Walking In on the Sari

Walk. That’s my one-word gospel for all who will listen in on the best way to discover. Meander. Be curious, the good kind. Because stories wait around corners, discoveries often plonk themselves on one-way streets. And some are found in messy backrooms of squeaky clean shops lined with mannequins and smiles. Like this woven tale of the people, history, and fabric that go into the making of the Indian drape. There’s more than just five yards to the sari, trust me.

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Still Standing – the Last Jews of Jew Town

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala.  Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala. Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

Xandari Harbour, going beyond a hotel, doubles as a gateway to history. Located between the tourist paradise of Fort Kochi and the heritage rich bylanes of the spice markets of Mattanchery, it sees people and time come and go. Among the tales we hold precious is the heartwarming lifestory of the Jews of Jew Town. A handful left, behind doors and windows they sit – reminders of a people who found warm refuge in an alien land. Reminders of a page of a history turning to close.

In a small neighbourhood in the South Indian city of Cochin, Kashmiri shopkeepers in Islamic dress stand in front of shops emblazoned with banners reading “Shalom!” Inside, Hindu statues and shawls vie for space with Jewish stars, menorahs and mezuzahs. Although this multiculturalism might seem strange, the majority-Hindu city is well known for its substantial Muslim and Christian populations. Less known is that there’s also a fast-dwindling native Jewish community, known as the Paradesi (Foreign) Jews, who once populated the neighbourhood of Jew Town.

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What’s The Catch?

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Are you a traveler or a tourist? Yes, both mean different things. A traveler – unhurried, lacks the “need” to see/do things, explores beyond the ‘must’ eat, visit lists. A tourist – one for order, one who settles for a “simplified ABC version of the globe“. Highly subjective definitions, yes. Disputable, too. But it easily makes you and I a traveler every single day, at every other place. It makes me a traveler in my own land, in my own time. Friend to tourists and wayfarers, a commonplace storyteller, a forever traveler.

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Walk About

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the planning and execution of a video project as part of my internship. We worked with creative director Anoodha Kunnath, who has already produced many videos about different topics.

The first step was of course a discussion between Anoodha and Raxa Collective to understand what they both expected from the video. This took place about one month ago – at the beginning of my training – so it was really interesting for me to be aware, in a different way, of the company and its philosophy. The main goal of Anoodha’s work will be to communicate all the characteristics of Xandari Harbour (one of the hotels developed and managed by Raxa Collective) and of course its fascinating location.

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First feelings in Kerala

View from Xandari Harbour; Photo credit: Derek Spier

This weekend I arrived in India for the first time. My name is Lucie and I’m currently studying business at Audencia School of Management in Nantes, France. I’ll spend four months here in an internship with Raxa Collective.

My first “home” with Raxa Collective is Xandari Harbour, in Fort Kochi. When I arrived the first thing that astonished me was the warm welcome from the team of co-workers, also named the “Raxa Collective Family”. To be honest, as a French girl I am not used to this kind of welcome. Right away they gave me everything I would need to be comfortable with them and my new surroundings. They definitely know how to welcome a foreigner! ​From the moment I arrived the team helped me forget my 31 hours of travel, replacing it with the knowledge of how lucky I am to be here.

If you have already read some articles on this blog, you probably will agree with my assessment regarding the link between nature and the company. Now that I know a little more about Raxa Collective it’s clear to me that we can’t talk about it without talking about nature, too. So, as much as the warm welcome, I was also really impressed by the place and the amazing landscape.

The sunset was for me the best moment.  Continue reading

Of Rains and Communist Reading Rooms

View of the approaching storm from our Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

View of the approaching storm on Vembanad Lake, from a Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

Monsoon rains in Kerala – the greatest drama I’ve ever watched. They tick everything on Aristotle’s checklist for a good play. A country dried by summer and hoping on a good ending makes for a decent plot. Meet the characters. A thick blanket of menacing grey, humid air hugging skin. Gusty winds that uproot trees and power lines, darkness that comes calling even before night. And the stellar spectacle of a finale – prayers, predictions, and calculations answered in silvery drops. Stunning, stinging, and relieving all at once.

Writing this while watching blue and grey jostle in the skies, the earth still smelling of the last rain (petrichor is the word), I am reminded of the book I’m reading now. One that is as old as me, one befitting the best season in India. Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon.

“As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon.”
Alexander Frater, Chasing the Monsoon

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Chinese Fishing Nets, Kerala

Marconi in front of of the nets in Fork Kochi

Marconi

Marconi is an original decedent of the Mongolian people (a Chinese state at the time) who were the creators of the “Chinese Fishing Nets” in Kerala, India. These structures are at least 30 ft high and the nets stretch out more than 50 ft across the water! It takes half a dozen people to even attempt to heave the nets which work on a pulley system with GIANT boulders hanging from the opposite side to counteract the weight. Continue reading

An Introduction to India

View out of the Houseboat

View out of the Houseboat

My name is Kendra, and last week I arrived in Cochin, India. I am a recent graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and I traveled here to work for four months with Raxa Collective to learn more about Conservation-tourism in action.

Before I arrived in India I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the culture and food were different from the western style I grew up with, but when I arrived I was completely spellbound by what I experienced. My first sights of India came during a drive I took through the southern city of Cochin, and it was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be so full of life and color, especially in the rain. I saw women in beautiful saris racing across the busy streets in the rain and billboards advertising intricate and colorful jewelry. This was my first view of India, and despite my earlier apprehension I was enthralled with it. Continue reading

St. Francis Church

St. Francis Church- The original burial site of Vasco da Gama

St. Francis Church- The original burial site of Vasco da Gama

Today, for the first time in my life, I visited Fort Kochi. One of the first places I stopped at was the St. Francis Church, which is the oldest European church in India, and the original burial site of the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama.  In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail from Europe to India. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish were in search of an ocean alternative to the Arab monopoly on the lucrative spice trade, and the Portuguese had the good fortune to sail east vs. west. He and a few other Portuguese men who followed were allowed by the Raja of Cochin to build a fort in Kochi, and subsequently, in 1506, Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese viceroy, was allowed to build a Christian church.  Ten years later, the church was completed and was dedicated to Saint Anthony. Continue reading

Colorful Wonderland: Fort Cochin, Kerala

Five hours away from Thekkady is a colorful land of ornate architectures and a hometown of many fishermen that represent the historical harbor city, Fort Cochin, Kerala. The narrow and winding streets are filled with houses and churches that clearly showe their Dutch, Portuguese, or British influence from the colonial time. As I carelessly stroll down the streets only with my camera and some rupees (Indian currency) in my purse, I didn’t mind the stares from the local village people, nor the heat and humidity that made me drench in my own sweat; but, my mind got carried away seeking the remains of what time had left us.

Blue door and window with a wagon

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Urban Deterioration

You see them everywhere you go in India: buildings crumbling, their bricks and mortar moldering and turning to dust over the decades. Paint peels, debris accumulates, industrious plants creep surreptitiously along the gritty terrain until before you know it, a small forest occupies the ruins where Uncle Kumar’s tea shop once stood. But that’s urban decay. I like to call the process itself urban deterioration – the point at which the elements’ progress is visible, and still reversible, but steadily inching towards, for all intents and purposes, the end of a small bit of civilization.

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