Our last day in Kerala, and last day in India, and we’ve run out of energy, ideas and enthusiasm a little bit… We feel like we’ve seen most of what Fort Kochi has to offer yesterday, and are just left with the famous ‘Chinese Fishing Nets’ to admire. (I’ve read that these are disappointing and the area litter-filled, so not as excited about the prospect as perhaps I could be). So, we think we might head off to Mattancherry/Jew Town area, as this is also where Meera from the cookery class said we could buy some kitchen equipment, and it seems there might be a few things to see in the area…
We find a tuk tuk immediately on leaving the hotel, but he has some deal on with a local shop (government owned, he’s keen to tell us) where it seems like he has a voucher scheme and he’s only interested in getting more vouchers, and not in taking us anywhere we want to go. So we wander a bit further and find a tuk tuk prepared to take us to a location of our choosing, and get him to take us down the Palace Road.
This turns out to be a very very long road, with lots of different shops – fruit and veg, clothes (many quite western-looking, but not in a good way), people mending shoes by the roadside (which I found really fascinating – they were very old shoes which would definitely have been thrown away in England, and not even charity-shop-worthy, and I was really impressed with the skills and attitude which would keep these old plimsolls and sandals alive, whilst at the same time mindful that these little scenes that I find so interesting only exist because of poverty…)
We randomly point at a shop with a few pans outside and decide we might as well start here. The tuk tuk guy seems surprised as if we haven’t quite done the correct ‘tourist’ thing of continuing to the end of the street where the tourist shops and ‘Mattancherry Palace’ are. As we start along the road it immediately starts feeling more like ‘real’ India again, rather than the slightly sanitised Fort Kochi area. (If ‘real’ India means more danger of getting run over, more grimy, more dogs, more chaos…) Anyway, somehow it brings a smile to our faces.
We look in the first shop, hoping for the type of pan we’ve been using in our cookery courses (heavy, round bottomed, cast iron) and maybe a chapatti pan too, and find all sorts of things we didn’t know we needed (like a bento box which reminds us of our Bharatpur rickshaw driver and also looks a useful piece of kit). We check out some prices and think we might come back later. Further down the road we find a very similar shop and this time settle on a pan, a pestle and mortar and various other non-essential but very heavy items. We buy them and leave them to collect on our way back.
We head to ‘Jew Town’ which once upon a time was the centre of the spice trade, and now has lots of antique shops and a few cafes (and pretty much no visible evidence of spice any more). It’s absolutely boiling today, about 37 degrees, and we’re starting to appreciate the shade or hanging around air conditioning a bit more than we usually would.
Yesterday’s nice book-shop-lady had persuaded me that it is perfectly OK to wear smaller clothing in the south, (different rules I assume due to extreme heat, and also more of a Christian bias), so as soon as I see a tailor’s shop with a shorter wrap around skirt hanging up I ask the price. In my head I’m saying 3-400 rupees is OK, so when they say 200 I don’t even bother to argue, and snap it up, and put it on right away (literally getting changed in a little back street – throwing one skirt on top of the other and losing the lower one… I notice a marked contrast between just a week ago, being careful not to show a knee or a shoulder in order not to offend the locals… decency is out of the window, and I hope no-one notices, but needs must, it’s BOILING here.)
We lunch at a pleasant enough cafe, but there’s nothing authentic to eat, and the kids end up with a disappointing pasta, before heading back for a swim and a last nice meal in Fort Kochi.
We’re definitely in winding down to going home mode, and have a load of packing and weighing and planning to do at the hotel, as we’re setting off at 6am the next morning for the airport. We’re glad we’ve done it this way round though – we speak to someone else who’s going home 24 hours after us and they’re planning to stop over at an airport hotel, so they also feel like they’re on their ‘last’ day with 24 hours to go…
We aim to get to the Chinese Fishing Nets at sunset before eating our last Keralan meal. Steve tries to find a good place for a picture, and since there are some female tourists standing on one of the net structures, he wanders over, and is met with ‘you want to try?’ (we are aware this opportunity to try is also matched with an opportunity to pay), so when Steve says no thank you he is then told it is ‘private property’ and makes his way back off again. Different rules apply for the females apparently, as they are allowed to stay!
We watch the nets being hoisted up and down a few times – undoubtedly a weighty bit of apparatus. No fish in the nets though, unsurprisingly, as they seem to be up and down pretty frequently for tourist purposes.
There are plenty of fish for sale (and the associated fishy smells add something to the ambience, although it’s a something that makes me want to not hang about too long)
We find our way a bit further along to a new vantage point, and step through a fence to stand ankle deep in rubbish where we are soon joined by some slightly vocal American tourists, while the sun sets over the fishing nets. One of the tourists is literally talking about her waxing regime which maybe takes the edge off the moment a little…
From the fishing nets we go for our last meal, at ‘The Farmer’s Cafe’, which is nice enough, although again it’s really hot and with a few mosquitos flying around, with just some ceiling fans to keep the boiling air moving.
We’re up early the next day, and on the whole the journey to the airport is fairly uneventful, and then for one of our last sights in India we see an elephant being transported (to a festival, our driver tells us), in the back of a truck. It’s another reminder that somehow people just don’t think the same here – there’s a different attitude to health and safety, to religion, to what you need at a festival.
It’s a strange dichotomy that some of the stuff which makes India amazing and interesting is the ‘different’ stuff, and some of this will inevitably change in years to come. In some areas (like animal rights and the environment) this is necessary, already starting to happen, and hopefully will be a change for the better… In others, such as clothing, changes are creeping in, but on the whole I can’t see the whole country changing from vibrant and traditional to beige any time soon.
I guess something we have really loved about India is that there’s something about the people which means that things will never be dull. It may be a while until we’re lucky enough to head back again, and health and safety may by then have decreed you can’t take a goat on a motorbike (the official rules may already say that – certainly you’re supposed to wear a helmet?), but we can be relatively confident there’ll always be plenty of ‘different stuff’ to keep us interested…