Sunday, May 23, 2010

Morning on the boat and the Dutch Palace

The morning of the 19th we woke on our houseboat. The AC had shut off a few hours earlier, so it was already pretty warm. The monsoons had started to kick in and we’d had a big rain during the night, so everything was pretty damp too, but it was a pleasant morning.

Our cook served up a big breakfast but, like most Indian breakfasts, we ate selectively. Toast, fruit and a pancake or two is as adventurous as I get in the morning.

Our boat got going and before we knew it we were back in the harbour where we’d started. We hadn’t actually slept that far away, which we’d been suspicious about since we could see the occasional headlight through the trees at night. We disembarked, caught a cab, and got a ride back into town.

We only had a couple more nights in India, so we thought we’d try another hotel in Fort Cochin that sounded very nice – the Ballard Bungalows. We called ahead and booked a room. When we arrived Colleen stayed in the car while I ran up to check the space. It was in an old converted heritage building and was very interesting, with huge high ceilings, nice patios, and crazy ornate beds. We took it and, since we’d only slept moderately well on the hot boat the night before, immediately took a nap.

When we got up we went for a late lunch at a highly recommended local place called Dal Roti. The proprietor was a very kind gentleman who was happy to help us through the menu. We had one of our best meals in India in a very relaxed atmosphere.

Fort Cochin has been a major southern port for centuries. Massive cantilevered Chinese fishing nets line the waterfront, each of which is manned by about 8 guys to raise and lower the net. The Portuguese at one time had control of the area and were subsequently booted out by the Dutch. Later the English had their turn. And, like any great port town, it had a major Jewish population. All of these influences came together to create a fabulously interesting environment, definitely worthy of a day’s walking around.

On the other hand, the monsoons had come to town and you didn’t want to get caught in them. They seemed to kick in in the late afternoon and last for a couple of hours. On the positive side, they certainly cooled the place down, making it much more pleasant to go for a walk around town.

When we finished our lunch at Dal Roti the rain had somewhat subsided. I had read about an interesting place called Mattancherry Palace, that the Portuguese had given (bribed) to the local Raja in the 16th century. The Dutch had fixed the place up later, so it was also called the Dutch Palace. I had expected something fairly palatial, and we were disappointed. It was a pretty beat up building, and all of the out buildings seemed to be falling down. A lot of the Hindu paintings on the interior of the building had been preserved, but many were only half finished and they weren’t terribly interesting. There was a smattering of museum-type pieces (e.g. clothes and weapons), which were of greater interest, but not much greater.

To be honest, the most interesting stuff in the Dutch Palace were the murals in the ladies bedchamber. These depicted Krishna, with all six hands and two feet, “taking care” of a group of milkmaids. Krishna was a stud, and this appealed to the immature twelve year old boy in me. It’s pretty shocking what they’d paint on someone’s walls a few centuries ago.

A rickshaw took us back to our hotel, where we cleaned up and went for dinner. We had a few places that we were eager to check out, but it turned out that most of them were closed. It was really the low season here. (I’m like that guy in the Capital One ads, who seems to only go to places during the offseason.) Colleen picked a place on the corner that she thought looked decent, largely because it had the most diners, which is usually a good strategy. This time, not so much. Dinner was terrible, and there wasn’t much else to do in town after. Back to our hotel, for an evening of reading and searching for watchable English TV.

A side note – It seems like there’s only 10 ads that run on English TV, almost all of which are awful. It’s just painful to see the same ad in every commercial break, sometimes multiple times in one break.

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