.
I admit, the first few hours felt a little uninspiring. Tourist shops everywhere, tourist hordes everywhere, and nothing felt authentic, more for show. Drained of energy, we hired a $1 tuk-tuk to take us around all the main sights for a few hours just to get them over with… with the catch being that we had to stop and walk around some shops for five minutes. Heh. Church here, cemetery there, palace here, temple there… and a shop. The shopkeepers know exactly what’s going on there, and so did we (even before getting in the tuk-tuk), with our driver getting commission from the shop owners for taking passengers there. With everything either straight-up unaffordable or obviously wrong for us (like women’s jewellery), we just made some small talk to kill the timer. That didn’t work, and sick of fake-shopping and checking off some sights I couldn’t really care much about, we ditched the tuk-tuk.
But then we wandered off on our own, and found a beguiling Jewish quarter complete with a synagogue, Bazaar Street with plenty of people going about their daily lives, a lively promenade, the busy evening scene of fishermen selling their catches, and most surprisingly, a vibrant arts scene, with galleries, murals, and a peaceful coexistence with the colonial charm. Definitely won me over. We enjoyed the sunset over the famous Chinese fishing nets, had ourselves some seafood, and toasted to India.
Descending from the cool, fresh air of the mountains meant a return to humidity and heat, but heading directly to Alappuzha (still also known as Alleppey) gave me a couple days’ respite. Kerala’s crown jewel is most definitely the backwaters: freshwater canals, lakes, and lagoons dotted with lush, palm-covered islands and islets. Alappuzha is one of the more common tourist access points, and the city itself is criss-crossed with canals and boat traffic, with large, high-up bridges scattered around to cross between sides.
Screeching tires on every hairpin turn. Passing smaller vehicles, or at least vigorously honking at them, on a one-lane mountain-side road. Radio reception dropping every so often, rudely interrupting whatever Hindi or Tamil film song I was bopping along to. Getting hit by branches through the pane-less windows every few seconds. Me, literally flying out of my seat every few seconds. (Don’t sit in the back of an Indian bus.) Such was my final Tamil Nadu bus ride of five hours, going from dry plains to steep mountainous forest, and my first stop in Kerala. I actually did get a little light-headed, both from the relatively quick altitude gain and just general motion-sickness.
Then all of a sudden… tea.
Chidambaram, Thanjavur, and Madurai, India
Upon Uncle’s recommendation, Therese and I headed for three cities and three temples in three days — one per morning, before the heat makes it uncomfortable. First, we bussed over to Chidambaram.
Chennai, Mamallapuram, and Pondicherry, India
At the wedding, Therese and I were given many tips on places to see in Tamil Nadu, none so thorough as by Mr. Chandrasekaran, Deepika’s father. He graciously took time on a Monday to show us all the way to Mamallapuram.
Getting out of the airport felt… familiar. Back on India time, two hour luggage wait and all. Back to haggling for a ride. Back to the chaotic traffic and honking and lane-ignoring auto-rickshaws and nearly being run over every time I cross the street. A lot may be different down south, but it’s still India, and it feels good to be back after four years.
I’m here this time for my NUS friend Dhiviya, who’s getting married. She’s connected me with a few of her other friends living in Singapore who are also here for the wedding, Jayasri and Deepika, who are more than happy to explain everything that’s going on, and Therese, a non-Indian who has never been to an Indian wedding. Now this’ll be fun.