WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
I was in a foul mood when I wrote this piece: this was due to two silly things, one of which was very annoying. The only-silly thing was the sight of an Indian carpark. C’mon guys: I know you treat your cars rough but bumping them up concrete steps to park them? WTHF? It fits with the rest of Indian road-sense but that’s where the logic stops.
The annoying and silly thing? Indian pavements (where they exist) are slabs of concrete over the open sewers. The slabs’ irregular heights and the gaps between them are usually enough to either trip you up or simply let the pong of rancid sewage mixed with Jeyes’ fluid assault you. However, on the MAIN DRAG of Ernakulam, in their busy, posh shopping street which in other ways is reminiscent of Oxford Street in London or the posh bit of Princes Street in Edinburgh, the pavements are still dead rough, unlit and in one place, without warning or barrier, there’s a huge gap in the pavement that reveals a shit-pit into which I’d have fallen if I hadn’t stopped just in time to consult my map. I’m glad I’m moving on soon!
|nearly my final resting place|
A LIFE ON THE BILLY WAVE
Well, today’s been another hit-and-miss day. My hotel charges over double the amount per item of laundry that I’ve been charged in other places. I was tempted to try to find a laundry for myself but somehow gave in to their blandishments. Then on to do what I’d intended to do yesterday.
I then returned to the park where I’d left my padlock last night. It’s closed each day until 3pm. I attracted the attention of a park-keeper: he either didn’t understand or didn’t care and sent me on my way. Fortunately for my vibrams, my way was all of 100 metres to the wonderful tiny Tourist Desk inside the local bus stand next to the main jetty.
Yes, Ernakulam has an integrated transport node, just about. (There’s 20 metres of open rough-ish land between the two. Compare that to St Andrews’ bus and train situation and weep, ye St Andreans!) Ahem, I digress. Anyway, I’ve booked myself on an all-day backwaters boat tour tomorrow: could be fun, could be cheesy but worth finding out.
From the main jetty, a 3-rupee ferry took me to Fort Cochi. Understandably, it’s quite touristified: many places offering cybercafes (for about 15 rupees for 30 minutes) and burning camera cards to CD. This beats Ernakulam hollow for IT kit: this is the first place I’ve found in Ernakulam with winXP boxes – just about everywhere else I’ve seen, even on the main drag, uses win98. Among other things (insert customary Bruce-rant against Windows), I have win98 drivers for my card reader and flash-drive but I don’t want to try to install them on someone else’s box. At the moment I’m waiting for LJ to finish receiving pix so I can decorate this entry.
Enough! I started walking towards the part of Fort Cochi I wanted to see and was accosted by an autorickshaw driver who tried to tell me that I was 2km from where I wanted to go and going away from the sights I ‘should’ see first anyway. He couldn’t understand that I had no interest in them but he did show me a much more detailed map of the area: it even had street-names. So I bargained with him: you take me to the tourist place where you got that map and I’ll hire you for the amount the distance is worth. His ‘counter-proposal’ was to accept this but say that I must at least go into one shop with which he had an arrangement on the way.
This seemed fair enough so I let him take me to the shop – which was in the area I wanted to be at. I looked inside for 5 minutes, noting the number of second mortgages I’d need to buy anything there, took their business card, came out, got taken to a tourist info place where I got two decent-looking maps, paid the driver and got away.
The first place I wanted to see was the ‘chinese fishing nets’. Huge square frames of net are raised and lowered into the water, scooping up fish (apparently – they weren’t in action when I arrived). Seems a bit rough on the fish but they look amazing.
|Chinese Fishing Nets|
The only other place nearby I wanted to see was Koder House, a house which has a bridge across a road to another: it’s quite cute. I then walked towards Mattancherri, the other side of the island. Thanks to to reality not being exactly in line with the maps (I blame reality), I ended up slightly north of where I wanted to be but this was a blessing in disguise – I past the first place I recall seeing in India that sells honest-to-goodness postcards and got glimpses or normal life around here! It’s also a perfume shop: Fort Cochi and Mattancheri live on exporting spices and essential oils and seem to have done for thousands of years. No wonder all the world and his boyfriend sees to have lived here.
|a catholic church|
|a local river – I liked the view|
|Plus ca change: there’s no new ways of defacing posters|
During the walk I was accosted by two boys who seemed to be about 12 and middle-class: designer-ish jeans and school-books. They showed me they were studying MS Excel at school and then asked me to give them my pen-knife and ring! Er, no!
I also received today’s offer of marijuana from a bloke who saw me checking reality against my map. (I thought I had it folded small enough to not appear too gawky.) I dunno: who is stupid enough to trust a random offer like this: either you get separated from your cash very quickly or you get separated from your cash and your liberty (or even huger wodges of cash buying that back) when the vendors brings the police back with him. (It’s been only men who’ve made me this offer.)
I got to Bazar Road and walked south to get to the ‘dutch palace’ (which looked so unappealing I walked on) and then to Jew Town. It has, I believe, the oldest extant synagogue in India. I didn’t have the 2 rupees that would have bought me an entrace ticket (just several 100 rupee notes) but the ticket collecter let me in anyway: it’s beautiful!
A guide was selling postcards and souvineers: I bought two postcards and a wee booklet entitled Kerala and her Jews. (The change let me pay my entrance fee.) The synagogue has beautiful lamps of Venetian (Murano?) glass and hand-made chinese floor-tiles: these are the reason for removing footwear before entering. (I had a chat with the ticket collector about the possible religious significance of this and of not being allowed to take video photography of inside the synagogue, even though still photography is permitted. She says there’s no religious reason for this either. I’d be interested in comments on this from other jews.)
I’ve also experience the second-strangest (to me, so far) fizzy drink India has to offer: ‘Pops’ ginger soda: quite nice but still leaving an aftertaste that could only be washed away with Mirinda (Indian equivalent of Fanta). The strangest I’ve tasted is ‘Jeera Jaz’ which is cumin-seed flavoued soda water: two more of those and I’d have been hooked!
The final place I wanted to see in Fort Cochi/Mattancherri was something I’d only seen on the maps I’d obtained: the ‘elephant gate’. I was taken there by autorickshaw becasuse I’d failed to find it in reality. This is not surprising because it’s the gate to the dutch palace I hadn’t wanted to see in the first place! Aarrgghh! It’s one minute’s walk from the synagogue I was at. There was no sign of any elephants either so I have no idea about the name.
|Elephant gate – I see no pachyderms|
|Synagogue clocktower from within the dutch palace|
My final moments on this island were spent watching kids on a play-park (no, I am not Michael Jackson!) and talking with a family from Mumbai about life there compared to Worcester and St Andrews. The ferry took us, via WIllingdon Island, back to Ernakulam.
I then returned to the park and spoke to a park-keeper. He didn’t understand what I was saying (he thought I was in need of a toilet) and tried to wave me away with his lathi. A passer-by who had good english tried to help but the park keeper basically told me “tough: lots of people have been by since then” and walked off, ignoring my translator’s efforts to say ‘lost-property place?’. I’ll swear it was the same bloke who was no help this morning and I’m sadly reminded of ‘the parkie’ from Viz* and of the many other officious, unhelpful gits with which our species is littered. (Am I really turning into Victor Meldrew?)
*I looked for links to explain this character and found myself at white supremacist website. UGH!
|art in the park|
|Kerala seems to be full of these lovely trees|
Back to the hotel for a change and dumping some of the stuff, then out again in search of winXP and food. Found the latter at Bimbi’s, a ‘pure-veg’ fast-food joint offering ranges of India foods and veggie-burgers! You pay up front, then hand your receipt(s) across the appropriate counter (South Indian, North India, drinks, deserts) and a few minutes later get what you ordered. I’d ordered Keralan paratta curry and so only had to wait a couple of minutes for the paratta to cook. They were fine and the curry had a good taste but I found myself unable to life any of it but the sauce with my paratta. Perhaps I should have had some rice to make it more malleable: perhaps I should have noticed the cutlery tray across the room. (As far as I could see, everyone else in the room was eating with fingers.)
Finally I found a suitable cybercafe and spent a while uploading pictures….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz