Day 53 – Cochin, India
Scheduled to arrive in Cochin, India, on March 18th, the ship celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th, with green everything.
Plus the Maître de, Oscar from Italy, who joins Sally and the knitting crew every day to work on his needlepoint, was decked out in the spirit, and served green champagne after dinner (note Sally in the mirror, taking the picture).
Also today, we entered the “hot zone” for pirates. This zone, which extends from the bottom of India across to Somalia, is the region most plagued by pirate attacks in the past 10 years or so. While pirate attacks are down drastically in the last 18 months, (I suspect that the snipers riding on commercial ships have something to do with that) cruise ships still employ mandatory pirate preparations and drills. The drills and preparations on this ship seem more intense than when we passed through here in 2012. While they haven’t wrapped the ship in razor wire yet, they conducted practice drills for the passengers whereby we all left our cabins and sat in the passageway, to keep us away from the balconies and windows – sitting because one of the possible defensive moves is rapid “swerving” of the ship in an attempt to swamp the small pirate boats. Upon a signal from the Captain that the ship had been boarded, we were to reenter our cabins and lock them from the inside. All of this pirate talk seemed to stir up some of the folks who were new to this situation, causing several passengers to advise the Captain that they were ex-Police or military and would be glad to volunteer to help. He thanked them but said it was probably best to let his team handle it if there was an incident. I still believe an ex-SEAL with a rifle is the best possible protection, and he would probably enjoy the cruise. Until we reach Suez, we will have lookouts on deck and water cannons at the ready.
Cochin is not a familiar travel location for most Americans – I know I had never heard of it. It is on the west coast of India about 700 miles south of Mumbai. It lies in a watery delta area, constantly inundated by runoff from the mountains to the east. It is a maze of waterways, with islands, peninsulas, rivers and canals, and its primary sources of income are trade activities in the ports and exporting rice. Cochin was the first Indian city experiencing European influence when Vasco de Gama arrived here in 1500. The Portuguese built a fort at the entrance to Cochin harbor, built churches and began to establish trade in the area. Vasco de Gama died in Cochin and was buried in the St. Francis Church – the first Christian church established in India. His body was later moved to Lisbon.
We had selected a full day tour today which involved a bus ride to Kerala, about 45 miles south of Cochin, to board boats for a tour of the canals of Kerala – this area is known as the Venice of the East (according to our guide) but I believe the similarity is restricted to the presence of many canals intertwining natural lakes and harbors.
This area is most easily described as a chain of rivers and canals (about 125 miles in waterways) winding through rice fields, with hundreds of homes built on the levees which surround the rice fields.
We left our bus and boarded our tour boat for our 2 ½ hour trip through the canals.
Cruising through the canals, with homes on both sides, an entire community, perched on the edge of the rice fields, emerged. These people live a very unusual life which, based on our perceptions, might appear to be a life in poverty, but by standards in this country might be considered middle class. These homes are simple, with no plumbing, and all transportation is by boat.
Apparently this area is a vacation destination for Indians, who often come here and rent one of these houseboats for a day or a week – they come with boat driver and cook. This is becoming more and more popular, and one of the crew from our ship mentioned that he had brought his family down here for this type of trip.
A house boat
Houseboats awaiting rental (there were hundreds)
Traveling along the canals, we observed many folks (men and women) doing their laundry in the river, washing dishes in the river, and bathing – fully clothed (how does that work?). The rivers and canals are flowing runoff from the mountains to the east, providing relatively fresh water for this activity.
Every home has either small pirogue or a larger, narrow canoe with the same unique inboard-outboard motors we saw in Bangkok. Apparently when residents take off for work in the morning they take their boat to an area in town where they either leave their motorbike or catch public transportation.
The canals also provide transportation to the local market and for other commerce – there are water taxis to help the residents get around.
There are convenience stores on the levees, as well as churches and temples.
The rice harvest was in process and these guys were loading rice for the trip down the canal.
The canals and rivers are about three feet higher than the surrounding rice fields, allowing for flooding of the fields each year, and in order that the levee walls maintain integrity, these guys were bringing in boatloads of mud to raise the level of the levee.
At the far end of one of the connected lakes is this first-class resort, where we stopped for lunch.
After lunch, we took a short boat ride to our bus and boarded for our trip back to Cochin. Unlike the canal area, the trip back was very typical rural or suburban India.
All of the trucks in this part of India are highly decorated by their independent owners.
Jute and its products, such as fiber floor mats, represent one of the biggest export items from this area. Here is a load of jute headed to the factory.
I saw one of the most interesting billboards ever (couldn’t get a picture). It said, “For Eternal Happiness, Trojan Plywood” OK! I guess Indian marketing techniques are a little different.
We saw hammer and sickle flags everywhere, which our guide informed us, were for the Communist Party – very popular in this part of the country. He said that even though they are the Communist Party, they run on a platform which promotes capitalism, private enterprise, and freedom of religion. Politicians are the same everywhere.
Returning to Cochin, we toured the area first settled by the Portuguese, called Fort Cochin. It was later occupied by the Dutch, and eventually the British under the period of colonialism – there are many colonial era homes in this area.
This is now the main fishing area of Cochin.
We headed back to the port area. Since most of the forests of India have long since been harvested, they import most of their lumber from Australia – large amounts of it are stored just inside the confines of the port.
After a full day of touring, we re-boarded the Pacific Princess and sailed for Mumbai.