Of Shadows and Light a Night Stroll Through Fort Kochi

I have been to Cochin many times but somehow Fort Kochi and more importantly Jew Town has always eluded me. On a recent trip to Cochin during the Ramzan holidays, we sat peering at each other through stuffed belly full of biriyani and we decided to venture out to Fort Kochi. By the time two kids, three semi adults and a couple of adults got dressed it was time to drink tea and the plan was in danger of being abandoned. But as half of the public was dressed it was decided that we stick to the plan and visit one of India’s ‘haunted’ places in the night but first tea was made.

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Jew town owing to some of the cemetery’s near by has a reputation of being haunted which I think is a disservice to one of history’s landmark spots on earth. Since we crossed Matancherry Jetty on Id which is an important holiday in India we found the bustling shops in Fort Kochi and Jew Town deserted with all shutters closed at seven thirty in the evening. Save for our parked car near the synagogue, there were no other vehicles in the vicinity and no other people around atleast the living ones. One of my cousins braved out of the car with the promise of shouting Aiooo should something happen, we laughed! He came back to report that the synagogue and the surrounding shops are all closed and there is nothing much to see but we could probably go see it.

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Since he came back and did not require any exorcisms done on him, we all trooped out of the car to see the synagogue after all a Hebrew God resided within since the 1500’s. There were some windows and doors open on the the street near the synagogue and the title music of ‘Parasparam’ ( a popular malayalam TV show) streamed out. We saw some old folks on their recliners watching the show ardently and knew that all is well.

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Jew Town dates back to the 1500’s when a boat of Jewish refugees landed in the port of Kochi and were welcomed by the King. They soon set up businesses, trade and a place of worship that still stands here. When the state of Israel was formed most Jews in Kochi went to the promised land or got assimilated with India’s population. Today only a few Jews are reported to still live in Jew Town. I wondered if history would have been different if more Jewish boats had landed in India instead of Germany but that is not for me to postulate.

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We saw the old clock tower that was set up in 1700 AD and some houses with the star of David prominently engraved near the door. When we got back to the main street the atmosphere was still eerie as most muslim business owners in the area were celebrating Id and had closed shop for the day. I will definitely go back to Fort Kochi with its many Chinese fishing nets, Jewish Synagogue, Muslim businesses and Dutch cemetery during day time and spend some more time in the vicinity exploring.

 

Ridiculous Currencies Around the Globe

Money makes the world go round but some currencies have a way to drive one crazy. We require money and the first thing any traveler does after she lands in a new country is figure out the country’s currency and get a wad for herself. The neat currencies of dollar, yen, pound have been discussed, known and recognized but there are some currencies and denominations that to be put politely are just bad ass. These are a few that have been a bit of a thorn during my travels.

Indonesian Rupiah: The foremost on my list is the IDR or Indonesian Rupiah. I knew it was trouble when we traded in two crisp notes and gained a sackful of Indonesian currency in exchange. We thought we were gonna live like kings in Indonesia, turns out three zeros are redundant so tea costs 10,000 IDR and we have had lunch for a lakh per person but it was good lunch.

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American Pennies – American dollars are great and they are just amazing for all the Uncle Scrooges in the world but Pennies! Pennies are a different story altogether, they get stuck in the washer, they make your wallet heavy and are a pain to cross airport security. Also pennies do not get back into the system with the frequency it comes out of the system and into your wallet. It seems like a cruel joke when things are ticketed 1 $ 99 cents, I mean come on! It has been three years since I went to the US but I still have three small bags filled with pennies!

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Mentos – I know Mentos is not an official currency, not even close but tell that to the guy at the toll booth on the highways in India. I give the guy Rs 30 and he give back three breath mints instead of my balance of Rs 3. So if he had the three Rupees to buy the three Mentos why couldn’t he just give me the balance or do they get Mentos supply for free!

Sodexo –  What started as food coupons in Indian tech offices has certainly come a long way. I was recently given a Sodexo coupon for Rs 10 at my local grocery store ! An acquaintance bribed a cop with a Sodexo coupon and apparently it was even used to fund a rickshaw ride. So.. dexo you are officially a currency.

Have there been any ridiculous currencies that you have come across? Do share.

Representational Images via Pixabay. The restaurant bill however is ours..

 

Unearthing China- Banpo and Xian

Xian, China holds many answers to Chinese history and is famous for the terracotta warriors and the gateway to the Silk Road. A trip to Xian is a history buffs paradise as it sets stage to various dynasty’s, periods and kingdoms all in one city which is surrounded by a beautiful wall.

Xian is also known from its flat noodles and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda where the earliest Buddhist texts were taken from India and translated. Though Xian popularly draws in tourists who come to see the terracotta warriors and their glory.

Terracotta Warriors

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The archaeological site for the terracotta warriors is well preserved is one of histories latest findings that was unearthed. The terracotta warriors stand guard to the Emperors palace which is still buried under a mound as it is said to have many complications that prevent people from unearthing it. These life size warriors were made in order to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and is part of a larger necropolis which included the Emperors, mausoleum, army, general quarters and other details that were built in third century BCE.

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Colorful Terracotta warriors when unearthed.

Each soldier was created unique to have different facial features, color and dress according to their ranking. The site of the terracotta warriors is well preserved and restoration work is still an ongoing process. One amazing thing that strikes me is that the warriors when uncovered were brightly painted but then faded away in less than 4 mins when exposed to air.

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Each soldier unique with different facial expressions and look

Banpo Chinese Neolithic Site

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The inhabitants of Banpo and site as imagined by artist

In another corner of Xian lies Banpo, which is an archaeological discovery made during the Mao regime which dates back to the Neolithic period. The Banpo site is a human settlement which is 12 acres in area and shows a lifestyle and culture from 4800 BCE. The settlement is of an agrarian society that had primitive crops and livestock. The site is well preserved, covered and available for public viewing. Some of the interesting aspects from the site are its burial sites, a moat which surrounds the settlement and well built houses. Closer to the huts urns were found which were used for burying children and infants.

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Actual Burial site at Banpo

During the Marxists regime it was believed that the Banpo site was a matriarchal society which helped promote the Marxist ideology and agenda. The idea has since been abandoned and reviewed.

Xian is a treasure trove but one needs time and patience to unearth the vast history the city has to unfold.

Pictures credited to Traveling Noodles and Razor Rasu

 

Road Trip Along Coastal Karnataka

Driving along the Karnataka coast can give you three things, an appreciation for Konkan fish fry, a tan and the cognition that beaches of the Arabian sea can be aqua marine. We recently went on a road trip from Bekal which is a coastal town on the Kerala Karnataka border till Calangute in Goa.

This road trip essential took us along the coast in Karnataka aka the Konkan aka Kanara. The beauty of the Konkan coast first came to be recognized to the uninitiated when the first train of the Konkan railway chugged along the sea coast on one side and verdant valleys and hills on the other side.

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The road trip was to start at 3:30 am as we like to start early, we planned to leave our little one in his grand parents care as we planned to do the trip on a budget. Our little one soon got wind of our master plan and clung to me, we finally appeased him by bribing him with the prospect of us bringing back a gift for him which we absolutely honored.

The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim.

This was the first time I was travelling for close to 10 days without my little one and my constant companion, we hardly take a leak without accompanying each other.  After all our early morning excitement we left for the trip at around 7 am and promptly got stuck in Bangalore traffic (I know..).Our first stop was at Bekal, we drove to the Bekal beach park and called our hotel where we had our first reservation, turns out the reservation was cancelled without letting us know. Hence we were at Bekal beach park seemingly homeless, eating egg bhaji and coffee while trying to call up other hotels. Finally we got a reservation in a five star hotel (so much for our budget trip).

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The second day I fell ill and thankfully had very fluffy pillows to sleep in, the third day I got some of my energy back and we went to the iconic Bekal fort of Tu hi re fame. It turned out to be one of the few well maintained forts in India, though I wish a little more of the history was explained at the site. Our next stop was Udupi and enroute we feasted on a new  Arabic delicacy that has invaded north Kerala named Kuzhimandi biriyani. At Udupi we halted at the Krishna temple after the GPS decided to take us around a few other Krishna temples. Udupi ofcourse has amazing restaurants and equally amazing coffee.

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Our next pit stop was Malpe beach which I would recommend very enthusiastically to water sports and beach enthusiasts. We watched a jatra competition which was open to the public at the beach, saw some amazing display of kites and then decided to try our hand at the one minute para sailing sessions. The para sailing team and their turn around time was simply wow, they were pretty professional and valued the safety of their patrons. I just wish the people on the beach understood that safety is an important part of life and being alive.

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After spending the evening at Malpe beach we drove to Kundapur to a Confluence hotel and dug into some well deserved Mangalorean dinner. Kundapur was the half way point on our road trip to Calangute and back and it was here that we discovered that Shetty Lunch Home has the best akki roti, ghee roast chicken and the most succulent fish fry. At the hotel we looked up the things to do section and decided we would drive to Kodachadri, we had not done much research and made some discoveries along the way and an impromptu trek after a horrific drive up Kodachadri in a local jeep.

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After we left Kondapur with its many waterfalls, hills and historic temples and forest reserves, we drove down Maravanthe – the prettiest beach I have seen. The next town Murudeshwar  surprised us with its iconic Shiva statue and well developed tourist hot spot and water sports. We planned to reach Calangute, in Goa to ring in the New Year and bid adieu to the old man. The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim. Goa of course was a different story but coastal Karnataka is worth hyping about and deserves applause for the beautiful beaches preserved here.

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Pictures credited to co navigator and driver Razor Rasu.