Saturday 3 February 2007

Kochi - magnet for tourists

I got up at the crack of dawn (not difficult because my mattress was excessively firm) in order to have an early morning view of the fishermen at the nearby beach, famous for its Chinese fishing nets (apparently introduced to Kerala by Kubla Khan). I had already seen these at intervals when on the backwaters and here they are ranged along the sea front, like a series of graceful sails. The nets dangle down from high, sloping poles and are raised and lowered by a complex system of levers and weights. I watched one being lifted out of the water and it needed four men to move it. I talked to one fisherman, who let me take a photo from his net platform (for a tip) and he said that his net was co-owned by five fishermen. There was not much happening today, he said, because the current was too strong. However, there were quite a lot of small canoes out fishing, and several fishermen on the shore throwing nets - with the same movement as a discus thrower - into the water. I know its not easy, as I watched Claire have a go when we were doing our first boat trip.

As I idled away along this shore, I appreciated that Kochi is also an important freight harbour; there was a steady traffic of large ships passing by. Not surprising when you consider that Portuguese, Dutch and British merchants have all operated from here for centuries.

I wandered round the streets near my very central guesthouse and you can see that this area once had great charm. There are large merchants' houses with definite Portuguese or Dutch influence in their design as well as being distinctively Keralan: many have the elegant tiled roofs of the regin and gracious large windows, covered balconies, and inner courtyards. They must have made very comfortable homes at one time.

However for me Kochi is a bit of a disappointment, particularly given the buildup I was given: I fear tourism is on the point of destroying this place. Pretty well every large house has become a hotel or guesthouse and the streets are lined with shops selling Indian artefacts ("just one look..."), internet cafes (with skype - rol on broadband in the Cevennes, so next time I can phone home for next to nothing), and travel agents. With the exception of an excellent breakfast place Kashi Art Cafe) the food is disappointing and the prices of lodgings, food and transport elevated.

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