Slow boat in Kerala
Anthea Gerrie cruises the waterways from Kochi to Kumarakom, discovering Jewish history, local villages and the chance to relax completely along the way
Tranquillity and India are rarely linked in the same sentence. But Kerala is a very particular corner of the subcontinent which defies the stereotypes. Lush rather than barren, calm instead of chaotic, highly literate, this is a place where time stands still long enough to enjoy the rare sighting of a blue butterfly, a cormorant hovering on the wing, a setting sun which leaves a vivid pink backdrop to a balmy evening.
Jews who fled from Baghdad and beyond 500 years ago — and those who preceded them more than a millennium earlier at the time of Solomon — must have felt they had arrived in a tropical paradise; one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful synagogues still stands testimony to their pleasure in landing on the Malabar coast.
So Kochi — or Cochin — the inter- national gateway to this south-western state, demands a couple of days of exploration before venturing into Kerala’s legendary backwaters, hilltop spice plantations or intimate resorts.
It’s tempting to think of the 1658 Paradesi synagogue as being named for paradise found, but less romantically it translates as an Indian word for foreigners. And while the community who built it prospered in the spice trade, many were descendants of refugees from further along the Indian