Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kochi, India

My first impression of India wasn't too great. Well, strike that, my first impression of India, pulling into the port was amazing. Palm trees everywhere, beautiful buildings on the side of the water, it was gorgeous. But when I went to exchange my South Africa Rand for Indian Rupees, which I was told I could do at the front desk of the ship (they had several Indians there who were exchanging money), my impression of India went way down. The exchange rate for Rand to Rupees is 1:6.56 or so, and I expected it to be worse at this exchange but when we offered me 3,000 Rupees for 1,000 Rand I was shocked. An exchange of 1:3 was really, really low. So I said absolutely not and he actually tried to bargain with me. He asked if I would take 4,000 and I just walked away. I'm not stupid, I know that goes on a lot in India, but when you are dealing with money exchange, especially on the ship, that was really unacceptable. I didn't hear about that happening when exchanging dollars to rupees to my only guess is that he didn't think I knew the exchange rate and figured he could get away with it. I think the ship should do a little more investigating if their going to bring in a local money exchange for the students. Anyway, after that things didn't get much better. For some reason, whether it was students taking a long time to go through customs or immigration taking forever to process the ship, we were a couple hours late getting off the ship, making everyone late for their trips. There was just this huge mob of people waiting in Tymitz Square for such a long time and that was not fun at all. Once we finally left the ship, I raced to my bus and we left for our trip to the Kumbalanghi Village. On the trip we took the bus maybe 30 minutes to an area where we got on a little boat (I can't think of the name) and took a short ride over the brackish backwaters to the village. When we got there we were greeted with a coconut, which I've learned to like on this trip and become a pro at drinking/eating. They taught us the various ways they use the coconut and palm trees, which are very plentiful in India. We saw veeshu vala, fishing with conical nets, and padal, fish trapping in coconut tree leaves. They also showed us how they catch crabs (huge blue crabs that they catch from the ocean and grow until maturity in freshwater), catch fish, boil clams, make coir from the palm fibers, make coconut milk, use the leaves as shelter, climb and get the coconut, sharpen knives, break open coconuts, and much more that I just can't think of right now. But it's amazing how one plant can be used for so much! You can literally use every part of the palm tree for something, according to our guide. After all of this, they treated us to a great meal, which I was surprised about considering I don't like Indian food. Of course they had curry, which I hate, but also fish, shrimp, and several vegetarian dishes, which I enjoyed. Then six young girls performed a dance for us for when their friends are about to be married. When we were done, they let us all ride in a richshaw, just for a few minutes, to get to our bus. The rickshaw is a three-wheel motorcoach and seems a little sketchy, but it was still a lot of fun! Then we quickly viewed several sights of Kochi since we were running late. We just went to the first European church built in India I think at Fort Kochi, the first European colony. The church was where Vasco Da Gama was once buried, he first discovered India. Then we walked to the Chinese fishing nets near an area where there was a market and got bombarded with salespeople (I think it was a trap!). On the way, some of us saw a snake charmer on the other side of the street. I was the first to see it and looked over and all I saw was a cobra figure swaying back and forth in a small basket and asked, does that look real to you? After we decided it was real, one of the professors whipped out his camera, and as I was about to do the same, the man put the lid back on the basket and demanded money for pictures. Since I didn't have any money and didn't really want to condone using animals for such entertainment I just kept walking. But it would've been amazing to get that on camera! At the market I surprisingly didn't get hassled. I just didn't make eye contact with the salespeople, and the one who wouldn't leave me alone I just completely ignored and walked away. But several guys on the trip must have just looked like they were going to give in because they just wouldn't leave them alone, so I tried to help saying that this was our first day here and nobody had gone to an ATM yet so we didn't have money. Which wasn't true, but usually when you look at them and say I have no money they will back off. And it worked in these instances. After that we just went back on the bus and went back to the ship.

On Tuesday I went with my media studies class to visit the Times of India, which is India's most popular newspaper. They just recently opened the bureau in Kochi in February so everyone was new. But they had some very interesting things to say, and I was a little surprised considering we have a tendency to view newspapers as boring in the US. But in India, it's quite the opposite. Newspapers are still very popular and aren't going to become obsolete any time soon, according to the editor. He said that many people, even young kids, read the newspaper often. Even though they have an online web page that's free to read, people still buy newspapers. He said it might be because buying Internet is more expensive than paying 2 rupees (1 dollar = 50 rupees). He also said that English newspapers tend to be weren't popular in India at all until the Times of India began. Another interesting fact is that they are sponsoring scientists to go and get water samples from the river in Kerala and testing the water. Then they are going to report the results and show how poor and polluted the water is. I thought this was very strange because usually it's the governments job to fund such research but the newspaper company was taking it into their own hands to show people the extent of the problem. In addition to all of the newspaper's accomplishments, I was also very impressed with the hospitality. The entire time we were there we were being served with bottled water, more cookies than we could eat, and the most amazing coffee I've ever had. All while in the most air-conditioned room I've been in in India. I felt really spoiled.

The third day I had a trip to another village called Chendamangalam. Upon arriving, we were greeted by young girls who threw flower petals as we walked by. Then 10 or 20 members of the community were waiting for us, along with a musical performance using drums and a sort of trumpet instrument. We were, of course, given a coconut and watched as the women performed a traditional dance. Then we were shown a 93-year-old grandmother's recently built home, it looked nicer than many American homes. We were then served a meal on banana leaves, which consisted of fish for some (and I have the recipe for it for my mother!), potatoes, rice, breads, and bananas. After that, they gave us a tour of part of the village and we just walked around for a while. Everyone was very friendly and the locals stood outside of their homes as we passed to wave hello. We were able to meet many of the young boys and speak with them. Surprisingly, there weren't many young girls we saw outside. After walking around, we drank some lemon tea and then went to a factory where the villagers weaved. I was a little taken aback because it looked somewhat like a sweatshop. Women working inside a hot building all day and being paid very little. But I guess it's how they are able to make money. We were then taken to a shop and I bought a dotee/tablecloth. After that we just went back to the ship.

On the fourth day I decided to take it easy and went on a relaxing harbor cruise, which is pretty self-explanatory. A cruise around the harbor. We got to see life along the harbor and people fishing and things like that. Then we decided to take a few hours and go shopping. So we were originally going to take the ferry for 2 rupees that takes us to old town. But then we decided to take a rickshaw, or a tuktuk for 100 rupees total (50 rupees each) and then he took us all around to shops and an internet place. The thing about the rickshaws is that they get paid to take you to certain shops, so he took us to the ones he got paid to take us to. But I was looking for more market-type shops, instead he took us to very nice, expensive stores. After every time I walked out and told him, "No stores like that. Cheap stores. Like a market." And after every time he would nod and understand what I was saying, but take me to another store that was just like the first one. It was a little aggravating, but he was nice and the stores were nice so I just walked around and looked at them. Apparently, there's a place called Jewtown that has the huge market like what I was looking for. So on Saturday I'm going to go there. But after a few hours shopping and chatting with the store workers about life in India, we went to eat at a hotel called the Taj, it was just a 5 min walk from the ship, and they had the best food! It was an amazing dinner and everyone was very friendly. And then we went back to the ship and I went to bed.

Friday I had an SAS trip to the Alleppey Backwaters. It was pretty neat, but it was very similar to the harbor cruise I did the day before. The only difference, obviously, was that this was on the backwaters and the day before was through the harbor. But we took a bus ride for an hour or two to a hotel and ate a nice lunch. They had spaghetti, fruit, fried vegetables, potatoes, chicken, and fish. So it was the most American food I've had in India. It was still good, but I wish I could've tried some more authentic food. Then we went back on the bus and went to the place where we got onto a boat, the same kind as for the harbor cruise, and went around Kerala backwaters. We saw a lot more "life" on the side of the water compared to on the harbor. There were many more people in the water either washing clothes, kids playing, or fishing. So it was a great experience to see the true fisherman village's lifestyle. After cruising around for a couple hours, we went back to the bus and came back to the ship. By the time we got back, I was already exhausted so I just went to bed.

The last day I used as my free day to go out and do some real shopping and exploring. I used the rickshaw driver from two days prior and told him to meet me at a specific time. Then we went to the same Internet place and I was able to Skype and use the Internet. It was only 30 rupees an hour, the same as 60 cents! After that I told my driver he could take me around shopping to where he wanted me to go. He took me to Jewtown since I hadn't gone there. They had some decent shops, kind of cheap, but nothing really special. Then he took me to some of the shops where he would get money if I went and shopped there. So I decided to help him out a little and walk around those shops! I ended up buying a few things too, but not much. I got some goodies for souvenirs! After I spent a few hours just driving around and going in random shops, I went back to the ship, took a long needed shower, and we left for Singapore! We will only be there for a day, but at least I can explore a little bit!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great trip to India! I'm jealous! Enjoy Singapore and be safe!