I arrived in Cochin on 25th July after my overnight train journey from Bangalore. The only slight problem during the journey was getting on the train. I walked down the platform to my carriage only to find that the platform had crumpled into a rather large whole where I was supposed to get on. Using their highly regulated health and safety procedures the train authorities had left the hole exactly as it was. With my rucksack weighing me down I had to climb up from the bottom of the hole onto the train, luckily it only took three attempts before I was able to haul myself up. And no one saw, I hope.
As the title suggests I have been ‘cotching’ for the last few days. For those of you not down with the lingo, ‘cotching’ is urban slang for relaxing and or chilling. Cochin is a peninsula which juts out from mainland India and is a whirlwind away from the hustle and bustle of what I’ve seen so far…it’s relaxed!
Apparently ambience is the most important factor when determining how good a place is in India. Whenever I’ve talked to Indians about places I have been, whether a town, city, bar or temple, they always talk about the places ambiance. The first time I was asked such a question I replied with ‘yeah, it was bang on, really good’. That didn’t really help the conversation, however accurate I thought my answer was. So when I reflect on a place now I always judge it on its ambience, and Cochin is about as ambient as you can get. Even Ooty in the hills and Pondicherry are still subject to the constant barrage of rickshaw paps every half second and the possibility of choking on bus fumes seems more likely with every breath. In Cochin you get a rickshaw pap every twenty seconds at most – drivers don’t shout, they talk and I haven’t seen a cow in three days! I can even walk down a street with my guide book open looking as puzzled and confused as I want. It’s quite liberating.
Urban Indian rickshaw drivers can spot even the slightest, remotest look of confusion on a traveller’s face a mile off, (before you realise you’re confused they are in front of you anticipating your confusion), pouncing on you with ‘where go sir?’ (at least some of them have manners) or ‘I give good price’ (usually the price is inflated by at least 40%). Fortunately over the years I’ve perfected the ‘I know exactly what I’m doing’ stare, despite not having the remotest clue so I don’t get as much bother as those travellers naive enough to look confused.
Save the temple episode in Bangalore I’ve not really had any overwhelming experiences but the constant rickshaw jibba jabba, staring (people do stare at you in Cochin, it just seems more sincere) and abruptness of Indian life can get to you. The cool and calm of Cochin is proving a nice break. The place has even tricked me into having a pot of tea with my lunch instead of a beer. I soon put that right though! I got the 13km bus ride from Ernakulam on the mainland, the commercial hub of the area, which cost the equivalent of 11p. I want to say Cochin is part of an archipelago as that’s my favourite land form but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. Still, there are plenty of little lanes and bridges hanging over the backwaters which kept me entertained as I went on a 80km moto drive yesterday. It was definitely the best day I’ve had so far and Cochin and the surrounding area is by far my favourite place. The beaches are spectacular and the backwaters gleam in the sun creating striking scenery. Everyone seems content; the number of people of all ages waving to me yesterday was incredible. I even turned taxi driver for a bit. An old, white haired man with just a shirt and a Lungi flagged me down and without asking just jumped on the back and motioned me to go on. I just started laughing as he directed me between the lagoons and water buffaloes. I can’t remember his name but after a while he understood I was called James and just started muttering James Bond and reeled off a few Bond movies. When he let himself off he invited me into his little bungalow for a cup of Chai and put the TV on. Low and behold On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was on, much to his delight. Whilst the Chai was nice I had to feign fifteen minutes interest in the film before leaving.
In 45 minutes I’m going to catch a ferry back to the mainland where I’ll take another Tatkal inspired train down to Trivandrum, Kerala’s Capital. I’ll spend the night there before starting my time at Mitraniketan where I’ll be teaching English for two months or so. There will be a generation of Keralans talking like they’re from Yorkshire. Get in!