Drama Queens

According to our itinerary provided by Mysteries of India we had a 3 hour drive to Kochi after leaving Thalaserry. Looking at the map that morning we couldn’t help thinking that our trip planner had been slightly optimistic (or possibly just plain nuts). We stopped a couple of times along the way but the journey in total took 10 and a half hours and we definitely weren’t stopped for 7 and a half of those!

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Mum washing a bull elephant at our stop at the elephant training camp.

Elephants are donated by big wigs and are then trained in temple rituals here (I wasn’t entirely sure how they got the elephants in the first place, presumably they donate wads of money to the national parks in return for a jumbo package of good karma and social prestige)

We had a tour around the major sites in Fort Cochin (the old part of Kochi), including the Dutch palace (not Dutch at all – it was built by the Portuguese and lived in by the Indian kings, all the Dutch did was restore it and take all the credit), the St Francis church (supposedly the oldest European church in India and where Vasco de Gama used to be buried before the Portuguese took him back, which means lots of people taking pictures of an empty tomb) and the old Chinese fishing nets. These are still used to fish, but not so much as more modern methods, and as they aren’t as efficient it is probably only the tourist appeal that keeps them standing.

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After Kochi we headed back up to the misty hills, this time in Munnar.

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On our first evening we had an evening of traditional Keralan performances – Kathakali and Kalarippayat. Kathakali is a dramatised story without words, the performers are accompanied by drummers and a singer but they don’t talk or sing themselves, instead the story is told through a series of complex hand gestures and facial expressions – as well as fantastic costumes and make up!

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Because it was a tourist performance we were given an introduction at the beginning in which one of the performers showed an incredible array of traditional pantomime faces (I’m not sure if kathakali is always played by men in drag, but this performance was certainly was)

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Just before the main story we were given a quick run down of the plot – unfortunately due to imperfect English, a heavy accent and lots of microphone distortion I didn’t get much of it but I think the general gist was girl tries to seduce guy, guy rejects her, she turns out to be a demon queen in disguise, they have a big fight and he cuts her ears and breasts off. And they all live happily ever after.

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The second performance was Kalarippayat, an ancient martial art with a lot of acrobatic jumping around along with an exciting array of vicious looking weapons including sticks, swords, tiger claws and terrifying double bladed flexible sword-whip…things. All very impressive, even if it was set to the score from 300 and heavily dramatised for us tourists!

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