Back in October 2017, my great friend Sue Lowrey, asked me if I’d like to join her for a trip to Kerala, South West India, in the Spring. I gave the matter grave consideration for all of two seconds and accepted with alacrity! It would be about thirty-five years since either of us last visited India.
Consulting well-travelled friends and neighbours, we soon had a few ideas of what to see and do.
We flew in to Cochin International Airport less fresh after twenty four hours travelling than the brand-new, cleaned and painted terminal building, which was very swanky. It came complete with comfortable armchairs in which to recline whilst the immigration wallahs filled in forms, snapped photographs and took our digital fingerprints. Better not misbehave in India.
‘Have you been to India before, Maam’?
Hmmmm, surely it was so long ago as to no longer matter.
‘No!’ came my unswerving reply! The least complicated choice of response.
En route we saw something of the size of the city, crammed with traffic, sail-like billboards and buildings of every conceivable size, shape and design. There was even a procession of bands and brightly decorated wagons to welcome us. It reminded me very much of Bangkok.
After a brief rest and our first welcome cup of hot and sweet masala chai, we ventured out of the tranquility of the lush garden and walked around the neighbourhood. Within seconds, we happened upon wide, open park areas, huge canopied Portuguese ‘rain trees’, sign posts proclaiming this as God’s Own Country, egg yellow auto rickshaws, traditional terracotta roof- tiled houses and fiercely fought cricket matches. Overall, there was peaceful and calm ambiance compared to the chaos of Ernakulam, the modern part of the city of Cochin.
With homing beacon instincts, we soon found the main shopping area of Princes Street. Here our olfactory nerves were piqued by fragrant oil perfumes, pungent leather work and powerful drains. At every turn we saw astonishing sights including; colourful powder paints, libraries of folded saris and unusual musical instruments of dubious tunefulness.
By 1800hrs we were straight in to our first experience – a Keralan cookery lesson at the Flavour Cooking School on Queiros Street.
We were welcomed to the home of Meera and her family. All the ingredients for the five dishes we were to cook were laid out ready. Meera gave us comprehensive recipe sheets. She explained what to do and answered all our questions. Later in the evening her husband arrived home and took charge of teaching us how to make chapattis. We were intrigued to know more and soon we had a lesson in how to prepare puri, parottas and parathas.
Needless to say, it was all delicious. Although we elected to cook vegetarian dishes, the Keralans are renowned for eating almost everything. Due to the range of religious communities in Kerala there is a wide range of meats not available in other regions of India. Its proximity to the sea also means that there is an incredible array of sea food, too.
Full as eggs, we found our way back and slept like babies.
Next: India Part Two – Exploring Cochin.