I got myself on a 14 hour train from Goa down to Kochi (or Cochin), to spend the day exploring. I had a week spare to take a look around the area of Kerala in the South West of the country, before I had to fulfill my India visa requirement of exiting the country every 180 days.
Arriving at 4am I grabbed an auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) straight to my hotel, where I managed to catch an hour sleep and then up and at’em as I had no time to waste.
I’d always wanted to visit the famous Chinese fishing nets, which look like mechanical monsters looming over the waters, ready the clamp their giant jaws down on any passing fish. Now as much as they are extremely majestic and were once very capable contraptions, they are primarily there now just for tourist pictures. Bored looking old men each taking it in turns to set their net about performing for the photographers…… not one fish in sight when I was there. However, they are undeniably a remarkable feat of engineering, especially when you think they were introduced over 500 years ago and if it wasn’t for the lack of fish due to the bigger fishing boats catching everything out to sea, they’d still be bringing in the catch of the day.
Next stop was a short tuk tuk ride away to one of the oldest, still working traditional hand wash laundry complexes, Dhobi Khana. Here you will find local elderly Kochi Tamil men and women from families that have worked here since 1720’s, working tirelessly all day, everyday. Clothes are washed in one of the 42 concrete cubicles, where lungi clad men scrub and bash the clothes clean over a concrete washing stone, they are then air dried in the sun. It’s then over to the ironing section, where I met a wonderful lady who at 82 years old was wielding one of the ancient, incredibly big and heavy irons, pressing everything with sharp, crisp lines. She showed me that these are still heated using charcoal or burning coconut shells, as they’ve done for centuries.
Short ride away and tucked down a little side street, we raced past a sign for handloom sarees. Shouting ‘stop’ to my driver, who managed to perform a rather back juddering 180 degree skid to halt, I jumped out and went in search of the owner.
Sadly the workshop was closed for the day, however the lovely owner opened up to show me the looms. She set about showing me how these rather complicated looking foot pedal machines worked and it was mesmerising to see it in action. The sound of the clacking wood back and forth and the whoosh of the spindle as she flung it all the way across the 2 metre expanse of material was hypnotic.
Taking anywhere between 2-3 weeks to make, depending on how intricate the design, you can understand why these sarees cost that little bit extra. And with the challenge of huge factories with hundreds of machines, working day and night to produce something, which it has to be said are nowhere near as beautiful as the handloom versions, families are struggling to compete.
Next stop was food, a nice cold beer as it was about 34 degrees and humid as hell and then to get a good nights sleep ready for my private taxi tour around the surrounding Kochi area in the morning ….. Zzzzzzzz