Day 16: Cochin (Kochi), India
ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA — We docked early this morning in Cochin, a historic trading port in Kerala state, on India’s southwest coast. Indian immigration officials boarded the ship so they could check passengers’ papers. This is the first time officials have come aboard ship, although in Singapore they were set up in the terminal ashore.
Here there are no shore facilities — it’s just an industrial port. In other countries we’ve visited, we encountered no immigration formalities, other than filling out a short form in advance of arrival.
We signed-up for an excursion called “Tranquil Backwaters.” How could we resist a chance for peace and serenity — in India, yet?
Well, that’s not what we got and we weren’t disappointed in the least. The bus ride from the ship was anything but serene and tranquil. Rather, it was noisy and frenetic. We and a fellow traveler on our bus compared this experience with similar ones in Sri Lanka, agreeing that the Cochin bus trip would qualify as an even more thrilling amusement park ride. We couldn’t count the number of apparently certain head-on collisions that seemed miraculously averted. We decided there was a method to the horn madness — drivers really were communicating with one another and with some precision.
We negotiated the traffic for 90 minutes before arriving in the historic town of Allepey (now called Alappuzha), and sometimes referred to as Venice of the East. The town is penetrated by canals connected to brackish, tidewater lagoons. These, in turn, are connected by more canals to other lagoons, forming an extensive network of waterways. Originally created by the Dutch — who knew something about land reclamation and canal building — it is a rural, agricultural area with rice farming. The canals were, and still are, used for transportation in an essentially road-less area.
Along a bustling stretch of canal clogged with many boats, we boarded our tour boat. The water-born local buses, numerous small craft for personal use or hauling some cargo are numerous. Most everywhere we traveled small houses lined the canals, many occupied by families that farm adjacent land, evidently below water level, but protected by the levees or dikes. The levees also serve as pathways, transporting pedestrians and cyclists to a waterbus stop or small store. We saw a great deal of laundry being done in the canals, as well as people swimming. Boat traffic was at times dense enough to remind us of the roads!
In spite of the intriguing activity, a sense of tranquility did seem to prevail. It turns out that not a little of the traffic was houseboats. Rental of such boats by visitors has become a significant element of tourism in Kerala State, and we could see why. Some of these boats appeared quite luxurious and it wasn’t difficult to imagine spending several days or a week exploring these fascinating backwaters and finding some real tranquility.
We stopped for a delicious buffet lunch at the luxurious Lake Palace Resort located across a lagoon from town and apparently accessible only by boat. Back on the bus we got a look at the most historic district in Cochin, called Fort Cochin, which indeed it once was. Here we saw Dutch and British colonial architecture, and by the waterfront, swarms of vendors and the iconic “Chinese” fishing nets. Said to have been brought to Cochin from the court of Kublai Khan (we told you it had been a trading port for a long time) these large nets are suspended from long poles, balanced and counterweighted so they can be operated by a single fisherman.
Our only regret about Cochin? We didn’t have more time here. It’s a most intriguing place among a pretty exotic collection of ports.