Johnny coughed from the plume of dust kicked up by the sudden halt of a police van that appeared from nowhere. A breath ago he’d just innocently lit up a Sempoerna after offering one to a beggar outside the Basilica Santa Cruz and now a threatening stocky, moustached cop was yanking at his arm.

Cop: You! Come with me!
Johnny: Wha…? What did I do? Wait my buddy is over ther….
Cop( bundles Johnny into van): You ‘ave just committed an offense! Itis a cryme to smoke in public in Kerala!!
Johnny: I’m sorry, I didn’t know , I—
Cop: Ignorance is no igscuse! You should know about the laws of Kerala before you come ‘errre.
Johnny: I… I’m really sorry sir. I didn’t know. I won’t do it again.
Cop: You are lucky I’m ina good mood today. I’ll lettyu off.
Johnny: OK sir, thank you. I’m really sorry.

An extraordinary but nonetheless hilarious welcome we received upon arriving at Cochin. A Keralan tells me that tourists are often shocked by the ban on public smoking.
“What can I say? We are very concerned about your lungs,” was her humourous take on it.

But Cochin, the colonial baton that was passed from one European crown to another over four centuries, is far from unfriendly to visitors. Successive migration thanks to its role as a major trading port from the 16th to 20th centuries explains the cultural diversity of the people here. Fort Cochin, now the rally point for every visitor was the first colonial settlement in India when the Portuguese arrived in the 1503. Then came the Dutch, followed by the British, before the tourists.

As our history books tell us the southwestern coast of India was a major choke point along the spice route. Deterred by hostilities in Calicut, Vasco da Gama’s expedition sailed on to the friendlier coastlines of Cochin and turned it into the capital of Portuguese India before relocating to Goa. The Portuguese conquests of course, set ambitions for maritime exploration that went as far as Melaka.

So in a way, Fort Cochin reminded me of Melaka but on a much larger scale with numerous basilicas and cathedrals dotting its landscape. Most intriguing however was the Jewish community residing in Jew Town. Learning about Jews in Kerala wasn’t quite something I’d expect to come across in Cochin but when you think about it, this was after all a major port along the vast Arabian sea, back in the day.

The Paradesi Synagogue in Jew Town (Rs5 per entry; no shoes, no cameras) displays a pictorial essay of Kerala’s early contact with the Jews. Relations with the Keralan royalty were established in Cranganore when a large number of Jews sought refuge from the destruction of their motherland during the Middle Ages, although stories about contact through trade long before that do exist. After a millennium of prosperity, the death of the last descendant of a pioneer Jewish chieftain led to political rifts. The community’s troubles escalated when it came under Moorish attack for its apparent dominance of the pepper trade. With villages set ablaze the Jews fled south to Cochin.

The Pardesi Synagogue remains a bastion of Pardesi Jewish pride but these days there are more Kashmiri run souvenir shops along the ethnic passage than there are Jews. A handful of seniors remain, some selling embroidered souvenirs while helping to preserve their unique heritage but many have emigrated to the Israel and parts of the West.

I encountered a young Jewish lady at the synagogue. According to a local bookshop owner she is the last young ‘un in town but only because a failed romance in Israel brought her back to Kerala, so goes the local gossip. Without a new generation to take charge the Jews are hoping that ownership of the synagogue and their accompanying relics will be taken over and preserved by the State.

For more pictures of Kochi, head on over to

AirAsia’s “What’s Your India” Contest terms & conditions

1. The “What’s your India” contest [“Contest”] is organised by AirAsia Berhad [“Organiser”]. The Contest will run for 9 weeks commencing from [“Contest Period”]: 10:00 (GMT +8) 9 February 2010 and end 23:59 (GMT +8) on 11 April 2010.

During the Contest Period, one (1) winner will be picked at the end of each week. The will be nine (9) winners to this Contest and each of them will receive the following prize:-

• ONE (1) souvenir from India by AirAsia Berhad.

2. The Contest is open to all members of the AirAsia blog except for the following [“Participant”]:
a. Permanent and/or temporary staff or employees of AirAsia Berhad, P.T. Indonesia AirAsia, Thai AirAsia Co., Ltd., AirAsia X Sdn. Bhd. and Go Holiday Sdn. Bhd and its immediate family members;
b. Representatives and/or agents (including advertising & promotion) of AirAsia Berhad, P.T. Indonesia AirAsia, Thai AirAsia Co., Ltd., AirAsia X Sdn. Bhd. and Go Holiday Sdn. Bhd.

3. By virtue of an entry to the Contest, Participants signify acceptance and agreement to all terms & conditions set out here.

4. To qualify for the Contest, participants will have to do the following:
Contest Mechanism:

Week 1: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 9 Feb 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 14 Feb 2010
Week 2: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 15 Feb 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 21 Feb 2010
Week 3: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 22 Feb 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 28 Feb 2010
Week 4: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 1 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 7 Mar 2010
Week 5: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 8 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 14 Mar 2010
Week 6: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 15 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 21 Mar 2010
Week 7: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 22 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 28 Mar 2010
Week 8: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 29 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 4 Apr 2010
Week 9: 10:00 (GMT +8) of 29 Mar 2010 – 23:59 (GMT +8) of 11 Apr 2010

a. All participants need to be a registered member of the AirAsia blog.
b. A new blog post about a city in India will be posted every week. (Total 9 posts in 9 weeks)
c. Participants need to submit a comment describing why this city (according to the blog post) resonates as their India, and to end the comment with the sentence “What’s your India?”

5. Only entries in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and Chinese will be accepted.

6. All entries must be submitted and received by 23:59 (GMT +8) on 14 Feb 2010, 21 Feb 2010, 28 Feb 2010, 7 Mar 2010, 14 Mar 2010, 21 Mar 2010, 28 Mar 2010, 4 Apr 2010 and 11 Apr 2010.

7. Only Participants that fulfill the Contest Mechanism stated above shall be eligible to win the Prize. Incomplete entries and/or participants that fail to fulfill the Contest Mechanism will automatically be disqualified from the Contest without notice.

8. The winners will be selected based on the most relevant and creative answer by a panel of judges appointed by the Organizer.

9. Selected winner will be contacted, at any time deemed appropriate by the Organizer, via email.

10. Under no circumstances shall the Organizer (including its respective employees, staff and agents) be liable for any loss (including loss of opportunity and consequential loss arising therewith) and/or damage suffered by any Participant and/or winner in connection with the Contest.

11. The winner is bound by the terms and conditions that come with the prize. The acceptance of prize indicates the acknowledgment and agreement of such terms and conditions.

12. The Organizer reserves its sole right and discretion to delete, remove, not consider or reject comment with content that is deemed by it to be improper or offensive in whatever nature.

13. The Organizer reserves its rights to publish or display materials or information, including but not limited to the names of all Participants for marketing, advertising and publicity purposes in any manner it deems appropriate. The Organizer further reserves its right to use any personal data of Participants in any manner and/or for any purpose it deems fit and Participant is deemed to consent to such use with no monetary payment.

14. The Organizer reserves its right to cancel, terminate or suspend the Contest with or without any prior notice and reason. For the avoidance of doubt, cancellation, termination or suspension by the Organizer shall not entitle the participant to any claim or compensation against the Organizer for any and all losses or damages suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of the act of cancellation, termination or suspension.

15. The terms and conditions herein shall prevail over any inconsistent terms, conditions, provisions or representations contained in any other promotional or advertising materials for the Contest. In the event of any inconsistency, conflict, ambiguity or discrepancy between the English version and the Bahasa Malaysia version of these terms and conditions, the English version shall prevail at all times.

16. The Organizer reserves its right to vary, delete or add to any of these Terms and Conditions and/or substitute or replace the gifts from time to time without any prior notice.

17. By participating in the Contest, it is deemed that the participant agrees to be bound by the terms and subject to the conditions herein set out upon submission of entry. The decisions of the Organizer in relation to every aspect of the Contest including but not limited to the type of prize and winner shall be deemed final and conclusive under any circumstance and no complaint from any participants will be entertained.

18. The decision of judges appointed by the Organizer are final, conclusive and binding and no further appeal, enquiry and/or correspondence will be entertained.

  • Shi Hong

    Kerala’s government is doing the right thing to ban smoking in public. However, I think they should order the airline companies to announce this onboard, and order the staff at the airport to announce the same thing to every arrival passengers.

    Hopefully Malaysia’s government do the same thing.

  • Piragash M

    Kochi is the lost relic of the olden colonial era. Sucking in the ambience of the new Kochi with the help of AirAsia would be a reminder of the Golden Years over there. So, what’s your India???

  • Geetha

    Outgrowing from its original bounds, Cochin is still a vibrant city in the breathtakingly scenic and prosperous state of Kerala. Apart from the Portugese touch in Melaka, Cochin comes next… my Melaka in India. What’s your India?

  • Mohd Hafiz

    Influence from Arabs, Jews, Chinese, Roman and Greek trader had made Kochi such a unique city. From the architecture of the buildings to local cultural, Kochi is another city located at Kerala, India waiting to be explored. I am ready for it.What’s your India