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

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

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


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