We flew back to India on Air Astral and we were struck by the fact that there were barely any Indians on the flight. It was full of French people and it turns out that India is only a layover stop to the final island destination of Reunion which is a french “department.” On my travels, I have learned that offering food is an excellent conversation starter and that is exactly what the classy French lady next to me did. She was very pleasant to talk to and she explained that she had retired to the French islands a decade or so ago.
We stayed at a homestay in Fort Kochi right next to the ocean. One morning we woke to find our oceanfront littered with fishing boats. It was quite the scene with nearly twenty boats, about ten men on each. They cast huge nets then began drumming on the boat and singing, presumably as a ritual to attract the fish. Then, after a while, they would bring in the net as quick as they could which looked difficult as it was heavy with sea water. The catch always looked rather small with a bundle of very small fish.
We went to two great concerts of classical indian music; one combo of sitar and tabla and one of flute, mrudangam, and a little hand drum. We also went to a Kathakali dance, which is a Kerala tradition and literally means story play.
The audience is invited to come for the first hour which is essentially observing the makeup being applied to the dancers. The makeup is completely natural, sourced entirely from mineral pigments which they would retrieve by rubbing on a rock dipped in a little water. Also, to make the scary characters look really scary they put a berry called chundappoo in their eyes that make them turn red! The music is excessively loud with clanging and drumming, the dancers facial twitches and arm movements are expressive and their gigantic headresses look impressively heavy. Learning to dance in them must take a lot of training. Virtually every dance is centered around the god, Bhima, who is known to be a powerful Pandava Prince and has a green face.
Fort Kochi is home to many churches with at least one dating back to the time of the portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, the first European to come to India by sea. St. Francis CSI Church, originally built in 1503, is the oldest European church in India. Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon. We also went to a very old synagogue. There was a world class art festival happening at a variety of different venues and it was fun to see the different architecture that housed the art in addition to the art itself. http://kochimuzirisbiennale.org