Friday 11th December
We started today with an early morning yoga lesson on the roof top overlooking the mango trees and coconut palms.
There was a gentle breeze, just enough to make the early morning heat tolerable, but we were glad to cool off in the garden pool afterwards.
Breakfast was different from our usual buffet and the size and variety of the latter was brought home to us as we ordered our choices from the menu...
Today was our day 'at leisure' with no tours or activities until the Kathakalli dancing display at 5pm.
It was lovely to spend the morning relaxing, reading and writing in the cool of the hotel. At lunch time Bill ventured out on shopping expedition and returned looking very hot and sweaty but pleased with himself having discovered some less touristy areas of Kochi without so many pushy trinket sellers.
We decided to go out for lunch and discovered the Kashi Art Cafe. A modern art gallery at the front with drinks and lunches served at the rear. Authentic Indian food popular with locals and travellers alike, with the added reassurance of bottled water being used in food preparation and ice cubes. We perched on stools in the tile-roofed garden. Bill went Indian with
Masala chai and banana pie and I was slightly more restrained with iced coconut and honey coffee, and watermelon salad.
We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Kochi. After retracing our steps back to the harbour to look at the fishing nets we walked through the town and along Bazaar Street. Not, as you would think a tourist trap selling beads and carved teak elephants, but a series of market stalls selling rice, vegetables and spices where the local people were shopping. We browsed and watched the world go by. We saw the rice sellers bartering, small bowls of rice samples on their stalls for buyers to test. There stalls selling bags of flour. There were hessian sacks full of nutmegs, star anise, cinnamon, again with sample baskets beside them. There were stalls of fruit and vegetables, onions and garlic, bunches of coconuts and bananas and local women haggling with the traders. There were also shops selling cloth and clothing in bright colours and lots of souvenirs, but without the usual hard sell. We bought some spices, and then flagged down a tuk-tuk and rattled our way through the cobbled streets back to the hotel. We wandered through the park opposite and found some ladies selling wooden stamps used for block printing. They were intricately carved from mango wood and stained with dyed from former use. We bought a few - as well as being beautiful to look at, we imagined doing our own block printing at home. We made it back to the Old Harbour in time to freshen up and go to the Kathakalli dance show.
Mr Binu was ready and waiting for us. We agreed to walk rather than drive as it was only five minutes away. He showed us to our front row seats and handed a typed sheet explaining the basic story of tonight's show (just as well, as it turned out!)
I think we were expecting a show of Indian girls and ladies singing and twirling in sparkling saris, but far from it.
Kathakalli is a 400 year old 'story play'. The actors have painted faces and bright costumes to portray characters from Indian epics, and they dance the story accompanied by a drummer who also sings.
The first hour of the evening is for us to watch the actors painting their faces prior to the dance.
It sounds strange but is fascinating. When we arrived two young men were sitting cross legged on the low stage with a wooden box in front of them. They took brightly coloured pigment powders from the box and carefully mixed them with water to make a paste. They then used small sticks like blunt ended kebab skewers to apply dots and lines of colour to their faces which they connected and coloured to transform themselves completely. The boy playing the male character, Jayantha, had a bright green face, a yellow and red trapezoid on his forehead, black lines around his eyes and a peculiar red shape around his lips that suddenly transformed his pleasant neutral young face into something quite grotesque. The older man painted his face white, then added white powder, waited for it to dry and then splashed it with water. Next he applied pale yellow/orange make up over his face and neck and added clown like red cheeks and chin. He added high arched eyebrows, extravagant eyeliner, two kiss curls on his cheeks, a Cupid's bow in red and suddenly he was a woman! He added a red and yellow rectangle to his forehead and was ready for action in the role of a demoness disguised as a beautiful woman! The next part of the performance was an illustration of the acting techniques used in their plays. There is no speech and all emotions/scenes and actions are demonstrated by eye and hand movements, twitching of the facial muscles and expressions, and stamping/ dancing. The emotions are depicted by a pattern of gestures eg a sneering expression for contempt, wide open eyes and smiling for love etc.
The third part was the dance, the story was explained briefly in very heavily accented Hindi-English at the start.
Here is the story of Narakasuravadhsm...
The prince Jayantha falls in love with a beautiful romantic maiden (who turns out to be a demoness... Shhhh...) She reciprocates his feelings. The prince tells her he can't marry her without asking his Dad's permission. She is not impressed. She tries in vain to seduce him in a very provocative and dastardly fashion ('she wants to enjoy him to the full'!) and gets annoyed with his reluctance. Then she reveals who she really is (smudged make up, fangs, scary face++ and lots of screaming). The prince is disgusted and so loses his temper, stamps furiously about the stage, pulls out his sword and slices off her nose and breasts! She runs off in a sulk and he does a victory dance to prove that 'under any circumstances, evil should be punished'. Just like The Archers really!
This was great entertainment with lots of eye rolling and stamping, rather like a cross between a Maori Haka and Cinderella.
We wandered back to the Old Harbour for dinner. Our plans for a swim were thwarted by the arrival of this evening's band on the side of the pool surround by the star shaped lights in the trees opposite the restaurant. This would have meant us swimming up and down between the band and the diners/audience. Perhaps not.
It did allow more time for dinner though and another excellent three course meal including Kerala fish curry with coconut and okra, and lamb curry with coconut. We were intrigued by 'Duck terrine with cinnamon pineapple sausage' but did not feel tempted to order it!
We were too full to move very much and decided to postpone packing for the mountains till tomorrow morning...