Late Sunday afternoon was time to go on our guided tour of Cochin. After a stop to view the shore, some shady rain trees, and the Chinese fishing nets (a row of big nets attached to cranes that were once used to mine the Arabian Sea for fish), we moved on the Mattancherry Palace, the former home of the Maharajahs of Cochin.
The palace had some of the accoutrements one would expect the Rajahs to have, including incredibly dark teakwood ceilings, royal portraits, swords, fancy costumes made with gold and silver thread, palanquins (man-handled carriages for rajahs and ranees) and howdahs (elephant carriages) and a mural series depicting scenes from the Ramayana. The paintings were very detailed and very colorful, but they left me a bit depressed because I felt that they weren’t being kept in the best of conditions. Photography wasn’t allowed within Mattancherry, yet windows and doors were left open so that the heat and humidity could flow right in. I suppose those are the conditions that Mattancherry has always existed in, but I got the sense that my friends who work in art and art conservation would have been appalled.
One of my favorite dialogues from Seinfeld has to be the one where Jerry and George discuss their favorite explorers. [mp3] Jerry likes Magellan. George likes DeSoto:
Jerry: What did he do?
George: Discovered the Mississippi.
Jerry: Like they wouldn’t have discovered that anyway!
Well, I’ve always liked Vasco da Gama. Columbus may have discovered America, but he was supposed to be going to India. Da Gama actually set out to find a passage to India, and he found it! I have always really liked his name, too. It has a nice ring to it. I’m sure if he were alive today, he’d probably be designing shoes for Barney’s.
Nevertheless, when we booked our Kerala trip, one of the sights I knew I had to see was Vasco’s former grave in Cochin. He was buried in the city’s St. Francis church for 14 years before his remains were disinterred and moved to Lisbon.
On another note, I was also intent on seeing Cochin’s Synagogue, the oldest one in India (and, quite possibly, in Asia). Anthony and I had been lucky enough to stumble upon a photography exhibit on the history, culture, and dwindling population of the Jews of Cochin in Washington last spring. There are quite a few links about the community online, but I wish I could remember the name of the photographer whose pictures and videos set our trip itinerary in motion.