Arriving to India
As per usual, we woke up early for arrival day to watch us find our way into the port. This time, it was Kochi, India, a city of two million on the southwest coast of India. It was an especially exciting time because we had just completed an unplanned 12-day crossing, which means 12 days in which 800 people have not stepped onto land once.
Why was it an unplanned 12-day crossing? The day of anticipated departure from Cape Town, South Africa, the waters were extremely rough due to a strong storm system coming through. Because of this, the port authority actually closed down the port, so we weren’t able to leave. Our 7PM departure that evening turned into a 2PM departure the next day. This 19-hour delay meant that Semester at Sea had to make a huge decision: do we skip Mauritius (a one-day stop) or do we arrive one day late to India? The program decided on the latter, which means that we had to miss Mauritius, the small island off the east coast of Madagascar. Although I was disappointed to miss Mauritius, a place I have wanted to visit since I met a friend from there while studying abroad in 2009, I understood and accepted the fact that I will have to go there another time. Many students were very upset with this, since this is one of the 10 or so countries on the itinerary. It has turned into a bit of a joke on the ship, so it is now something that people have accepted.
So this made the arrival to India even better. We got up to the bow around 7AM, and it was quite foggy (I think smoggy) so there wasn’t much to see. Eating breakfast outside on the patio meant that we could see the land as we got closer. Surprising, not far off the mainland, six dolphins started swimming behind the ship. Something similar happened going into Ghana, where humpback whales were breaching just off the coast.
Coming into the port, we saw several islands, some natural and some manmade. We saw small fishing boats, ferries, Chinese fishing nets on the coast (a bit more on that later), churches, and more. Again, like Ghana, there was a band playing traditional music as we arrived at the port while docking. We were docked at Willengden Island, an island that was created after dredging the waterway in order to create a deeper port, which allows larger ships to enter. Ferries connect the island to the other parts of the city, including Fort Kochi (the more touristy area) and Ernakulum (the city center).
We had a total of six days in India. I spent four of these on a Field Program, a Semester at Sea organized trip. Here is how my six days looked.
Day 1 – Visit Fort Kochi
Day 2 – Early flight to Jaipur, visit Jaipur
Day 3 – Visit Jaipur
Day 4 – Train to Agra, visit Taj Mahal & other sites in Agra, train to Delhi
Day 5 – Visit Delhi, flight to Kochi
Day 6 – Visit Ernakulum (Kochi)
Chika was on duty for the last three days, which means she wasn’t able to get off the ship. This meant that she stayed in Kochi and visited the area the first three days.
The time in India was fantastic. I went in with hearing lots of stories from other travelers, and it always sounded like India would be the most overwhelming place to travel. The stories I heard made it sound like curious people would surround you while on the streets, that all public transportation would be overcrowded with people, and that you would surely get sick from the different bacteria in their food. While India was definitely unique in so many ways and is certainly a place that many would describe as being overwhelming, it wasn’t much more than I had experienced in some other countries.
India is a country with a rich history, including having been dominated by foreigners for many years. The Mughal Empire was based here, and the British colonized India and dominated the country for hundreds of years before India earned its independence in the late 1940s. With this history and mixture of people, it’s a country of diverse religions (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jews, and more). In a country about ¼ the size of the US, it has 1.2 BILLION people, 23 official languages (and hundreds more unofficial languages), and regions where the foods and cultures are varied. Cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai all have their unique cultures and customs.
As I expected, I really enjoyed the food here. With so many Indian restaurants in the US, I have eaten the food many times, but it was even better being here with the quality, the price, and the experience. They certainly know how to do their breads/carbs here (naan, parathi, chiappathi). The people were very welcoming. Many people were curious about where we were from. And many peopled loved to take pictures with foreigners, especially the blonde females, who would sometimes have 15 people waiting to take pictures with them.
In the short time I was in the country, I was shocked by the number of beautiful forts, temples, and palaces. Driving through the cities by bus never got old. It was entertaining to watch the people go by and to find intriguing sites around each corner.
I’ll be posting a bit about each city that I visited in India. Six days to visit India is nothing close to what the country deserves. But we surely took advantage of the time we had, and I hope to visit the country and explore more in-depth in the future!