Monday, January 05, 2009

India Holiday - Sunday 21 December – Arrival in Kochi

We arrived a little late in Kochi (formerly Cochin) after a relatively long but uneventful trip from Birmingham, having managed about 2 hours sleep on the 2 leg-trip via Dubai. The transition from grey drizzle and 3c to hazy sunshine and 23c at 8am was however entirely pleasing :) Finding the driver from Kalypso Adventures (a highly recommended tour company) in the queue outside the terminal was a major relief, we had booked everything in advance but left some of the details hazy. Having been collected we headed across Kochi to our first destination, the Taj Malabar (,COCHIN/default.htm), having previously decided a couple of nights somewhere relatively pleasant/tame to get over jetlag and to acclimatise would be a good idea.

Helen, having never been to India before, was taking everything in, the sights, scenes, smells, noise and hustle and bustle. It was 9am Sunday morning as we passed through the central district of Kochi, which was surprisingly busy, although not comparable to 9am Monday morning in downtown Chennai or Mumbai.

In the car we were given gift sets including hats, t-shirts and tea spices (a result, as we were going to search for the latter later on in the holiday but now we didn’t have to!), which was very generous of Kalypso. It’s worthy of mention how helpful Kalypso ( has been in helping me to put this holiday together, including co-ordinating and managing all of the various bookings, organising the transport, guides, etc., including accommodating a number of schedule changes along the way.

Security, unsurprisingly, was heightened everywhere. By 10 am we were checked-in to the Taj, situated on one of the islands that make up the port district of Kochi, knackered but on holiday! First stop was a walk around the small hotel gardens and a look out onto the water to see what might be about. The first thing you notice is the sheer number of House Crows, which maintain a constant conversation amongst themselves, they’re everywhere in the gardens and on the surrounding land. Also present in reasonable numbers were Barn Swallows, zooming around the top of the hotel. After that it was field guide time for pretty much everything we saw :) Our first raptor was this Brahminy Kite, which kicked a juvenile Brahminy off a perch on a buoy to settle there itself, and then after a brief lull resumed its soaring around the hotel and across the water around the island:

On the water was a floating mulch of seaweed like plants (water hyacinths), mingled with human detritus, which seemed tidal, being pushed around by the passage of craft large and small. On this floating stuff were perched loads of birds, from Great White Egrets, through Intermediate Egrets and Little Egrets, and a number of Indian Pond Herons:

They confused us at first as when they fly their wings are bright white, but when they land they are a very well camouflaged brown bird and hard to spot! Whilst we were watching the various Egrets and Herons, a pair of very small birds caught the eye and the ear – Common Sandpipers:

The second raptor and a frequent sight in these parts was this Black Kite, I now see the distinction between the tail feather patterns on the Red Kite and the Black Kite, which will be helpful if we’re ever lucky enough to see one in the UK:

We had an early lunch in the coffee bar then resumed our perch outside in the garden. The next bird we added was the Gull-billed Tern, a group of three hawking around on the water in front of the hotel:

Then a grey Egret-like bird, which helpfully flew towards us for a bit, revealing these white-wing bars; a distinctive marking of the dark-morph Western Reef Egret:

As we were so tired and lacking sleep we decided to retire for a siesta having done one more round of the gardens. The last bird we saw was very tricky to identify, I couldn’t move fast enough to get a picture of it but we both got a good look at it. It was only the following day, on seeing a pair together that we indentified a Purple-rumped Sunbird. Après siesta we headed back down to the gardens to watch the sunset, which turned out to be more of a treat than we expected. Hundreds and hundreds of Cormorants headed south to roost, as did some Caspian Terns together with large numbers of other unidentified species. We felt like film stars as pleasure boats filled with Indian tourists waved and shouted ‘hello’ at the lily-white Brits on the shore. This is part of the view from the Taj as Sunset approached:

Time then for a thali accompanied by Sandpiper beer :)

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