Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vypin Island, Cherai Beach & Falling Into Rickshaw Traps

Vypin Island is one of the world's most densely populated. And it is just a 10 minute ferry ride (2 rupees) from the boat jetty in Fort Kochi (this is a different jetty from the one that services Ernakulam or Willingdon Island). My destination would be the famed Cherai Beach located in the sleepy town of Cherai (some signs spell it as Cherayi).


I have read of Fort Kochi's harsh summers and from the looks of it, it was getting there. I walked a couple of blocks to Fish and Chips Seafood Restaurant for my usual Chicken Fried Rice (much as I liked Udhappams and Idlies, my gastronomic sensilbilities find them wanting). While waiting for my order ( I went to my usual roofless table ), that's when I started to really sweat. Miniscule blobs of perspiration forms through my forearms and my neck and back were getting moist. It was a similar experience yesterday but I thought it was from all the walking around. Now I understand how harsh humidity gets in Cochin - and it gets worse in June, I read.


An auto driver approached me offering all these temples written on a map, sites that I was aware included Mattancherry. For 20 rupees, I could see all of them in an hour! It was indeed too good to be true, but what the heck, if I get robbed of 20 rupees, it won't even buy him a bottle of Pepsi (35 rupees), right? In the next 30 minutes, I was taken to a silk shop (where i bought a Kerala painting for 900 rupees - yeah, I know. I had to buy one from this trip, you know); a spice shop (I have a bigger room back home), and a friggin fish market! Next stop: Santa Cruz Basilica which I must have visited a hunded times in the last 3 days I have been here. That really was the last straw. I made 10 paces towards this pretense, pulled out 20 rupees, and went back to this snivelling idiot to pay him his 20 rupees. Maybe he could swipe his ass with it.

Like a shameless prick, he followed me and asked "One more shop!" It would have been OK if he took me to just one of the 15 temples, palaces and tourist sites he had mentioned earlier. The nerve! As I earlier predicted, anything that's too good to be true is too good to be true.


The boat jetty located just a few skips and hops from Kublai Khan's Chinese Fishing Nets was already brimming with commuters when I got there. I paid 2 rupees, hopped into the boat (which had gender-assigned portions - one side for guys, the other side for ladies). In 10 minutes, I reached Vypeen island.

Just outside the jetty, a local bus was waiting. I asked the driver if this was heading to Cherai. He said something in local dialect, then nodded. I went to the end of the bus where the entrance was, then people offered me a seat at the tailend. I paid my 11 rupees. "Cherai?" I asked. people nodded. I noticed that the first 3 rows of the bus were occupied by ladies; the rest by males. The women who couldn't get seats from the first 3 rows preferred standing than going all the way back.


At one point, an adorable 13 year old boy (who looked 10 years old) started chatting me up. He said he was Acheel (A-keel) who spoke impeccable english although I had to excuse myself several times to get through his accent. He was practicing his english by being a hospitable local - friendly and warm. He said he's met Filipinos before. He was on his way to Paravoor which is an hour further away from Cherai. For one hour, we plied through exotic names - a dilapidated cinema (called Payyan) and a beautiful Christian church in Narakal; Narayambalam, Edavanakad, and so on. The churches here had special 3 to 4-tier smaller temple-like buildings at the facade, which is the norm I have noticed riding the bus through Kochi all the way from Munnar. The Hindu temples, on the other hand, have thick flagpole-like brass structures rising taller than the main temples, like pillars decorated with intricate designs.

I reached the township of Cherai after an hour. The humdrum of daily life rests peacefully even amidst shops and rickshaws. The famed Cherai Beach is 2 kilometers away. After a few inquiries, I hopped into a rickshaw. Thirty rupees later (a fixed rate), I was walking through Cherai Beach's golden sands, facing the seemingly calm Arabian Seas.


The whole beach is lined by a breakwater, laid beautifully in red bricklike pavements. A bus-load of teen agers were frolicking in the waters; the guys bathed in their full walking attire: jeans, long sleeved shirts. The modesties of the Indians couldn't be less amusing.

I just walked around and found a spot under the harsh sun (there were no cottages nor waiting sheds at all) to soak in the summery, breezy atmosphere. If you're looking for an"alone time", this is the place get it. Much later, I walked to check out the resorts lining the road. There were hardly people around. Talk about sleepy!


I took another rickshaw (30 rupees) back to the town center then waited at the bus stop for my ride back to the boat jetty. After finding my bus, I asked the driver's assistant only to be told that this particular bus doesn't pass through the jetty. He said I could get off the next bus station and wait for another. To my surprise, this was one of those places I wished I'd be able to pass by and check out earlier in the day. Opposite, the bus stop was a beautiful deserted temple, Sree Gowreeswara Temple.

I crossed the road and made my rounds. The sun was up, and I was sweating hard. After taking a few snaps, I went back to my bus stop.


The lady in pink sarees, waiting as well, told me that I have to get a bus all the way to Ernakulam, then from the big city, cross the backwaters back to Kochi. That's odd. We both hopped into the same bus until the driver's assistant got to me. I told him i wanted to get to the jetty for Fort Kochi. He just nodded. Eleven rupees later (well, 10.50 for me, I didn't have 1 rupee change so he accepted my 50 cents), I was back at the jetty. You see, not all locals are into fleecing tourists, and I am grateful of their hospitality.


That night, I watched an interesting cultural show - the Kathakali (200 rupees) at the Kerala Kathakali Center, just 2 blocks from Orion Homestay. Show officially starts at 6PM, but the audience can observe the "make up" (done on stage) that starts at 5PM. I couldn't miss that. This particular show featured a tale from the Mahabharata - Kichaka Vadham: "The Killing of Kichaka". It sure was a pleasant surprise. The first 30 minutes featured a "tutorial", how emotions and actions are portrayed by the eyes, the hand movement, the body gestures, then the last hour runs the story. The percussion could get a bit too loud sometimes, but it was a thrill altogether. I have seen cultural shows in Bali and in Kandy (Sri Lanka) but this was where you actually undersatnd a little bit more of wha goes on up on stage. This tale of harassment of a Pandava Princess shall be featured in our future post.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Ola said...

The story of the driver reminds me about Egypt-the taxi drivers always wanted to take you to the town and then it appeared that you ended up somewhere in the suburbs in a shop of his family...

Joseph Pulikotil said...


This is amazing. You have been moving around the places where I do in my spare time. Fantastic, thrilling, exciting. Kochi is a photographers paradise since it is not only blessed with a natural harbor but also contains the foot prints of the Dutch,Portuguese,British,Arabs and the Jews which very few countries int world can boast of.

It is hot and sweltering in Kochi only up to the middle of May and then the sky opens up and down pours the rain till about November and sometimes in December also.

You could have bought a hat in Cherai beach to cover your head.

I enjoyed reading this post since it a view point of a foreigner.

eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

I have always said that most public utility drivers are the bane of tourists' lives. They're just there to make life miserable for people. I am generalizing but it's a very valid statement.

I guess it's the same in Egypt, wish I can set foot in that arid city, since we're visa-free there. :->

eye in the sky said...

@ Joseph:

I love Kochi, and I am grateful (in general) to the people who welcome people like me with wide eyed hospitality and curiosity, the way I am curious with them.

My cup runneth over, in God's own country!