Happy New Year everyone! We hope wherever you are you had a good night, and that the coming year is full of happiness. We really enjoyed our stay in Kochi – it’s quite lucky that we happened to be there for new years, as there are lots of festivities going on. We had no idea beforehand, but apparently Kochi is famous for its New Year celebrations! We stayed in a brilliant hostel and met lots of awesome people.
We were staying in the very photogenic Fort Cochin, which is quite touristy but still has a good atmosphere. There were brightly coloured and shiny streamers hanging up in all the streets, and star-shaped lanterns in the trees, so it all felt very festive. The main thing to see here is the row of Chinese fishing nets on the shore which have been there since around 1400 AD. The giant cantilevered nets are an impressive sight, as a group of fishermen operate the weights which lower them into the water. It’s a popular spot though – at sunset it’s a scramble to get a photo without anyone else in it! The beach itself is not a swimming beach, as the tide is too strong and the sand is strewn with weeds and litter. But the boardwalk which snakes along behind is thronged with Indian and international tourists alike – taking pictures, strolling arm-in-arm, eating snacks such as fresh pineapple or hot corn-on-the-cob and browsing the stalls. It’s a nice place to spend an hour in the evening and to watch the sun go down over the sea. We also discovered an amazing lassi shop right next to the beach, Lassi Mojo – and we’re ashamed to say we went there more than once every day! There’s nothing like a sweet cold strawberry lassi or a syrupy iced coffee on a hot day.
One day we took a tuk-tuk tour of the island – this is a pretty common thing in Kochi, where a tuk-tuk driver will offer you a tour of two or three hours for a ludicrously cheap price, around 50 – 100 rupees. What’s the catch? He will also take you to four or five ‘government shops’ where he earns a decent commission on anything you buy. This can work out well for you, if you have the patience to go into all the shops and act like you may be interested in buying something – after all you are getting a very cheap tour! First our tuk-tuk driver took us to the Dhobi Khana, or community laundry. The Vannam community who run this laundry still wash clothes in the traditional way – apparently they were brought in by the Dutch army to wash their uniforms, and now they provide washing services for most of the hotels and homestays on the island. We also visited a few Hindu temples, including a water temple and a salt temple, where people leave a gift of salt and pray for their good fortune. Then we were taken to a spice market run by a women’s collective, where the heady smell of ginger, cumin and cinnamon hit you as soon as you walk in the door. The ladies were happy to show off their wares, explaining how to cook with the different blends they have created, and offering free samples of masala tea and herbal coffee. Outside there were rows and rows of root ginger, laid out to dry in the sun.
New Year’s Eve was a bit of a strange experience. It began with David taking a ride on the back of a scooter, with one of the friends of our hostel manager, to the only place nearby that was selling alcohol. With our beers for the evening safely in the fridge, we went out for a quick dinner and yet another lassi on the beach. When we got back there was a full-scale techno party going on, on the rooftop of our hostel! We stayed up there for a few hours, chatting with our fellow guests from around the world and with Shabaz, the hostel manager, and his friends, and dancing to different types of music while people fought for control of the sound system! Shabaz even tried to teach us some Bollywood dance moves. Just before midnight, we headed up the road to watch the burning of Pappanji. A giant effigy of an old man dressed in a coat and hat, with a white beard and a walking stick, is erected a few days before and then set alight to mark the new year. We counted down the seconds, after a mad dash and a quick scramble over a fence to get there on time, and watched as Pappanji burned and fireworks lit up the sky. As soon as this was over however, the focus was on us! We were in a crowd of mainly young Indian guys, and they all wanted to take selfies, shake hands and shout happy new year. It was a little overwhelming, and after what seemed like fifty different selfies we managed to get out of the crowd. Our reward? Another visit to Lassi Mojo! It was nearly 2am as we scoffed our chocolatey desserts, said goodbye to our friends, and sleepily made our way home.
The festivities don’t stop there – on the 1st January there is a huge procession. We can honestly say that it was the weirdest, most random carnival that we’ve ever seen! There didn’t seem to be any set theme – so while some floats took a serious approach, with religious and historical tableaux, others were all about the party! We saw one float depicting the crucifixion, followed by a giant octopus made out of plastic bottles, followed by some Egyptians, followed by a truck full of people raving to trance music in a variety of fancy dress styles! We weren’t sure what to expect from the carnival beforehand – everyone agreed it was a big deal but there was hardly any information about it anywhere, not even an official start time. But we certainly weren’t expecting to see a giant mouse dancing to the Backstreet Boys or an anti-drugs float with a huge model of a syringe! Everyone in Fort Cochin seemed in a festive mood still, whereas back home most people would be spending January 1st ridding themselves of hangovers and readying themselves to return to work. People were out in the streets and there was a party atmosphere for most of the day, everyone wanted to shout happy new year to us, or stop and shake hands.
After all this chaos, we hopped on a bus and escaped to Alappuzha this morning for our next stop, and we’re hoping to have a trip around the backwaters tomorrow.
C & D xx