My travel report
A Bavarian in India and Sri Lanka – Part 2
Kochi – Traffic, Culture and History
By Ralph Kratzer
For Part 1 of my travelogue – Flying Emirates and Arrival in Kerala – click here
After our overnight flight Larnaca – Dubai – Kochi (Cochin) and the immigration procedure at the main airport of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, we arrived on Friday, March 13th (!), exhausted but happy at our first accommodation, the Casino Hotel in Kochi.
The bus ride from the airport to the hotel did not last very long, but I got the first taste of the traffic on Indian roads. Although the 2-million-inhabitant city of Kochi is probably not comparable to the much bigger metropolises in the north, like Mumbai and Delhi, even here I very quickly got a clue what makes the traffic in India so different from what we know in Europe, and in the first moment, so scaring and confusing for foreigners. There are traffic rules, but they are more seen as friendly but unnecessary recommendations. By the way, the same should apply for Sri Lanka as well.
One basic rule: the stronger or faster vehicle has the right of way! How the thousands of sometimes overloaded mopeds, scooters and small motorcycles, motorized rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and mini-transporters do, in one way or another, arrange themselves with a flood of cars, buses and (mostly overloaded) trucks, is a miracle to me. The main component of each vehicle is the horn which is in fact used always and everywhere. Overtaking is generally done where there is no overall view and no space for the oncoming traffic. Nevertheless, what appears to strangers like chaos, somehow always works in India and Sri Lanka. I have only seen one single accident in nearly 4 weeks and this was a trifle. The achievable average speed is simply not high enough for larger accidental damage. Next basic rule: as a pedestrian you should be extremely careful, because thoughtfulness is not to be expected by the motorized road users…
After a short rest at the hotel there was already the first cultural event on our agenda in the evening, the Kathakali dance show.
A small museum at the Cultural Center of Kochi gave us a first insight into this typical traditional Kerala art form of dance. You are also able to watch the dancers whilst applying their elaborate make-up and then enjoy a one-hour dance show, the individual sections of which are being explained in detail before. Learn more about it – click here.
The following morning scheduled city tour of Kochi had to be postponed to the afternoon because of a general strike which paralysed almost all areas of the city. Nearly all the shops were closed, public transport came to a standstill. Reason for the strike was the presentation of the annual budget by the Minister of Finance of the State of Kerala the day before, which was rejected in almost all parts of the population. In parliament, it even led to riots in connection with fights amongst the MPs which culminated in throwing the chair of the parliamentary speaker out the window! Five MPs then had to resign in the following days.
About the sights and history of the main port city of Kerala, also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, I deliberately don´t go into detail, because the interested reader will find full information on the Internet by clicking here and by watching the video attached to this post.
After visiting the Mattancherry Palace with its magnificent murals and the St. Francis Church from 1503, the oldest church in India built by Europeans, we made a leisurely walk to the Fort Kochi waterfront with its so-called Chinese fishing nets, one of the main tourist attractions of Kochi, which were incidentally, according to recent findings, not introduced by the Chinese, but by the Portuguese.
All this sightseeing had made us very thirsty, but the desire for a cold beer was marred by the strike and the associated ban on alcohol that day. But, thanks to my partner Sarah, we found an open bar where, as in the days of American prohibition, we were conspiratorially led into a back room and supplied with delicious Kingfisher beer, the popular local brand.
More about the days in Kerala will follow soon!