To Jew Town and back: India Day 28 (Kochin/Erkulam)

We didn’t love Kochi on a whole (which I blame largely on the very-hot time of year), but this day in particular was one of the most amazing times we spent in India.

The first place we hit in the morning—by my request--was Kochi’s famous “Jew town.”

Jewtown bookshop

Jew cemetary signCochin was home to a large Jewish population centuries ago, and that part of town still carried the moniker. We tried to enter the 400-year –old synagogue, but were told that it was closed for the Passover holiday. We did take a look at the spice market—Jew town was the center of Kochi’s spice trade—and the nearby Jewish cemetery.

But then moved on to do something, in turn, that Natacha wanted to do: shop.

For that, we took a ferry to Erkulam, the “real city” to Cochin’s “old town.” Natacha was looking for some of Kerala’s famous spices, and maybe a sari.

To get out of the heat, we took a long break at the Bubble Café, which turned out to be a restaurant in one of Erkulam’s fanciest hotels. It was so fancy, it not only had a ceiling-wide skylight, it had a sprinkler system constantly pouring water on it, to supplement the AC so it wasn’t like eating lunch in a greenhouse. We ordered a coffee and a coconut juice and nursed them.

Our next table consisted of a half-dozen thirtysomething Indians who worked in England but came to Kochi for holiday. We had a great time talking to them, mostly about Obama and Clinton (whom at this point were still going at it hammer-and-tongs), and about Bush and the sorry state of the US government.

They teased us about all the corruption in our government, so at one point I said, “sure—because India wouldn’t know anything about a corrupt government.” They laughed and one of them said, sure, of course India has an incredibly corrupt government, “but with us, it’s expected. For you, it’s a surprise.”

Natch asked ‘em where would be a good place to buy gold jewelry; they suggested Bima’s. About which more later.

First we had lunch at Bimbi’s, a sort of restaurant/bakery chain for Dosas, with a long dessert counter. We took our sweet tooths for a stroll and sampled a dozen desserts, finding a few that interested us. Funny how Indian desserts are so colorful, but most of them taste pretty much the same.

After that, it was off to Erkulam’s own Jew Street, home to shops, shops and more shops: kitchen appliances, clothing, and of course spices, spices, and more spices—Kerala’s specialty.

Natacha picked a place and came out with several types of cardamom pods and peppercorns, the former of which I look forward to filtering into my coffee when we get home.

We also looked for and found Bima’s, for gold jewelry.

Bima’s, as it turns out, is a 2-3 floor jewelry emporium with a Bobs-big-boy-looking cartoon of a boy plastered on the sign in front. I’m guessing that’s Bima. Despite being the middle of the day Friday, the place was PACKED with Indians. I could not be more bored than gold shopping, so I eventually found a chair and caught up on my reading, sit ting there in my flowy green camel-trek shit and my made-in-Varkala blue drawstring pants, with my brown bandana hiding my bandage, drawing fewer stares than expected. Tired from lack of sleep, I chewed gum to stay awake, suddenly craving good coffee and comic book stores.

Kochi is a surprisingly laid-back city. Even the big-city part of it, Erkulam, has been easy to walk around in (more so than North India). Man, if the weather here wasn’t so murderous, I’d stay in the south a lot longer.

Natacha came by to pick me up, not having bought a crumb of gold. I think she expected to find bargains, but I mean, face it, India is cheap, but not gold-is-cheap-here cheap.

She also looked through one sari store where she liked the quality but disliked the patterns, finding the bored, bratty teen shop girls no help whatsoever. I loved the shop’s full-blast A/C; it definitely made you want to linger.

We headed back to the ferry and made it back to Kochi’s Jew Town in time to see if the synagogue would be open for Shabbat. About which I’ll talk about in my next post.