Saradananda and I parted company yesterday. She is off to an ayurvedic clinic for two weeks and I am now traveling on my own. I feel I've been given the best possible introduction to Indian foods, behavior, etiquette, tradition, etc... and am now able to manage most Indian customs on my own.
I arrived in Fort Cochin yesterday afternoon by ferry. Fort Cochin is the old town, on a small peninsula, in the port town of Ernakulam. A hub of the Malabar coast spice trade since the time of the Egyptians. It was colonized in the 1500s by the Portuguese. Fort Cochin's Portuguese colonialism is to India's southern west coast what Pondicherry's French colonialism is to India's southern east coast. Proud, aging, Portuguese colonial architecture and churches stand in beautiful decay from countless years of sea-air and humidity.
Unfortunately, when I stepped off the ferry, it was painfully clear that this is no longer an authentic Indian town. The streets are literally teeming with rickshaw drivers saying, "Sir, need a room," "Good cheap room," "Air condition room." And the little side streets are chock-a-block with Kashmiri gift shops and restaurants where I wouldn't trust the food.
Surprisingly, I've seen few Hindus here in Fort Cochin. The majority of the people here seem to be either Christian or Muslim. I woke up early this morning and took an exploratory walk in the opposite direction from the tourist trade, but even there on the Indian side of town, the orientation seemed to be predominantly Christian and Muslim. Of course, this being India, I saw a shrine, in front of a Catholic Orthodox Syrian Church (huh?), where a man was offering flowers to a statue of the Blessed Mother. Everyone in this country is in some state of worship - it's really rather wonderful.
This afternoon, I will walk across to the other side of the peninsula and check out "Jew Town," the site of the oldest Synagogue in the British Commonwealth (Jews on the Malabar coast have roots dating back to the time of King Solomon). Tomorrow, I will head up to the mountains with a new friend and be glad to say goodbye to tourist-ville.
I have a deep sense of gratitude to my Aunt Swamiji, who has prepared me well for traveling in this remarkable country.