Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Two days for the price of one.
Monday. . . My TucTuc man arrived on time and was ready to get going, however, I wanted to know what he had planned, as I had already visited most of the better known tourist traps, sorry spots.
We agreed on the tea and spice wholesalers, which were interesting, plus one or two churches I had missed. One of these being St.Thomas, which was originally had Jacobite Syrian connection, hence the name (thank you Alan (James) for you comments. Mostly the Syrian churches amalgamated with the Catholic Church in the early 16th century, which goes some way to explain the beautiful music I mentioned on Sunday. I found out since this included influences from Malayan church music also.

I digress . . .Suli, my driver, wanted me to buy other mementoes other than tea and spices, so he took me to a department store on the pretext it had five floors and the view at the top was worth seeing.    I was introduced to the owner, who personally escorted me around every department, expecting me to buy from each one. By the time we had reached the top floor, he was getting desperate.  I stood my ground and said I was not in the market for six foot statues, or Indian carpets, or pashminas (at least I don't think I am).  Taking pity on him I brought the least expensive wooded elephant available, and was hurriedly escorted out the door.  Suli got the message, and we went back to sight seeing.
We took in the Synagogue which was small and unimpressive, and the Mattancherri Palce, which is now a museum. The latter was interesting as it was the right size for a museum, not larger enough to get board. I had read the stories on the ancient murals with interest, which will prove beneficial later.
I suggested lunch and Suli took me to his local cafe. It was great food. Popular dish of rice with five small dishes containing various spicy morsels, with bottled water. I had change from two pounds, including the tip.
Realising I was not going to do any more buying, Suli asked if I would like to go to an Hindu Elephant Festival.  Not sure what I was in for and if any cost was involved, I took pity on him and said yes. I rested up for a couple of hours and he picked me up at five pm.  He drove like a bat of hell for thirty minutes. I had no idea where we where heading. I lost all sense of direction after crossing the second bridge. We went through several smaller very busy towns, where no tourists would venture, but suddenly we were on a county road (complete with speed cops).  Soon we reached the venue, which was throbbing we people, cars, bikes, stalls selling food and others selling everything else. The venue was a Hindu temple with a open courtyard on all four sides, approx 50yds wide and 100yds long on each side. Suli pushed me through the throng of people to get as close as possible.  There was a line of twelve elephants beautifully decorated in gold braided headwear and colourful garlands. On each elephant sat three men, one holding a large colour parasol.  - the other two men held either a pair of large peacock feathers, or a pair or symbolistic banners.
In front of me there were at least twenty men playing drums, cymbals, and giant curved horns. The rhythm of the playing combined with the volume was amazing, and at a certain point of crescendo each of the men on the elephants would stand and wave the feathers and banners.
 I was the the only European there to whiteness this once a year festival, and felt very honoured. The elephants then followed the musicians and the crowd slowly around the the arena, until the final crescendo of music had been played out, and everyone was ecstatic, including me.  We made our way out of the melee, reclaimed our shoes, and had a refreshing glass of Chi.  I may have been too quick to judge Suli, as he only wanted me to experience the festival, which did not cost a penny.  In fact my six hours with him in total only cost me sixteen pounds with tip.

I officially have a cold and sore throat.  Happily there are many pharmacists near by, and I have stocked up on Strepsels.  Not wanting to sit around all day and feel depressed, I took the ferry back to Ernakuklam, on the mainland.  I had two objectives . . the first was to visit the bird sanctuary/mango swamp.  This is apparently situated behind the Court House. OK, it's not massive, just 0.0106 sq miles, but did any locals know of it . . . not one.  I managed to find the Court House, which was not difficult due to its size, if is huge.  Then I saw many barristers or advocates walking around smartly dress in white trousers, black cape and complete with white shirt and starched winged collar.  I took a gamble that these guys spoke some English, and I was right.  Asking a question out here is not that straightforward. Before answering they want to know my name, where I come from, am I married (if yes, where is my wife), and am I working.  It's all asked in a very friendly manner, rather than an inquisition.  I eventually found the road leading to the elusive sanctuary, but before I got close, I had an encounter with over one hundred young ladies. . . . .I
I had stopped to change camera lenses, and this vast group of teenage school girls surrounded me. They took photos and asked questions, all talking at once -I was overwhelmed.  One of the teachers was very good about it, but another, a more matron figure, was not so amused.  I can see hundreds of photos appearing on Facebook under 'David man from London'.
The bird sanctuary was an anticlimax after that encounter. Not very large and I did not see anything that could fly. Most of the local habitat have moved away - threatened by the creeping advancement of industrialisation.
I moved on to my second quest and took a taxi to Ernakuklam railway station hoping to film some chaotic scenes of the over crowded carriages. The station was busy, and everything looked orderly, but no trains.  The announcements were in local dialect and English, which told be the next train was due in over one hour.  I had to settle for a slow moving freight train, which had to be half a mile long.
I had tickets for the Kathakali make-up and Dane show at three o'clock, back over in Cochin, but jut had time to have tea at a lovely oasis in the quaint Dutch quarter, the Teapot.  This airy and light shop offered all types of tea and cake, but had run out of their famous cheesecake. Relaxing with a lemon tea, listening to Rodrigo and Gabriella, I could have stayed their all afternoon.  As it was, I was late for the Kathakali make up. The colourful and intricate make up is applied on stage so the audience can appreciate the dedication and care these performers put into their art.
Unfortunately the 3.0pm show was not so popular, just me and one other UK guy.  Regardless of the low turnout, the professional actors took to the stage and I sat in the front row allowing myself to imagine they were performing just for me.  The story-telling is a mix of chant and eye and hand movements, telling the story of the king who was seduced by a beautiful woman, but had planned to deceive him. The king discovered this plan and cut of her ears, nose and breasts. (Re Mattancherri Palace from yesterday - I was paying attention).
Back at the hotel, my fellow guests were taking and sharing stories of their days activities. We now have a couple from S.A. and a 'hippy' couple from Australia. This guy gave me a herbal remedy  (shop bought) for my cold. I'll let you know if it has worked in the morning.

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