India, Part II: A farewell, until next time….

Shelling cashews in Mangalore
Breaking open the cashew nuts

Many of the people on our cruise had already been to India, but most had visited the “Golden Triangle” in the North – New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur – where the iconic Taj Mahal is located.

Few of them had been to the Southern tip of India, where we made our last two cruise stops. First, on Dec. 8, we visited Mangalore. Overall, this port was fairly unremarkable except for our visit to the Achal cashew factory. Mangalore imports unprocessed cashew nuts from neighboring countries and then exports the processed nuts.

Almost all of the laborers are women. For many, it is a second job and child care is provided free to all. The unshelled cashews are first dried in the sun and then soaked in water to soften the shells. Then they are conveyed into the processing plant where the women remove the shells…first, by running the nuts one by one through a foot-powered press which cracks the shell and then to a second women who removes the nutmeat from the shell by hand. This is incredibly tedious work.

Separating nutmeats from shells

Unbroken whole nuts have the most value. These are roasted in ovens and then go to a second set of women processor who remove the skins by hand. The nuts are then sorted by size, packaged and readied for sale.

Broken nutmeats are also used, most in commercial baking…they are sorted by size and then roasted as well and sold in bulk. The discarded shells also have numerous uses so all parts of the cut are used.

The plant was very clean. All of the women wore uniforms, had their hair covered with nets and wore gloves. They are paid by the amount of nuts they process, roughly $4 a day. Our guide explained that it is not easy to find factory workers because the literacy rate in Mangalore is very high and most people expect better jobs.

Gokarnath temple fountain

After the cashew plant, we visited two Hindu temples, one very old and one very new…the Gokarnath temple had a beautiful, very high fountain which was something different than we had seen elsewhere.

Our last port to visit in India was the seaside city of Cochin (also known as Kochi) on Dec. 9. Here again we booked a ship’s tour, which first took us on a boat tour around the Cochin harbor where we were able to get a close look at the famed Chinese fishing nets which flank the mouth of the harbor. Then we went to the Taj Malabar Hotel where we were given an exhibition of the ancient dance form of Kathakali. This is a most unusual form of dance where facial expression and elaborate masks tell elaborate stories. I must admit that I would never have learned about Kathakali had it not been for that tour.

After that, I joined a few others on what I like to call our Cochin shopping adventure. Jim and Amy Telford and Pat Watt and I decided to catch a taxi from the Taj Malabar to a nearby shopping district. After dickering with a taxi driver, we road to Bazar Road for $5 US.

Chinese fishing nets of Cochin

When we reached Bazar Road, we discovered that the types of shops we were looking for — we wanted to buy some Indian clothing — were not there. We asked a shopgirl where her punjabi (tunic, pants, scarf outfit) came from and she directed us to Palace Road. So we hired a “tuk-tuk,” which is a three-wheeled trishaw, stuffed ourselves into it and off to Palace Road we went, this time for $1 each.

At Palace Road we had a lively time buying all sorts of fun clothing (the ship was having a Bollywood party that night) including tops, pants, scarves, jewelry, bangles and even a long shirt for Jim. I managed to find a chemist and secured some more drugs for the head colds that Chet and I are still fighting. We dodged bikes, motorbikes, trishaws, cars, goats and cows on the narrow commercial road. It was great fun and great photos…and Jim was so patient!

Kathakali dancer
Pat with her "jewels"
Pat with some of her loot

But, no, we weren’t finished. We figured we had one more hour before we had to head back to the ship so we decided to go to the “department store” that we knew was on our way back. We hired another tuk-tuk and he agreed to wait for us at the store and take us back to the ship, all for $5. It took us several stops to find the exact store, but we finally did. It was an elaborate retail shop that sold higher quality items at much higher prices. Pat did particularly well here, buying several bronze elephants, a couple of dolls and a wonderful designer top.

We piled back into our waiting tuk-tuk and headed to the pier. All on board was 4:30 p.m. and we arrived at 4:15…and, yes, Chet was waiting and worried. We were tired, dirty, grimy and hot but we had had a wonderful afternoon.

These three stops in India have been a wonderful look at one of the world’s most fascinating places. I will come back and now know it will be even easier to tour here than I thought because so many people speak English. There are many lovely hotels and it is easy to get around. Yes, to be sure, it is dirty, dusty, crowded and in some areas there is poverty to the extreme. But there is also much joy and beauty here, waiting to be discovered.

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