Katherines First Synagogue
Trip Start Jan 04, 2011
33Trip End Mar 31, 2011
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Where I stayed
We (Vilhof whom I had met on the train and I) arrived at 6am into Ernakalum and were hurried on to the first ferry of the day for our private tour of Cochi harbour at sunrise. We set off through the misty dawn, purply tinged light which made even a crane lifting a container photogenic. The Chinese fishing nets lifted our spirits even higher but the inevitable accommodation search drove them into the ground. It's an expensive place, full of classy homestays, gorgeous seafood restaurants and lovely tea houses. It's certainly charming and the preservation is higher than anything else I've seen in India so far but it's also more than a little twee.
I had a slightly surreal experience when Vilmos and I went over to Jew Town and visited an ancient and exquisite synagogue. It had amazing blue and white Chinese tiles which were covered in rural scenes and oriental scenes making heavy usage of the swastika. The ceiling was hung with as many glass lanterns, powered by oil and candle, as the designers could find and they were hung at random lengths, colours and designs. It would have been a wonderful place if it wasn't for the hordes which thronged as only hordes can do.
Outside the road around the perimeter of the island split. One way led back to Fort Cocin and was lined with shops selling exorbitantly priced goods from all over India. Heading in the other direction, however, was like stepping through a time warp (well, it's just a step to the right). Almost immediately the wooden shop fronts lost the gleam of fresh paint. Shop boards advertised the names of the Jewish families of a bygone age. It looked abandoned, left to decay, crumbling pastel paints and rotten teak beams. Through shop fronts stocked with a simple desk and empty shelves you could glimpse into the store rooms and to the docks beyond.
But these buildings are far from derelict. The dilapidated frontage disguises a hive of activity beyond. With no need for flashy salesrooms, free chai or 'genuine Pashmina, only 500r. This is where the real commerce is taking place, as it has been for centuries, in bags of grain, in spices, in rice stacked to the ceiling. Centuries of reputation replaces slick marketing techniques.
By contrast, the Cochi commission racket is so prevalent that shop owners pay 50r, nearly a pound for every tourist which a rickshaw driver delivers to their door. A driver will therefore take shop visits instead of cash, in full knowledge that the tourist has no intention of buying, which adds weight to Julias argument regarding the morality of the global race of taxi drivers. It also explains the prices in the shops. If only one in ten people buy something, which is generous given the prices, they must cover not only their own drivers commission but the previous 9, racking up the price of a potential purchase by 7.50. Still, it must work for them?
While Simone and Vilhof spent the day exploring by bike, I opted for the wandering aimlessly and availing myself of every opportunity to sit down for quiet drinks in the shade. Some food highlights did not interestingly include the prawns bought straight from the Chines fishing nets and cooked for me by his friend. This ws a tourist scam and left a bad taste in the mouth. Much like the prawns. Nope, the most fly infested place yielded a delicious egg masala and parathas for less than 50p and then our last night we had Ginger, Lime Sodas and Masala Dosas in a lovely little rooftop restaurant overlooking the main street. The owners had brightly painted coloured murals on the walss and had built steps out of a window on to a flat roof which they'd furnished with folding chairs, Gingham table cloths and as many fairy lights as they could lay their hands on. It reminded me of Strictly Ballroom and better still, our patronage tempted others in and soon the little place was full.
The next day, the three of us took a rickshaw all the way to Alleppey, we liked the guy and it seemed like a good idea. We were offered the ride in exchange for visiting 9 shops, but we opted to pay the fare!