Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spicing up the trip in Cochin, India’s Jew Town

Travel, we’ve decided, simply upsets preconceived notions about people and places.  Take India, for example.

Our ship, Oceania’s Nautica, had sailed past Chinese fishing nets as we arrived in the port city, Cochin, aka Kochi, giving it a more Asian than Indian flavor – at least based on  my preconceived notions of India.

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Off to tour Kochi, India
The scenes along the the waterway had whetted our appetites for what we would see on our independent shore excursion.

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Tiny Tuk Tuks - Cochin, India
We’d decided to go it alone in this city so after clearing customs and disembarking the ship, we arranged our day’s travels with the driver (pictured above) of this auto-rickshaw, aka Tuk-Tuk.  Locals use them much like a taxi, with various rates to various destinations. We traveled for a set price and duration, negotiated and paid before we set off from the dock.

Our driver obviously had transported tourists before though because he set off for the old historic part of town. . .an area simply called Jew Town, once the hub of the Kochi spice trade.

First a stop: Kochi’s Public Laundry

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Kochi, India's  Public Laundry
Several dozen tourists had been disgorged from tourist buses at the laundry before we arrived. And despite telling our driver that I really didn’t want to take photos here, he couldn’t quite comprehend it. So here are the photos – which I was uncomfortable taking and tried to avoid people shots, but did catch this smiling lady who didn’t seem to mind being the focus of many cameras. I reasoned out that they must be proud of this system of ‘laundromats’ or they wouldn’t be bringing us all to see them. (The laundry was also part of a ship’s tour in Mumbai.)

Cochin/Kochi – A Quick Bit of History

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Modern Cochin, India

Before India’s independence in 1947 Kochi, in southern India’s Kerala state,  was ruled by the Portuguese (1498-1663), the Dutch (1663 – 1795) and British (1797 – 1947). Maritime traders seeking Keralan spices, sandalwood and ivory are credited with setting the stage for today’s blending of cultures and the rather cosmopolitan look of the city.

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Santa Cruz Basilica - Cochin, India
Our Tuk Tuk tour took us through a portion of the historic Fort Kochi/Cochin area and we had plenty of stops at places like the Santa Cruz Basilica, (pictured above), one of the oldest churches in India. The original structure was destroyed by the British and this building constructed in 1905.

[Now why I didn’t expect Chinese fishing nets to be followed by Jew Town and reminders of the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence in India, I’ll never figure out. But next time I’ll be doing a lot more research about our destinations before I see them and not after so I can more fully appreciate what I am seeing.]

Off to Jew Town

Kochi Jews are descendants of Jewish refugees who had fled from Palestine 2,000 years ago. Jew Town got its beginning back in 1524 when a Hindu Raja (another version says, King of Kochi) granted them land to them near his palace.

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Today's Jew Town - a mix of old and new - Cochin, India

Jew Town, a thriving enclave in the 1500’s is today a still-bustling area area between Mattancherry Palace (built by the Portuguese in 1555 and remodeled by the Dutch in 1663) and Pardesi Synagogue (built 1568).

Although still a busy area, most of the Jews who lived here emigrated to Israel after its creation in 1948.  Several recent news articles say the numbers of Jews in Jew Town these days have dwindled to double digit figures and there is concern that its rich history will be lost to future generations.

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Goats wandered streets and sidewalks - Cochin, India

Lonely Planet describes the streets as being ‘thick with the smell of the past’ and those smells were an intoxicating blend of ginger, cardamom, cumin, tumeric and cloves.  Huge gunny sacks of spices piled high on delivery trucks and in doorways.

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Squeezing through spice streets - Cochin, India
On a day when both the temperatures and humidity hovered in the mid-90’s the combination of the two intensified the smells of spice as our driver putted along narrow streets squeezing us between delivery trucks and the small spice firms operating out of dilapidated storefronts. We inhaled deeply – the smells were an intoxicating, exotic blend of which we couldn’t get enough.

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Unloading spices - Cochin, India
We left the open-air comfort of our Tuk Tuk and strolled through an area of small shops selling tourist goods, and antiques; an area where even a moment’s hesitation would bring an eager salesperson to our side inviting us in and offering ‘good prices’.  Their enthusiasm, mixed with the sun’s intensity, drove us into a restaurant at the water’s edge where we sipped ginger water and ate  ginger ice cream.

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Ginger water and ginger ice cream - a respite in Cochin, India
As we were leaving the restaurant another ‘notion’ was knocked to the wayside  in a most delightful way: 

Our pre-arrival port information cautioned, “. . it is considered offensive to photograph local women and courtesy demands to ask permission before taking pictures of men.” So I didn’t intentionally take aim at women, nor did I ask men if I could take their photos. 

What they hadn’t prepared us for was being approached by a twosome of beautiful young women who asked if they could take OUR photo. . .(btw, now we know how that feels and it is rather strange!) 
So we posed for them and they snapped away with modern cell phones.  But then it was our turn - one more photo. . .

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Photos are fun - no matter what the country! Cochin, India
Our Magic Carpet Ride heads a bit further north in India next week and lands in Mumbai! Hope you'll be back and until then, safe travels to you and yours ~ and as always many thanks for the time you spent here today! 

Linking up with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

21 comments:

  1. Interesting post! Somehow, I find the name of "Jew Town" to be offensive, but I guess it was acceptable in its day.

    Love that sculpture of the woman flaring her skirt. Beautiful!

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    1. I have to admit that at first I was taken back by the name, which is very much a part of present-day Kochi, but as we have learned time and time again, things are seen differently elsewhere in the world. This name is plastered on directional and welcome signs; they are so proud of the area and its history that it makes you wonder how and why in some places in the world you have that knee-jerk reaction to things. While one society sees it as offensive another society uses it with pride?

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  2. I really enjoy your touring style and sense of adventure. Not many people would stop by the public laundry. Thanks for all the details. I feel like I am riding on a tuk tuk with you.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the visit and comment, Ruth. Glad you were along on the tuk tuk ride!

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  3. What a trip. I believe the laundry is famous, I'd like to see it. I also love the sound of your Tuk Tuk tour. I would definitely prefer that to going with the crowd from the boat.

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    1. We passed the boat tour buses several times and were so glad we were in the tuk tuk. The size of the bus alone would have prevented them traveling down that spice road and the atmospherically-controlled interior (air-conditioning) would have kept them from ever enjoying those intoxicating aromas.

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  4. Fascinating article of a another wonderful trip, I could almost smell those spices.

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  5. I'm with Doreen, above, kind of put off by the name "Jew Town." But I guess it's been called that for hundreds of years. Sounds like a great tour, and it was fun to take the tuk tuk ride with you!

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    1. As I responded to Doreen, it did make us think about the cultural baggage we bring with us when we travel. My initial response was 'they call it that?' but then when you experience the area and the pride of the locals pointing out the highlights and contributions, you wonder why one society can make something so negative out of words while another can make it a thing of beauty.

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  6. Wow, Jackie! There's so much I don't know about India, and as I've mentioned before, I find my lessons in history, culture and geography amazing right here, on your amazing blog, very informative and interesting! I can imagine the strong aroma of those spices filling the air and how it certainly seemed intoxicating from the heat. Thanks for taking us along with you on your adventure in Cochin's Jew Town.

    xo
    Poppy

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    1. Oh Poppy, I was starting my next post on Mumbai this morning and I was researching a couple of things and thought to myself, "There is so much I don't know about India!" so we are in the same boat. . .I think I'll just have to go back one day and continue my studies! ;-) Have a great week - hugs, J.

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  7. Like you, I am surprised that Cochin has so many cultural influences. Did the Jewish refugees who arrived long ago intermarry with the Indian locals or have they kept separate? From your description, I can almost smell all the spices in the air and feel the wind rushing by riding in the tuk-tuk.

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    1. Oh Michele, there are so many cultural influences in India that I had paid little or no attention to. . .guess they were all overshadowed by the British Raj - thanks to books and movies I've read and seen. There is a lot to this amazing country and we've had just a taster of it. Thanks for your visit today!

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  8. Great tour of the little part of city.

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    1. Thanks Rajesh! It only made us want to see and do more in India!!

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  9. Cochin is indeed a great tourist spot in the map of India. The different cultures there make it a very interesting place. You got great pics, particularly the one with the locals. :)

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