Today we ventured off the Azamara Journey for the first time since we departed Mumbai. We docked early this morning in Cochin (Kochi), India. Just after the harbormaster escorted us to the dock, his boat broke down, leaving Oceania’s Insignia without a way to dock, which can really mess up your day if you are a cruise ship captain. Oh, well, not my problem. Actually getting off the ship was a very slow process. Indian Immigration officials had their way with us, and there are a lot of us, so it took some time. As it turns out, we learned yesterday from the guest lecturer aboard the ship that India has to deal with one million new job seekers each month. Every month. To say that India’s population is exploding is not an exaggeration. By 2022, India’s population will surpass China’s head count. With all these new workers in need of jobs, the country has good reason to create government jobs harassing people trying to get out and spend money. We are a pretty docile group as long as we are well fed and watered. Things get ugly around happy hour, but up until then, we are easy to herd.
Speaking of numbers, here is a whopper for you. In the state of Kerala, our point of disembarkation today, there are 33 million people. Our guide told us that Kerala is India’s smallest state. But here is the most amazing fact: all of the men in Kerala have mustaches. All of them! It’s easy to spot a man who is not a local. We have pictures to prove it. I will add some pictures of this mustache madness below. Rick says Kerala is a perfect location in which to make a career change. Think of the mustache paraphernalia that could be sold here with the right marketing plan! Of course, you immediately think that the menfolk would never indulge in mustache stuff with all the other pressing needs so obvious to even the most casual observer in India, but you could be wrong. Another thing we learned is that the number of people with access to mobile phones far exceeds to number of people with access to toilets. As usual, it’s a matter of priorities and what is important to one person may not be important to another. If the cell phone/toilet thing doesn’t drive this point home to you, nothing will.
Mustaches of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Of course, Che has one, too.
Our first stop of today’s adventure was at a Hindu temple. As luck would have it, we hit the jackpot because a wedding procession was just getting underway. Marriage in a Hindu temple bears absolutely no resemblance to any wedding we have ever seen. The bride and groom arrived in separate cars which were decked out with large floral arrangements. The crowd of well-wishers was large and dressed to the nines. The saris were such beautiful colors and the amount of gold jewelry was staggering. It turns out that Indian women possess thirteen percent of the world’s gold and they are not shy about flaunting it. (Yes, I am about to die to go shopping!)
OK, back to the wedding. You would have thought that I was family as I had a spot right in front. The family made some offerings of grains and flowers and lit some candles. There were two musicians and lots of “fireworks,” which sounded more like massive explosions. The groom was escorted to a spot outside the temple and sat on a white mat. Then the bride was led by a woman I assumed was her mother and some younger women (sisters?). They walked around the area about three times, then the bride sat down next to the groom. The couple performed a ritual giving and receiving various items passed to them by their parents. Some prayers were offered, and then the marriage ceremony was concluded. They walked around the temple, but did not go in. The newlyweds were happy to pose for pictures with our group of 15 tourists from around the world. Actually, it was their idea; they approached our guide to see if we would pose with them. I asked our guide if this marriage was arranged. He said that it was and that almost three fourths of the younger generation likes the concept of arranged marriages. Hard as it is to believe, the divorce rate in India is much less than in cultures where we do self-serve marriages. I quizzed him as to how well these two knew each other, and he said that it is highly likely that they barely knew each other.
We ventured on to Vaikom after the wedding and glimpsed life in a small rural village. It was kinda weird in that I really don’t think they are used to throngs of tourists. The people were so warm and eager to engage us, if in no other way than with a simple “hello” and a smile. The children wanted to pose for pictures, as did many of the adults. There was absolutely no begging, but a couple of little boys wanted to know if we had any chocolate. Good grief, in this heat, it would have melted hours earlier, but I did have some sugar free bubble gum which delighted the kids and even some of the adults. We left them smacking that gum and smiling. As usual, the best part of travel is meeting people and experiencing their culture, and today we were richly rewarded.