After Mumbai I thought I'd had my fill of India but we had another stop in Cochin. I'm glad we did because it completely changed my impression of the place. In retrospect I'm not entirely sure why. When we arrived the dock was crawling with soldiers carrying machine guns. Apparently there had been a terrorist attack in northern India, and the perpetrators came from Kerla, which is the state in which Cochin lies. There was the same poverty, the same dirt, the same crazy traffic, just on a slightly smaller scale. But there was also a certain ... je ne sais quois. We hired a private car to drive us around ($20 for two hours) and we got out into the countryside where things were not quite so frenetic. We saw fisherman working these amazing wooden contraptions that looked like medieval catapults but were made for lowering and raising fishing nets. The waters around Cochin have been invaded by a water plant that grows like kudzu on land, which is making it impossible to deploy the nets and ruining their livelihood. Everyone in Cochin was very friendly. I'd go back there.
From Cochin we went to the Maldives, where we spent the day walking around the capital city of Mahe. Mahe is built on a tiny low-lying island. The highest elevation is probably 10 feet or so, and it took us an hour or so to walk completely around it. In an unusual display of political prescience, the president of the Maldives is shopping around for a new piece of real estate to relocate everyone to when global warming turns Mahe into water-world. I was not much impressed with Mahe. We were told that there are beautiful tropical paradises in the Maldives, but we weren't there long enough to find any of them.
From Mahe we went to the Seychelles, to the islands of Male, La Dique, and Praslin (which is pronounced Pra-la). Note to the cruise line: two days is not enough time for three islands. The Seychelles are the tropical paradise that the Maldives were supposed to be but weren't, at least not for us. I think it's the most beautiful place I've ever been. La Digue in particular is the nearly perfect embodiment of the classical vision of a tropical paradise. There is barely a road on the island. Only about a ten minute walk from the harbor and there is no vehicle traffic at all, but there is still some civilization in the form of the occasional hotel and guest house where you can stop in for a Pina Colada. I also got to go scuba diving on Male, and it was the best dive of my life. I've never seen so many fish in one place outside of a fish market. I got up-close and personal with a five-foot stingray. There were lobsters the size of a... well, I'm not really sure what to compare them to. They were probably three feet from tail to tentacle.
The bad news is that the coral reef is almost completely dead. On the other hand, there was also some new coral growth, so there seems to be some hope for the future. But to see the reef in such bad shape was heartbreaking.