It was just a nap ago as we watched the brown plains and naked, cragged Omani mountains change to the endless blue of the Arabic sea. In the haze under our wings a new coast revealed itself. A few minutes later with the airplane losing altitude, approaching land, we watched endless greenery pass by, coconut palms, brownish streams perforating the lush landscape. The southern tropics of India! Leaving the airport, we ran right into the expected wall of heavy, humid air – sweat became our daily companion from this moment on.
Kochi – India light
Admittedly, we had some worries how to digest this complete change, from Oman’s relative emptiness to India’s crazy hustle and bustle. But it took just one bumpy, rough ride in an old thunderous, windowless, crowded and perpetually honking bus to make us relish all the life unfolding around us.
We didn’t realize yet what a lucky pick Kochi as our first stop in India was. With the boat adventure failed we had all the freedom to select our point of arrival at India’s western coast, only guided by the ticket price, which should not crash our budget. We were surprised about all those very cheap flights from Muscat to Kerala, southern India. There has to be a connection to the immense number of Indian guest workers in Oman hailing from Kerala. We didn’t mind profiting from that situation and chose Kochi as our arrival spot. While Kerala is pretty densely populated and Kochi not really a village, it turned out to be a city with many beautiful spots. We realized quickly, that a main criteria for a nice spot in an Indian city is the absence of the ever honking, screeching, smelling, maddening traffic consisting of an unimaginable variety of ‘things’ on the road. Take buses, colorful trucks, countless motorbikes and scooters, cars, jeeps, bicycles, tricycles, wheelchairs, ice cream carts, pushcarts, humans, goats, cows, chicken, buffaloes all following the concept of ‘shared space’ on roads not nearly offering enough space and watch madness and infernal noise unfold. This is the mainland part of Kochi, called Ernakulam – a typical Indian traffic hub. But especially the old part of Kochi, Fort Cochin, located on a peninsula reachable by bus or boat has a level of calmness which would be still pretty mad for the non traveled European soul, but still unusual for an Indian city.
The highlight of our stay in and around Kochi was the neighboring rural island named Vypeen. There we spent lazy days swinging in hammocks belonging to friendly fishermen, crashing into the gigantic waves of the ocean and walked the beach collecting seashells. All that without crowds but only friendly local people, as we smartly and thanks to some good advice from a nice Slovenian guy avoided the one touristy beach of Cherai on Vypeen.
Painful demotion: From travelers to tourists
We quickly regretted moving on to Allepey, a noisy, dirty town that offers access to the famous backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters are an extended network of beautiful natural waterways with countless traditional villages dotting the shores. Something we should never experience ourselves. Arriving in India meant something else: Arriving back in tourism. We had to leave our status as traveler / guest / friend behind in the distance of Persia and Arabia as the label we were carrying from now on in most situations was: Rich, white tourist on holiday. A real backwater tour would have blown our budget into pieces and we had a tough time envisioning ourselves on a boat full of camera armed tourist taking snaps of the village zoos and leaving the boats to buy some hand made souvenirs, haggling over way to high prices. As the public boat would only go on the rather uneventful main waterway, we decided to skip all backwater adventure.
Traveling mostly by 2nd class train, we enjoyed the sometimes incredibly crowded and exhausting rides while heading further north to Kannur, but the bitter taste of our new ‘status’ and the resulting way many locals interacted with us quickly removed large parts of the first days fascination.
Together with a nice German couple we met at Fort Cochin, we traveled together till Mangalore in the neighboring state Karnataka. From there a night train should take us to Bangalore, South India’s economical powerhouse of nearly 9 Million inhabitants. We were only keen on visiting one of those millions, though. Our old friend Poorana, whom we know since Germany and who works day in day out in a wind energy company in Bangalore waited for us in his nearly unfurnished apartment, but with a smile and delicious rice and dhaal.
Bangalore was clearly the peak of craziness we experienced so far in India. It was not a tough decision at all to agree on avoiding bigger cities whenever possible. But that ‘possible’ turned out to be the tricky factor in that calculation…