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Getting around

Part 3: Kochi

7.8: Kochi
Poovath Heritage hotel, Kochi. This morning I find out that the shower is only cold, there is no hot shower. A bit surprising given that the hotel level is otherwise good. The A/C unit obviously has a broken thermostat, because the temperature can't be adjusted (it's always set to the minimum temperature). In the late evening theA/C even stops working.
Weather: overcast the whole day, only in the late afternoon and evening the sky opens up. Lots of rain until 4pm.

In the morning I stay long in the room because outside it is raining.

At 11:20am Vodafone informs me by SMS that I cannot make any more outgoing calls because I have failed to provide identification. Actually yesterday I got a similar SMS at the same time warning me to provide identification within 48 hours otherwise they woulc cut my line. I didn't bother yesterday because I was going to leave India anyway in 48 hours. But all of this is really strange because at the airport when I bought the SIM card they took all my details, copy of the passport, address in India, they even took a photo of me. And now, just 25 hours after the first warning they cut the line. Vodafone India must have serious customer relationship problems. Better not to use them.

At 12pm I leave the room and discuss a taxi for today with the reception. The taxi is going to charge 150 Rs per hour, both for driving time and waiting time. I also ask about a flashy and modern mall and they suggest the Oberon mall in Ernakulam. Then I have lunch in the hotel.

At 1pm I leave by taxi to the Thripunithura Hill palace, supposedly the largest archaeological palace in South India. This lies to the west of Ernakulam, 20km from my hotel.

To get there we drive across Fort Kochi, pass a number of bridges and cross Ernakulam. Everywhere there is chaotic traffic, chaos on the streets, dirt, messed up buildings. It must be a torture for the local Indians to live here, among all this dirt, pollution and heat.

What a mess of a country. It would be a herculean task to clean up everything, bring the infrastructure to a decent level, remove all those wire lines in the air (yesterday evening during the rain there were sparks coming from a power line, probably the naked wire power lines has been shorted by the water). This morning in the hotel the power collapsed several times.

I'm glad I'm only spending four days in India and luckily I didn't bring the family to India. Imagine trying to cross a street with two small kids and all that crazy and chaotic traffic. Put in very simple terms, at the moment India is not suitable for a relaxing holiday with the family. There is too much poverty, mess on the streets etc.

Anyway, we reach the Hill palace at 2pm. I pay 20Rs entry ticket, 20Rs camera fee and 20Rs for the car parking. Interestingly the video camera fee is a staggering 1500 Rs. Why so much difference in prices, and why such a huge price at all, given that you may not use the camera inside the museum? Besides nowadays any digital camera is capable of recording videos, even smartphones can do that.

So, while the taxi driver has his lunch, I walk up to the Hill palace. This is surrounded by a large park containing a botanical garden. It's raining right now, but with sunshine this place should be very nice.

The palace has been converted to a museum and at first sight it looks rather unimpressive. If this is the "largest archaeological palace in South India", then South India doesn't have much in term of archaeological palaces.

Photography is not allowed inside the museum and you have to leave the camera in the museum reception. They also want you to leave the mobile phone in the reception, which is nonsense. In fact I don't leave it there, but shortly after I'm blocked by a weird security person who scans my pockets and asks me about the mobile phone. Since I won't part from the smartphone (it's a very personal thing, and it feels like the security guard is asking me to leave the wallet or passport in the reception), I interrupt the museum visit. What are they afraid of? That I might take poor quality pictures of the museum artifacts with the smartphone?

It's 2:40pm when I'm back at the taxi. We drive to the Oberon mall in Ernakulam, supposedly the best mall in the region. It's not that far away, less than 7km, but the taxi needs a long time to drive these 7km. Can't remember exactly, but it must have taken at least half an hour if not longer.

The Oberon mall turns out to be far less impressive than I had imagined. It's  relatively small, the food court at the top is also small and has limited choice of foods. The building is rather unimpressive, and inside the mall is not designed to impress people. The average mall in Dubai or Malaysia is orders of magnitude more flashy than the Oberon mall.

In particular I had hoped to chill out for a while in an elegant cafe enjoying some delicious food and drinks, and was hoping to buy some high-quality western grade ice-cream. Nothing like that exists in this mall. In the pathetic food court on the top I manage to find sort of a bakery. The cake and pastry I eat are unimpressive. Cakes and pastries they sell in any McDonalds in Germany are much, much better and are fresh, which is not the case here (the pastry is old and dry). The plastic tablet on which they serve the food in has an uneven rounded bottom and when I put it on the table it swings and causes the glass of pineapple juice to fall over.

India has some massive quality problems. Even the most basic things, such as the food tray in this case, which should be completely even, are not as they should be.

At 4:20pm I leave the Oberon mall and take a riskshaw to the Ernakulam ferry (150 Rs). The idea would be to return to Fort Kochi by boat. We reach the Ernakulam ferry terminal at 4:50pm, just in time to catch the ferry to Fort Kochi which is leaving soon. What a coincidence and how lucky I have been.

The ferry ticket costs a jaw-dropping 2.50 Rs. At first when I hear the price ("two fifty") I think for a moment of 250 Rs, then when I ask again I finally get it that the ferry costs only 2.50 Rs. How can it be so cheap.

This is typical of India. One moment you are paying a price for something, the next moment you are paying some completely different price for something similar. The rickshaw ride cost 150 Rs, now the ferry costs only 2.50 Rs. In theory, by being very careful about where to buy things and food, it is possible to live very cheaply in India. However it shouldn't be so, that there are such big differences in prices of similar things and services.

The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes and at 5:15pm I'm on the island of Fort Kochi. Here I slowly walk towards the Chinese fishing nets area, because I'm hoping that perhaps the sky opens up and I manage to catch some nice sunset shots of the Chinese fishing nets. In fact I'm lucky, as the sky indeed opens up allowing me to get some decent shots.

Shortly after 6pm, when I'm there, the fishermen are discharging what must be they daily catch. I see some very big fish and wonder where they got them, given that their boats are relatively small, so they can't have gone too far out.

When I'm done taking the pictures I buy a fish from the adjacent fish market (a 400 grams red snapper costing 100 Rs) and a guy brings me to his restaurant where he will cook it for me. The restaurant is about 300m further inland from the waterfront. Actually there are a number of these restaurants here, all of which apparently specialise in grilling the freshly caught fish for the tourists. My dinner is not bad, actually the highlight of the day. Never mind that they are charging high prices for preparing the fish (Rs 100), for the rice (Rs 50) and the pineapple lassi (80 Rs).

After dinner I return to the hotel.

8.8: Kochi -> Kuala Lumpur (LCCT terminal)
Tune hotel near the LCCT terminal of KL airport. RM 222 for a tiny room, 2.5m x2.5m with A/C, a bed, attached bathroom with shower and nothing else. Such a room normally should cost way less than RM 100, if it wasn't for the location in walking distance from the LCCT airport terminal. To make matters worse, check-out is at 11am, a real shame given that in any normal hotel the check-out time is 12pm noon and I arrive only after midnight local time. Somehow I regret having booked this place and not another place near the airport (there are hotels in towns close to the airport - should have stayed there). I guess it's the last time I stay in this hotel. WLAN and breakfast not included in the room price (would have had to pay for them separately).
Weather: overcast in Kochi with some rain. Not hot. Every now and then the sun pierces through a bit.

I'm woken up at 9:30am by the alarm clock. I pack my things and check out at 11am, leaving the bags at the hotel. Then I start with my sightseeing of Kochi.

The first stop is the Dutch cemetery adjacent to the hotel. Some tombstones scattered on a field of grass. The cemetery is closed, but you can watch it through the gate.

Next to the Dutch cemetery there is a beach with orange sand. The beach is almost empty, probably because of the weather. But even with good weather I doubt anybody would like to use it, simply because the sea water is very, very dirty. Perhaps the seawater is so dirty because right here is the estuary of the backwaters, i.e. all dirty water from the backwaters flows here into the sea.

I walk to the Indo-Portuguese museum, which lies next to the Bishop's house. On the way I'm again approached by rickshaw drivers who offer me a full tour of Kochi for 50 RS (one hour).

There is a certain atmosphere in this place. Old houses with crumbling facades and roofs, overgrown with vegetation, big and large trees like from a magical forest. The perfect setup for an old colonial town.

The Indo-Portuguese museum turns out to be nothing special. In fact in less than 5 minutes I'm done visiting it (25 Rs ticket). It just contains religious items taken from churches here in Goa. Pretty uninteresting stuff, if you are European and are used to Christian churches.

On the way to the restaurant (I've skipped breakfast today) I ask in a couple of travel agencies what a taxi to the airport costs. I'm quoted between 800 and 1000 Rs. Later I find out that 800 Rs is the price for a car without A/C, probably a very old one because all new cars have A/C.

At 12pm noon I have a lunch in the restaurant near the Santa Cruz basilica where I had dinner the other day, then at 1pm I walk to the St Francis church. This is relatively unimpressive, but at least it's still the original building from the colonial times.

Back in the hotel at 1:20pm I ask for a taxi (Rs 960). The taxi arrives after about 10 minutes. The trip to the airport should take 1h - 1:30h as I'm being told (46km).

In fact the distance is not that big, but due to all the traffic jam we only arrive shortly after 3pm. The airport is a clean modern building.

After checking in try to get out again to take some pictures of the airport. Some discussion with the guards who tell me that checked in passengers are not allowed to leave the airport. More discussion and I finally manage to get out, escorted by some airport staff.

Lots of checks by the way. You must have a ticket to get into the airport. i.e. you must carry a printout of your electronic ticket with you, otherwise they won't let you in.

I change the remaining Indian rupies into Malaysian cash (getting a bad exchange rate, never mind), then proceed through immigration.

After some checks I reach the passport control counter. The girl wants to know why I am flying to Malaysia and not back to Germany. I would like to tell her that this is none of her business, but do not do so. Some discussion. Then suddenly the girls insists that I show her my itinerary. Very funny, I don't have an itinerary. I explain that I'll stay in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia etc. In fact my itinerary is not fixed yet, but this girl apparently is expecting me to produce a printout with all places I'm going to visit.

Actually I'm just leaving India so this immigration officer shouldn't care where I'm going to. If she were an airline employee she might worry that I might not be allowed to enter the country and am sent back at the airline expense, but this is an immigration officer.

In any case, to finish the discussion I show the girl a printout of my Emirates ticket from KL to Munich. Finally the girl is happy. Good bye India, I will not visit again. There are so many other nice places, where it is so easy to travel, where there are no multiple redundant security checks at the airports, where the visa is either free or does not cost 64 Euro, where there is not so much chaos and dirt on the streets and so on.

After a couple more security checks (the entire airport security is hopelessly overstaffed - lots of redundant security officers who just check again documents which have already been checked a few metres behind, just to get the feeling that they have something to do) I finally reach the gates area. There is not much here, only a few shops selling souvenirs and one lonely cafe selling snacks and drinks. No restaurant, even if this is the international terminal.

I spend the time waiting for the flight having a tea and some snack and going through my photos. Then I board the Airasia plane and am greeted by two beautiful Airasia hostesses in sexy dress. Wow, what a difference. The women I've seen these four days in India were mostly a disaster. Miniskirts, legs, body curves? Forget it. Not available in India. I haven't seen a single pretty Indian woman in these four days in Kerala. Either they don't exist or they keep them locked up somewhere.

The flight leaves on time. I'm served the chicken Biryani meal I ordered and relax on the plane. The plane is actually half-empty. I'm the only western tourist on board.

We land on time shortly before midnight at the LCCT terminal of KL airport. Then everything goes very fast. There no more arrival card to fill out. This time there is no queue at the immigration counter and they process my passport in less than a minute. By 12:10am I have retrieved the luggage and walk to the Tune hotel. By 12:30am I'm in the hotel room.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon