Dhobis, palaces, and spices

I grew up knowing that “Dhobi” meant washing/laundry, as that is what my father always called it! There are Dhobi ghats right here in Kochi – called Dhobi Khana. The origins of the dhobi khana lie in the colonial period, when British officers brought many Tamil villagers to Kochi to work as washermen and since 1920 they have been known as the Vannar community. To this day, most of the dhobis are Tamils. According to an article I read, there are about 40 families in the community who use this Khana. Each cubicle with wash pens and water tanks is allotted to one family.

The dhobis offer laundry services to private individuals, hostels, hospitals, and hotels. Many have been working there since they were young teenagers and are now in their 70’s and 80’s. The dhobi who was ironing let me feel the weight of the iron and told me it was 8.5kg, which I well believed!The laundry is soaked, pounded, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung and hung out to dry.

Some of the wall art at the Dhobi Khana.

Our next stop was at the Dutch Palace which the Portuguese built as a gift to King Veera Kerala Verma in about 1545. It came to be known as the Dutch Palace as it underwent major repairs at the hands of the Dutch. It now houses a museum, the Mattancherry Palace Museum. The interior has incredibly richly carved ceilings, beautiful murals and the displays include artifacts from the bygone eras of the Raj. A Hindu place of worship is on the grounds, and a spring fed pond is used as a swimming hole by locals.

This Hindu temple was on our way to the Spice Market.

Unlike the spice market in Dubai, this one consisted of some shops selling spices, to include a women’s cooperative. We picked up a few harder to find spices – like white poppy seeds and black cardamom.

We discovered that Bazaar Road was where the wholesale merchants were located. The street was a hive of activity as large trucks laden with sacks of rice, garlic, onions and more jockeyed for position to offload their loads. Men were busy counting money, giving orders, and doing book work – India still believes in the ledger!!!

This rather fancy hotel, renovated and converted from an old granary, was beautiful, but in a strange location.

2 thoughts on “Dhobis, palaces, and spices

  1. Your travels remind me of an Indian soap I buy..found it in a health shop and bought it when mike was heading off to India…ayervedic soap called Chandrika. I use it all the time..love the smell of it, and use it always for washing my hair. Xx

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