The two halves of Kochi, India’s tourist draw in Kerala State – God’s Own Country as the street signs remind you – are so violently different, it’s no surprise that it takes not one but two bridges to keep them apart. The modern half, called Ernakulam is tangled, loud, with heavy construction (they’re putting up an elevated train) that manages the near impossible – it makes an Indian traffic jam worse. So worse in fact, that I jumped off the bus before we arrived at the station, deciding that a brisk walk would be more effective (walking on my hands backward would have been more effective). When I reached the station, and the locals directed me to the proper inner-city transit, I pushed my way into the crowded bus and off we went, cramped and unhappy.
After crossing the first bridge (called Vanduruthy) and its adjacent military complex, the character of the place has already changed. By the second crossing over the Thoppumpady, the peaceful resortiness of the place asserts itself and by the final bus stop near the sea, Fort Cochin is present in all its balm. It was balmy too – a little too sticky to be totally relaxing but peaceful enough to get by with it. If one hasn’t booked a hotel, there are plenty of motor-rickshaw jockeys near the bus stand to help locate one (the most intriguing lodging was called HOTEL PEE PEE but I left it alone – not keen to discover if it delivered what it promised). After I’d settled on a place and registered, my cabbie made an unusual request.
“Can I take you to the gift shop?” asked the rickshaw man.
“I’m not really buying anything,” I said.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to buy. But if I take you to the gift shop, they give me a hundred rupees.”
I took him up on it, for the refreshing candor alone. In so many countries, one assumes the cabbies are promoting certain hotels but shilling for a gift shop was something new (adjacent to my hotel as it happened) and he was quite up front about the arrangement, which made me smile.