(a redo of a messy post done while travelling)
It’s not often we re-visit a country, but India has so much going for it (people, food, culture, swimming, tea etc. etc.) that we couldn’t resist returning.
We flew from Victoria to Seattle where we boarded Air Emirates for the journey to Dubai and on to Mumbai. Twenty plus hours and we arrive in the wee hours to a relatively sleepy city.
We spent a few days in Mumbai staying at Travellers Inn, conveniently located in the Fort district. Close to banks, businesses, galleries and the CST train terminal, but also on a quiet side street, Travellers is our Mumbai home. We took care of business – like getting an Indian SIM card for my phone (so cheap!) – did a bit of shopping but mainly just wandered, re-familiarizing ourselves. And finding some shops we somehow missed on our 2017 visit.
I stopped to photograph the colourful exterior of the Yazdani Bakery and then noticed their sign advertising fiery ginger biscuits. That led us inside where we met Rachid, one of the family of owners.
He talked about the bakery, his family, the local Parsi community and how he spent his time; and frequently promoted tea and baked goodie sampling. Sometimes the simple act of sitting down with a stranger leads to a riveting conversation and good food.
Once we’d conquered our jet lag (by day 2) we connected with our Mumbai artist friend Arti. With Arti we went to the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Mumbai’s oldest museum) housed in a beautiful, restored colonial building. We first saw the Connecting Threads: Textiles in Contemporary Practice exhibition. The textile art was situated amongst, and sometimes wound around, the museum’s permanent displays.
The recently renovated museum made a wonderful venue for the contemporary textile artworks. It was an excellent way to get excited about the visual arts in India (and those colours!).
Stepping outside to the museum’s grounds we visited The Handmade Collective, a gathering of 55 artists from around India in a once-a-year craft market. We saw handmade books, scarves, soaps, paintings, ironwork and more. Although early in our journey we did succumb to buying some artwork. Arti laughed at our impulsiveness but offered to care for our purchases until our return in a couple of months.
The silk, (above) from Varsha Rani’s Praachi, is extracted after the silkworm has completed its lifecycle. Top of the image are a few cocoons and, below, some samples of the natural silk in its rich variety of textures and colours.
We visited the Jehangir Art Gallery another day, viewing several exhibitions in the spacious galleries. The gallery’s neighbourhood, Kala Ghoda, contains a maze of art galleries and contemporary design shops.
Everywhere, the colours and textures of the city.
A few days in the city and we got organized and ready to take an overnight train south to Ernakulam, followed by a short ferry ride to Kochi. Our berths were at either end of the car so we each spent time hanging with our compartment mates. I talked mainly with Sunil, an IT manager from Mumbai going to Kerala with his wife for a family wedding.
When the train paused in stations everybody moved around: stretching, grabbing snacks, fresh air and a glimpse of another station.
We reached Ernakulam mid-afternoon, caught the Kochi ferry and were finding our way down smaller and smaller lanes to our homestay, The Royal Pergola. Tucked back from busy roads for our week stay, we ate and slept in solid comfort. Days started slowly over a huge breakfast and informative conversation with our hosts.
We had returned to Kochi for the Kochi Muziris Biennale, a citywide exhibition of international, national and regional visual arts. Even with a week we did not see all the venues (due partly to our slow movements in the heat). However, we managed to tuck into a exuberant profusion of art. Some of our favourites, like William Kentridge’s More Sweetly Play the Dance, we knew of beforehand but others like Shirin Neshat’s Turbulent we discovered in Kochi.
Many discussions ensued as we wandered the galleries or, later, around town. We enthused about the Biennale’s displays of diversity, about the large displays of student works and in the inclusion of food as an art form (the kitchen in Cabral Yard).
Our centrally located homestay helped us easily reach different parts of town. And as we often love to do, we rented bicycles with hard seats and no brakes to tour around on for a day. We pedalled to destinations and to no-destinations, earning our end-of-day beers.
Our stay wasn’t without spectacle either: we attended a Kathakali dance performance one evening and a Hindu festival procession another. The Kathakali is a popular event for tourists and cameras circled as the performers applied their makeup pre-show. But watching their performance, with its focus on gesture and eye movement, was enlightening. Watching the passing festival procession involved a bit more active participation, mostly dodging traffic that zoomed around the slow moving procession.
Our stay in Kochi alerted us to the dangers of going where we’d once gone before: comparing it with our previous experience was unfair. However, we’ll likely return in two years as the Biennale is extraordinary. We’ll continue to explore further afield, maybe on a scooter instead of bicycles. Despite all the tourist town hubbub sometimes the hordes parted and we caught an alternative, quiet glimpse of the familiar.