Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
At Ernakulam yet? You just got off a train? Ok, then you are in the right place. Destination Fort Kochi. Let's take this nice and slow. No hurry to get anywhere. Just a calm sense of exploration. Don't lock yourself up in air-conditioned box of wheels, shutting out the world. Take a bus to Kochi. Look outside the window. Everything you thought was mundane will suddenly want to tell you a story.
Admire the unlittered streets, the relaxed pace of life around as you take in your surroundings. Check into the local YMCA. Tiny and just about passably clean, but
Leave your baggage behind. Don't carry much. A bottle of water. Sunscreen, of course! And your smartphones that you will never leave out of sight anyway. A Lonely Planet has surprisingly more insight and information than any local guide, blog or website. Wear good walking shoes. We have a lot of walking to do.
Start with strolling on the tidy streets, each one with more character than the other. Walk along the length of Amaravathi Road. Old houses speak of forgotten laughter and the lovely woodwork – so characteristic of homes in Kerala – faded and jaded, yet so ageless and charming.
Stop at the St Peter's and St Paul's Church. Take shelter from the merciless (yes even in November) heat under the church's cool, white shade. Soak in the simple whitewashed goodness of it. Walk inside the naturally cool interiors, sit down for two minutes or more. What's the rush? Enjoy the quiet. Admire the beautiful woodwork.
Keep walking. Pass by peaceful temples that look like sudden bubbles of extreme silence in already quiet streets. Simple. Not too ostentatious, but the just enough beauty to create a mix of awe and serenity.
First, we pass by the Aalthara Bhagavathi Temple, then we pass by the massive temple complex of Thirumala Devaswom. It's closed in the afternoons. The architecture is inviting and so are the harsh sun beams that instantly soften as they fall becomingly on the temple's structure. No Non-Hindus allowed. In most temples in Kerala. It's unfortunate because they are so beautiful. Take a minute to wonder why would people close themselves up so much to think that they can contain their idea of a God within four walls? Within an idea of an exclusive community. Belief and beauty, both know no boundaries.
So, walk around the complex anyway. Walk towards the temple tank. The pond looks green and ancient, the old structure looks like it's getting a facelift. What caught our interest however, is a birdhouse in the temple complex on the same street. The nesting pigeons looked so happy and homely.
Continue this lovely journey on the bustling-with-activity Cheralai Road. But if the heat is getting to you and you're feeling dehydrated, stop for some juice. At Amees Lime Juice Centre. Ok, so we didn't know this yet, since it was the first day of our trip, but you get the best juices
Google Maps said our destination, The Dutch Palace, which is also known as the Mattancherry Palace, is straight ahead. So, we walked on to find a sprawling entrance area, which houses the palace. It's not a palace in the traditional definition we Indians associate palaces with – opulent, grand and ostentatious. Palatial complexes in Kerala have a stately, simple elegance to them. No extra frills or grand displays of magnificence, but a quiet beauty. The kind that may not make your jaw drop, but sneaks up on you silently, revealing the immense beauty that lies in simplicity.
This particular palace, built in the traditional style of Kerala architecture for aristocrats' abodes, is a quadrangular structure with a courtyard in the middle, where stands a small temple dedicated to the Goddess that protects the royal family.
Walk across the incredibly clean backyard, right past a tranquil temple and make your way to the entrance. Thank your lucky stars it isn't a Friday when the palace is closed. Be prepared to take a journey along the colourful historical evolution that Kochi witnessed through centuries. Learn that this Dutch Palace in fact, was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Raja Veera Kerala Varma, the Raja of Cochin in 1555. The Dutch however, aggressive in their ways when they colonised Kochi, carried out some extensions and renovations in 1663 and reclaimed the name of the beautiful structure.
Today, the double-storeyed palace building, which stands by the Kochi backwaters, functions as a portrait gallery for the life and times of the Cochin Rajas and houses some incredibly ancient mythological murals, covering over 300 sq ft of its walls. Get immersed in the rich historical stories of Indian epics – the Ramayana, Puranas and the Krishna Leela– translated beautifully into vivid and colourful images on the walls of the palace, dating back to as early as the 16th century. Watch as the playful Krishna flirts with the milkmaids. Witness Rama, Sita and Lakshmana being sent on exile by a devastated Dashrath. Sigh as a troubled and dejected Sita, helpless in a chauvinistic world, get swallowed by Mother Earth.
Even as the stories swirl seductively around your head, you walk into a time warp, which perfectly preserves mementos of an era gone by. A threatening weapon here, an exquisite piece of furniture there. Royal umbrellas, swords, stamps, palanquins and coins among various other relics, all preserving the secrets and sagas of what once was a glorious kingdom.
Walk out amazed, holding these stories close to you. It's time to exit this time warp. And enter another. Kochi is a constant revelation and we have the rest of the day ahead of us.