Travelling southwards from Cochin: curry, chapels & communists

Having been brought up in Amsterdam, I always cherish my Dutch origins. And without being a radical nationalist, I’m not afraid in painting a positive picture of my home country. This not only gives me an opportunity in becoming who I’m now but is also is one of the friendliest and open societies in the world.

Did you know we have more bikes than people in The Netherlands?

And there’s more. We’ve also been the first in the world to legalise a whole bunch of things: same sex marriages and soft drugs are amongst the most visible or controversial ones.

So, is there not a darker element to my country? Everything peaceful and good? Not at all. One of the darker pages in the Dutch history books is definitely a colonial past. And believe it or not, but my Dutch forefathers could have actually fought some wars in India.

On the second day of Christmas 2020, I boarded a plane at Pune airport. The destination: Cochin, the tropical coastal city in the southern part of Kerala. I wanted to reflect upon a couple of things in life and also wanted to finish some books.

I must have been in Kerela more than seven or eight times now. Whilst almost having lost count, I could remember a lot of my previous visit’s experiences; the food, the tropical feeling and most of all: the friendly people.  After a speedy Uber ride from Cochin airport to Wellington Island, I ordered my first beer at the Taj-restaurant.

Overlooking the bay of Cochin, I thought about the next days; what should I do or see? I’m back in Pune now and finally found some time to finish my blog about my short visit, with three emerging stories:

CURRY: Kerala is 100% India, but it’s definitely ‘India light’

Being familiar with the phrase ‘Kerala is the state with the highest literacy rate in India’ I went online to learn a bit more about the population and its specifics. In combination with additional insights based upon all my previous visits, I can speak for hours about this unique destination.

Yes, the population of Kerala is highly educated. But there is much more.

According to a recent survey, Kerala is also hand-picked as one of the cleanest states in India. And unlike almost every other state in India, one would hardly witness any beggars. While still being 100% Indian, the state could be characterized as a unique combination between Sri Lanka and any one of the southern states in India.

As it’s very close to the equator, it’s warm; there’s hardly any difference between the hottest and coolest months in the year. When someone would ask me where to go in India for the first time, I’ll tell them about Kerala; it’s 100% India, but without the rougher edges.

The area around Cochin was once called the Kingdom of Cochin. It was founded well before the Portuguese arrived here in 1503. It was in 1663 when the area was then confiscated by the Dutch. The colonial history definitely should be looked upon as a darker page in the history books. But it’s also something I’m a bit sentimental about. Because before the British took it over, we actually attributed to the local economy in this area. Walking through the narrow streets of the Cochin Fort area, one could find many reminders of this Dutch-era. The Dutch Palace, originally built by the Portuguese and restored by the Dutch is one of the most visible reminders, so is the Dutch Cemetery.

CHAPELS: so many churches and most of them had been built without any architectal perspective

I’m a planner. When travelling, I always leave very prepared. Planning ahead obviously deletes some of the charm of travelling. There are only a few unknowns before I set foot on the ground, so the number of positive (or negative surprises) are very limited.

But there’s also an upside: it is only after reading a bit more about an upcoming travel destination, that the experience itself will become more pleasurable. And Kerala is one of the clearest examples of this. The southern part of Cochin is a largely populated Christian/Catholic area.

According to multiple online sources, I actually found some impressive numbers: approximately 40% of the population regularly visits one of the many churches. And here’s the thing: while one could find a church in this area in almost every small settlement, most of them are very modern.

And the Kerala churches are mostly unattractive

One could even state this: it looks as if almost every church was built according to the guidelines of the ‘Architectural handbook of creating plain looking churches’.

While one could literally find catholic churches on almost every small footpath within this area, there are also other religions in this here. Most notably are the numerous Kerala-style Hindu temples. Instead of the Tamil-Nadu style temples with a large and mostly colourful gopura (entrance tower) most Kerala based Hindu temples are different. Mostly built on a sandy foundation, it’s a combination of smaller and larger low temples, all with a high pointed roof.

COMMUNISTS: Kerala is a state with a lot of cooperations and unions

It’s almost impossible to write about Kerala without mentioning the communist parties. Not only can one find the hammer and sickle in almost everywhere corner across this state, but there is much more which defines it’s communist identify.

Kerala has huge a number of state-run enterprises, ranging from pharmaceuticals and soaps to beverages. In addition to all of this, there’s a long list of elements which could only be found in real communist-run states.

Walking or biking around, I’ve seen more than a dozen of billboards about local unions. Some people ask me if all the reminders of the communist party and philosophy would create a sobering picture of this tropical state. After a couple of visits, I can only state the opposite. Other than the recurring image of Che Guevarra or Lenin, I’ve not seen any other reminders of a Soviet-style society; people are laughing and extremely happy.

And the cooperative way of looking at the state also brings in some advantages. A great example is the Indian Coffee house. With over 400 outlets, mostly in Kerala, this restaurant chain is managed by 13 cooperation’s. It’s cheap, clean and the cuisine – from South India culinary evergreens like masala dosa to Kerala specialities like roast beef – are all mouth-watering.

Conclusion:

It’s easy for me to continue writing about this amazing State. For instance, I would love to share my thoughts about the immense number of lotteries available, and I could easily spend a separate blog about the mouth-watering fish curries. I might do this, after visiting this state for the nineth or tenth time, something which is definitely going to happen. For now, I want to advise every Indian or India based foreigner to add this magnificent state very high up on your Indian bucket list!

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