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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: Kochi

Masks of Ganesh and Kathkali dancers
Masks of Ganesh and Kathkali dancers on display in Jewtown

Kerala is a real melting pot, and the coastal city of Kochi is a perfect example of the cultural mishmash of India's southwestern corner. On the way to Kochi I spotted plenty of Christian churches, which is unusual for India, and I also spotted lots of political flags smothered in hammers and sickles; Kerala was the first state in the world to freely elect a communist government, and it still has communist rulers. In Kochi itself things are even more blatant; 20 per cent of Kerala is Christian, but you could be forgiven for thinking it's a much higher proportion.

The streets of Jewtown
The sunny streets of Jewtown

The Backstreets of Kochi

The strange fishing nets of Kochi
The strange fishing nets of Kochi

Kochi has a wonderfully eclectic collection of Portuguese churches and backstreets with a Jewish overtone, not to mention a beach with the strangest fishing tackle you've ever seen; it's a superb place to wander round on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The imposing St Francis' Church is the oldest western church in India, with the original building dating from 1503 (by contrast, St Mary's in Chennai is the oldest British church, dating from 1678). One Sunday, outside the church, I watched a cricket match played out under the shade of the palm trees, complete with cricket whites, a manual scoreboard and locals playing their own games of catch round the boundary, oblivious to the action on the pitch.

Kochi's Dutch cemetery
Kochi's Dutch cemetery is, not surprisingly, a little run down

The Promenade

St Francis' Church
The well cleaned tower of St Francis' Church

Returning to my hotel by ferry after a truly worthwhile wander around Kochi, I grabbed some supper and set out to explore Ernakulam, the main city of the two and home to the larger hotels, the biggest shops and the most insane rickshaw drivers. And to my amazement I discovered something that would be more at home in a coastal town in England than in India: Ernakulam has a promenade. Ignore, if you will, the piles of discarded packaging drifting into mounds round the tree trunks and the familiar smell of half-decomposed sewage wafting off the humid bay, and you have what is, by definition at least, a promenade. The clientele aren't quite the Edwardian couple with parasol and pram, but what the strollers lack in aesthetics they more than make up with their numbers. Backing this aromatic concrete pathway are huge posters of Christ1 and large tower blocks whose lobotomised architects obviously thought that the Stalin era had the art of building down to a tee; but surely the most astounding fixture on this seaside extravaganza is the bridge.

St Francis' Church
St Francis' Church is the oldest western church in India

1 Christ gave me the spooks in Southern India. Perhaps it's too much exposure to images like the Turin Shroud, but the pictures of Jesus smothered over Kerala made me think of graveyards at night and that incredibly disturbing glazed look on yer man's face as he bleeds to death on the cross. Normally pictures of the Son of God are faintly comforting, even if I don't actually worship his dad, but in Kerala I found myself preferring Krishna fondling the milk maids to the bearded distress of the crucifixion.