18 December 2016

Kerala 28.11.16 - 05.12.16

Three things we learnt in Kerala.

Kathakali is not a comedy show

Our first stop in Kerala was a small fishing town called Fort Kochi. The town itself is beautiful; it shares a likeness to many coastal towns we've visited before with its boutique back alleys, friendly locals and artistic nature. But of course bearing that unmistakable wonderfully wild Indian culture and tradition. Going back to our Bollywood experience, a couple of guys we spent the day with who had just travelled from the south were raving about a traditional dance performance unique to Fort Kochi called 'Kathakali'. They had told us it was a strange but unmissable tradition, so along with a friend from our hostel we decided to give it a go. The performance was down as starting at 6pm but we were invited to arrive from 5pm to watch the actors apply their stage make-up; this in itself was quite something. The paints were made before our eyes from 100% natural ingredients, first a powder made from grating colourful stones then mixed with with coconut oil (it really can be used for anything mum!). The application took over an hour, in which time the four men had totally transformed themselves into a decoratively intricate version of the good, the bad and the ugly; they looked spectacular! After a brief translation lesson the official performance began. The actors performed the entire story using only the movement of their facial muscles accompanied by emotive percussion; it was absolutely hilarious. The entire room was transfixed on the performance, at times in deadly silence, whilst we sat at the back trying to hold back our childish giggles for the most part of the show. Maybe it was just the audience we were part of that night but we somehow seemed to be the only one to see (or seek out) the humour in the show. I guess I would liken it to pantomime - which is making me think now it's more likely we were the only English in the room. Nonetheless, unmistakably a timeless tradition in the small town of Fort Kochi I would recommend the show highly - however you choose to enjoy it. 

Indian cooking is less complicated than we thought

We spotted the ad on a local notice board: "Indian home-cooking class" and after a brief Whatsapp conversation found ourselves wearing pink frilly pinnies in a lovely local lady's kitchen. We learnt how to make three dishes, in what she described as a traditional home-cooking style for families. It was the simplicity that shocked us, being the 'chuck it all in and hope for the best' types we couldn't believe how few spices and how little of each is needed to create such complex flavours. The biggest shock was how quickly she made a thick and tasty sauce using only whole fresh tomatoes, salt and cumin seeds (I would normally spend half an hour desperately stirring corn flour into a can of chopped tomatoes). And finally the order of techniques was mostly the opposite of what we know, for example frying raw potatoes before boiling them. 

At the end of the lesson we were invited to enjoy the dishes at her dining table, as you can imagine they were mouth watering (we had mainly stood by and watched the magic unfold)! What really touched me at the end was our teachers shy request for her children to have some of the resulting food, of course we gladly agreed but it was a small reminder of how precious food must be for this amazing woman and her family. Her children had been so patient during the two hours we had no idea they were even in the house. We both agreed what an amazing insight the experience had been both into Indian cooking and into an example of a south Indian family home. 

A day spent on the bus is a day well spent

On our mammoth journey to Goa we stopped in a town called Kannur in North Kerala for a few nights. Aside from beautiful beaches there wasn't a lot we would say for the town centre, apart from the local buses. They, are, spectacular. If you're looking for a first bus / magic bus / megabus experience to compare this to then stop now. These buses are lit up, leopard print, dance beat, glitter covered sass on wheels. In a conservative country like India these buses are sex. I don't know why so much time and effort has gone into the creation of this particular towns' bus service, but at 25p for a 30 minute journey down to the coast we couldn't get enough. Although, the funniest thing about them is the locals still sit there in silence scowling out the window just like we would on a grey Monday morning commute to work. It seems however fancy, a bus ride will always be a bus ride. 

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