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Cochin: The Queen of the Arabian Sea
Cochin: The Queen of the Arabian Sea
Can you open your eyes to a new country and culture? I literally did. I was awoken by a sudden rumble, and found myself to be in foreign country. You thought that I was lying? No! I woke up to see a beautiful country through an airplane window.
Traveling to a foreign land was though enough, and on top of that, I felt like a stranger amidst the crowd. The trip is only eighteen hours long, but with jet lag, it felt like you have had spent at least three whole days in a congested airplane seat between two grumpy businessmen. During the flight, I asked the flight attendant whether I could get a window seat. Without hesitation, she offered me a seat at the end of the cabin. The plane had received clearance to take off and I saw that the airport crew was pushing back the plane onto the runway. The flight attendants were evenly distributed throughout the cabin and were instructing the safety instructions that were to be followed in case of an accident. I felt a sudden jerk when the plane came to complete halt, and the speed rose gradually until all you could see through the window were streaks of blue-colored lights. As instructed by the crew, all the passengers were wearing seatbelts and were yawning. Yawning? It has been said that this technique relieves discomforts in the ear while takeoff. From that time onwards, I watched several movies that were playing on the tiny screen in front of me (most of them were in the foreign language that was spoken), and ate when the meals were served. After the movies were finished, I took a nap that apparently turned into a deep slumber.
A sudden rumble and the grinding of the airplane wheels on the runway awaked me. I rubbed my eyes, and looked out. There was no way that this was my destination. How could an eighteen-hour trip feel like a three-hour one? Realizing that I had slept throughout the flight, everything seemed to make sense. The nap I took had turned into a sleep episode. The flight attendants were telling the local information to the passengers (date, time, weather etc.) Lifting the shutter of the airplane window, I saw the sign that said Cochin International Airport and it matched the destination that was stated on my flight ticket. I disembarked and saw another sign welcoming foreign passengers to India. After claiming my baggage and going through customs, I left the arrivals terminal and headed outside. There, dressed in traditional clothes, were crowds of people who were anticipating the arrival of their near and dear. There was also a line of taxis waiting to pick up the tourists (like me) and other passengers. One claimed that the driver was bilingual, but the other claimed that theirs fares were the cheapest. Unable to decide, I headed over to the bilingual driver. I knocked on the car window, it was lowered and an unfamiliar voice said, “Namaskar” and I replied back, “Namaste Ji” (means hello). I was astonished that I had replied in the native language, especially with a word that I had read in the back section of the flight magazine. I spoke English and he soon began conversing in British English. I was able to communicate fairly well with the taxi driver and asked him to take me to a hotel for lodging.
He took a scenic route on the way to the hotel. It was a hot summer day and the windows of the car were lowered. I felt the cool wind blow against my sweaty face, and it felt like a relief. The sides of the roads were dotted with coconut trees and palms. If you looked further, you could see rice paddies and placid streams. Local farmers were cultivating the paddies in the heat of the summer. The scene changed rapidly when the taxi entered the city of Cochin. Billboards replaced coconut trees and paddies were no longer there. Instead, there were apartment buildings and business offices. The taxi was now in the heart of the city (often nicknamed “Queen of the Arabian Sea”). I felt the taxi slowing down until it stopped completely in front of the Holiday Inn. I thanked the taxi driver and asked him to return half an hour later. I checked in with my luggage, and went to my suite. Can you imagine the cost of a suite in a five-star hotel? My suite only cost forty-five dollars per night. I took a shower and changed my clothes in something more comfortable for the humid season. Half an hour later, the taxi driver arrived at the front of the hotel, and I asked him to take me to famous tourist attractions in Cochin.
Cochin was filled with activities in every nook and corner. It seemed that the city never rested. Touring the city was exciting, from taste testing local foods to buying handicrafts from local artists. The driver, whose name was Ramakrishna, first took me to a St. Francis Church were it was said that the remains of the explorer, Vasco da Gama, were kept. After the history tour of the church, he then took me to a local fish market. The influence of China on the fishing industry was evident; the equipment used to catch fish was called a Chinese fishing net. King Shivaji’s royal palace was next. This palace was like a summerhouse for the king. The palace was surrounded by elegant gardens filled with exotic plants. The flowers were arranged specifically so that it created vivid patterns. But the inside, you had to be there to believe it. The walls were draped in ancient tapestries depicting life during King Shivaji’s rule. These were finely crafted by the artisans and were woven out of silk. Golden statues lined the hallways and the throne room. These were statues of Indian gods and goddesses (from Hinduism). The throne room was the next stop of the tour, and the most magnificent part of the entire palace. The floor was smooth and shiny as granite, but it was really a mix of burned coconut shells and egg whites (you might wonder how many eggs were used… I don’t have a clue). Shivaji’s throne was carved out of marble and was inlaid with diamonds. For this reason, the throne was kept in a glass case and under tight security. I took some quick snaps and headed outside with the other tourists because the palace museum was closing.
The next day was even more chaotic. I woke up just in time to catch the last tourist bus leaving the hotel, and was still groaning from the lack of sleep. The bus once again toured the city of Cochin and was headed to an ayurveda resort. Ayurveda is the art of relaxing and healing by using herbs found in nature. The employees briefly explained the origins of ayurveda, and showed us the various ways of healing and relaxing. Disgusting, but did you know that cow manure is used in ayurveda? It is believed that manure with a mixture of herbs actually makes oneself more beautiful. Another way to relax was to get a massage. The employees used herbal oils and rubbed it on the body. In the United States, the hand usually does the massaging, but in Cochin, they used feet to massage. They poured the oils and spread it with the legs. Apparently, this kind of massage gives more relaxation. Hearing from many satisfied guests, I decided to get an herbal oil massage. The massager poured the oils on my back, and started to spread it with his feet. As the feet moved in various directions, I became more relaxed. I forgot all my tensions and was able to sleep. At the end of the massage (which was three hours long), I felt rejuvenated, and was happy that it was worth it’s while. The tour bus picked up the tourists and took us to an exotic Indian restaurant, where I was able to try Indian snacks like samosas, vadas, bondas, pakodas, hulwas, ladoos, and jallebis. I was also able to drink morrum vellum, a common drink in South India. The buses later returned the tourists to their destinations.
Ring! Ring! Ring! I heard the phone, and I picked it up. The receptionist said, “Sir, this is your wake-up call” and I replied “Thanks!” and woke up immediately. I had a good night’s sleep and was ready for traveling that day. After a buffet breakfast, I waited with other tourists. That day’s itinerary said that that we would visit Fort Kochi, where European colonies first settled. The main attraction was the Paradesi Synagogue, literally meaning “foreigner’s synagogue” in local vernacular. The synagogue was located in a part of Old Cochin popularly called Jew Town. Jews, who came to India in the early 1500’s, still lived in their own communities. The bus dropped us at the entrance of Fort Kochi and we had to walk because the roads and alleys were narrow. As we walked to the synagogue, I saw locals selling handicrafts and souvenirs. I stopped and brought a brass lamp and a rug painting. When we reached the synagogue, we had to abide by certain rules before entering the holy place. Women were required to cover their hair and wear long dresses, while men were to wear long sleeve shirts and pants. Since it was a holy place of worship, we were required to enter the synagogue barefoot. I had never been to a synagogue in my life, and I wished that I had gone into one earlier. The inside was astonishing; there were crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, floor tiles with floral patterns, and a brass pulpit. The tour guide told the tourists that the floor tiles were hand-painted porcelain tiles from China. He later took us to an eighteen-century clock tower, and with permission I climbed the stairs. From the summit, I could see the entire city of Fort Kochi (felt like I was a bird soaring through the sky). A famous waterfront promenade; Marine Drive was the next stop on our itinerary. The sun was setting and the city was coming to life with lights. We got off our bus and took a stroll along the lake, and a gentle breeze refreshed us. A few feet away, I could see the Chinese Fishing Net Bridge, and it resembled the fishing net that I had seen at the local fish market. I walked up the bridge and looked out to the city glistening in lights. I knew that I was my last day in Cochin, and decided to enjoy every bit of it. Sadly, I had to return to my hotel room, because I would leave Cochin the next morning. After I reached the hotel, I packed my luggage and went to sleep.
The airport taxi was waiting outside for me. I grabbed my luggage, checked out of the hotel, and boarded the taxi. While en route to the airport, I recalled many memories of Cochin from ayurveda to the tourist attractions. The taxi reached the airport and I checked in, and half an hour later boarded my flight back to the United States. I looked out the airplane window and exclaimed, “Cochin, you are truly the Queen of the Arabian Sea”.
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