A pure chance of East meets South, the short trip to "god's own country" was incidental; as one of my beloved senior-a smart odia bengali boy-was getting married to a beautiful malayali girl from Kochi-a sleepy coastal town. As a military affairs enthusiast I had prior knowledge of city's importance as it hosts navy's shipbuilding company- the Cochin Shipyard, and is Coast Guard DHQ (District Headquarters).
At that time, Chennai was bracing up to guard itself from heavy rains unleashed by retreating monsoon. All trains passing through the coastal city were running late. When we reached Sullurupeta at around 1000 hrs-a small station located 82 km from Chennai central amid surrounding natural greenaries-instead of schedule halt of 1 min, the train remained there for more than 2.5 hrs. Our connecting train, that was, from Chennai central to Kochi was at 1530 hrs, and by any way we had to get there before the scheduled time.
I tried enquiring the station master the reason behind the late running of the train; he advised us to get to Trivatoor by any local train. Because at that time, local trains were given preference until lines cleared for express trains, stranded at various points on their way to Chennai metro. Sensing helplessness and urgency of the situation, we finally boarded a local train and reached Tirvatoor at around 1400hrs. While travelling in the local train, I tried to interact with some boys sitting next to me. I asked some questions regarding their study and school, first in Hindi and then in english, to which they replied with gestures, signifying NO. It's here you will witness the dilemma in diversity which is also acting as a communication barrier. All of a sudden, an oldman in her late 50's said to me in his broken hindi, that they don't know any language other than malyalam and he learnt some hindi, good enough to communicate while working with his previous contractor. As we reached Tirvatoor, from there we took an auto ride of 8km to reach chennai central. On the way, alongside the road majestic sea waves of southern coast were thrashing the black stones that were sized up to bear the beat of the warrior waves. Cutting through narrow streets and busy lanes of Tirvatoor we finally reached chennai central at around 1510hrs and boarded the train after ensuring all the members of our team are in place. After another 12hrs of journey , we finally reached Kochi in the early morning 0400hrs. We got our rooms arranged by the bride's family members for our stay near the station and by god's grace I completed my remaining 4 hrs of sleep to get recharged for the impending day.
As the day begun, I woke up and took a walk in nearby areas to get some smell of the old city. Fortunately, I got a hot glass of filter coffee to refresh up my mind for rest of the day.
While waiting, bride's brother informed us that we will be visiting a nearby waterfall famous for its divine beauty. Well, I had no idea what it was, untill I saw...........Athirappily Falls....... "The Niagra Falls of India"
It was non other than Athirappilly falls famous for its breathtaking and soul soothing natural beauty and wildlife. It takes almost 3-3.5 hrs to reach the designated area from cochin depending on the type of vehicle you use. On your way, you will witness the natural beauty of the city and its outskirts filled with lush green trees and sunlight maneuvering through them making it nothing sort of a scenic beauty. The spot has two meeting points,one famous for its hanging bridge on the Chalakudy river including a park while the other which is just 3-5 km far of the first give you an unforgettable look and feel of majestic athirappilly waterfalls.
We had our packed lunch in the park and took a view of the hanging bridge. The hanging bridge connects two different districts Thrissur and Ernakulam. Its a visual dilemma , because each of them have their own exit and entry tickets. I and my friends literally got confused by this rule of theirs, hence had to complete another 1.2 km of return journey by foot to reach the entry of the first meeting point.
After travelling for another 3-5 km we reached the second meeting point, that hosts the majestic Athirappilly falls. We took a 1 km walk up the steep road made up of rocks to reach the site.
As we were walking our excitement was gradually building up. Then the moment came, when we witnessed the waters falling from 80ft height forming a white dense fog at the bottom while the Chalakudy river on which it's located looked like a thin sheet of glass spreading across in length and breadth washing through the rocks occasionally popping up from the ground.
After spending some time on its bank, we trekked down the rocks to reach bottom of the falls and get the feel of cool icy waters falling from the height with grace and elegance. The rocky road leading to the falls literally took our breath as they were slippery and steep, a wrong step may cramp your ankel. The fall from the bottom was looking as if god has blessed us with this to quench our thirst.
After spending an hour there, we left the place to set the ball rolling for the next day.........................
Fort Kochi and Chinese fishing nets........
As the city woken up to do its buisness, I and my friends began our journey for the Fort Kochi with an awesome "glass" of filter coffee and some hand baked biscuits from a local eatery. This time we used local transport to reach the intended point. Language was an issue , as normal people running the businesses use malyalam and are less interested to converse in Hindi or English. So using our hands and by creating weird gestures on our faces we conveyed our point to the bus conductor, local shopkeepers to reach the place. Local policemen were very helpful, they helped us to board the bus enroute Fort Kochi. Amid all this GPS came handy, we were tracking our moves.
Fort Kochi is famous for Chinese fishing nets and an estuary, ingress point of cruise ships, merchant and naval vessles into the harbour. The ingress point provides local fishermen to install such huge fixed mechanical installations of fishing nets as high as 10m and 20m in width to capture fishes drifting in from adjoining warm Indian ocean. The fishing nets derive their name from the prevalent use of such fishing techniques in southern coast of China and Indo China.
The arrangement is quite interesting and its setting against an evening sunset is an eye treat for photographers and nature lovers. We stroll through the narrow lanes in the area and they were quite nostalgic giving an essence of colonial days. Food joints are available in plenty alongside the road leading up to the fort kochi, but you will find good ethnic local food inside the city.
Jew Town & the Synagogue....
After we wound up our stint experiencing the salty and humid air of the port , it was time to visit Jewish town, which is famous for its synagogue and the descendants of first jewish population who arrived at the banks of kochi escaping, massacre in the middle east for refuge. It was then the king of Kochi offered them a place to build their synagogue next to his palace.
The Jewish town is located some 3km from Fort Kochi and an awesome place to visit. Crowded but clean roads with lots of antique, handicraft shops and food joints on both sides of the road leading to the synagogue looks no more than an english locality. Adjoining areas of the synagogue were white washed, so were the most buildings in that location.
As we entered the synagogue , a white lady in her early 50's greeted us with a smile. The synangogue is a small place with a museum and a prayer hall, well preserved and maintained by 3 jewish families. All total there are only 100 jewish families now left in Kochi, while most of them have moved to Israel, their promised land. The Prayer Hall was unique in its make and resembled with a gurudwara with a pulpit at the centre meant for rabi to perform rituals during their prayer hours. It was my first experience to visit a synagogue and was wonderful one to get hold up so much knowledge scouting through the streets of the Fort Kochi and the Jew town.
On our way back, we took a boat ride from Fort Kochi to the Ernakulam main boat jetty experiencing the backwaters of the city.
Ending our short yet memorable journey there, we returned back to the hotel to begin our preparation for the marriage next day.
"A "Traveller's Identity" is best described by the people he meets, and the way he preceives the beauty of the surrounding and the wisdom he gains from the situations he gets into" :)