December 7, 2009
Travelling to and from work I’ve been drawn to the colourful posters of the Incredible India advertising campaign, brightening up train and Tube stations around London, and transported to the tropical waters and the vibrant settings they picture. Having returned from the AITO Conference in Cochin, Kerala, on my first visit to the country, I would say the Ministry of Tourism’s product does exactly what it says on the tin.
After arriving in the early hours and waking up from a few hours’ sleep, the sound of nearby prayers and beeping traffic brought me to the balcony and, stepping into the heat with a close-up of Cochin before me, I immediately felt enveloped by the city’s charming, gentle chaos.
Exploring Cochin around the business sessions of the conference was a real pleasure. A laid-back place with a rich history of colonial influences, notably Portuguese, Dutch and British, today they seem to form a harmonious blend with traditional and modern Indian culture. Part of the British legacy is cricket and talking to the locals while watching a game is a great way to spend an afternoon, and definite confirmation of how crazy Indians are about the sport; turning up to watch an AITO team play is keen.
Architecture, from palaces to fishing huts; food, with tastes that come at you from all angles; distinctive dance; arresting music; the views; and the people of Cochin’s approach to driving are all part of what made my snap-shot of India an incredible first-time experience. And the backwaters, stretching across a vast area behind Cochin, are an eye-opener after a few days in the city and not to be missed. Coming out of downtown, Chinese fishing net structures and palm trees form the skyline there while flitting kingfishers and fishermen, balancing on small wooden boats to pull in their nets, provide the action to both unwind and uplift the visitor. Rob Looker