We start our India journey in Fort Cochin, an ancient trading post with strong Portuguese, English, and Chinese influences, and more importantly, finally some decent shopping. Camille and I were in desperate need for a few more long sleeved shirts on rotation for our last three weeks of travel- I think I speak for both of us when I say I’m looking forward to my wardrobe again!
We spent our first two days in Fort Cochin (when we weren’t hiding from the heat drinking lime soda) checking out a 1.25kg gold crown gifted by the Portuguese to the ruling family in the 1700’s, seeing India’s oldest European-built church (about 80% of India is Hindu, but some areas of the South are Christian), and checking out the Commonwealth’s oldest Synagogue. We watched the sunset from the seawall over Chinese fishing nets, a legacy from the court of Kubla Khan in the 12th century.
We ventured out at night to experience a traditional Keralan dance called the Kathakali – decorated artists (men) depict mythological characters from Hindu stories only with movements of their eyes and hands, accompanied by two live drummers and a singer that play off the facial signals from the actors. Sounds weird but it was incredible.
From Fort Cochin we took a hot, sweaty train to Waynad. This was our first introduction to Indian train travel and romantic it is not- the smells, heat, and dust is overwhelming. Thankfully Waynad is a forest reserve and higher in elevation, with cooler temperatures and very few tourists.
When I say few tourists, I mean few non-Indian tourists- little did we know, it was school picnic day in Kerala the next day! Our hike to a local waterfall was packed with Indian school kids who all wanted a photo with my dad. Hilarious. They were so cute. We must have posed for at least 20 photos before we escaped. I think I have a small idea now of how annoying it must be to live somewhere and always have tourists taking your photo. We were wearing running shoes and hiking gear- the Indian women braved the challenging trail in gorgeous saris and little heeled flip flop sandals.
After the waterfall, we headed up to the Edakai Caves, where you can climb to see 3000 years old petroglyph. One thing we’ve found funny about Indian attractions is you’ll typically see two or three dates attached to each event or item- you can ballpark the age by taking a median of the three.
We finished our day enjoying a late thali lunch at a gorgeous, quiet lakeside spot. Thali is a South Indian dish of fluffy local rice, traditionally served on a banana leaf, with sides of spiced vegetables, curd, and chutneys to be mixed in with the rice with your right hand. We were ravenous, which is a dangerous combination with thali- it’s basically a vegetarian all you can eat! We watched the sun go down with full bellies and a bottle of local Kingfisher Beer.