Going to see what Columbus missed….

Most kids (at least in USA) know that Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in three small ships and bumped into America (actually, the Bahamas) in 1492. Many may not know that he was way off track, couldn’t be much further in fact. He was aiming at the “spice islands” on the Malabar west coast of India. Europeans had been traveling there for ages to bargain for valuable spices like pepper, vanilla, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and turmeric. Their usual route was overland, but the Turks blocked that off, so they had to go by boat. That was before (long before) the Suez Canal was built, so they had to sail all the way around Africa, a route pioneered by Vasco da Gama.

Columbus knew that the world was round, so persuaded the Spanish king to fund his journey to India by going west. He thought he had found it in the Bahamas and indeed called it the Indies (and Indians), and never relinquished that belief before he died.

Why am I telling you this? Because we are going there next month…to India not the Bahamas. We will be based in Cochi (AKA Cochin), the capital of the ancient spice trade, in the southern State of Kerala. I have visited India many times, but never in this area which they call “god’s own country”. By all accounts it is rather special, with many reminders of its multi-cultural past, especially influenced by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and more recently, the Brits, who governed the whole region until granting India independence in 1947. One important aspect of that process was persuading local Maharajahs and Kings to join the Indian Union. The king of Travancore-Cochin did so in 1949, and Kerela became a State only in 1956. These recent dates may suggest to some that India is a backward or “developing” country, but it has an incredibly rich history of civilizations going back way before the Greeks and Chinese. For readers in USA, I recommend a marvelous series called “The Story of India” on PBS Documentaries.

Our reason to go to Kerala is a nice invitation to speak at a medical conference in Cochin (and sign 400 of my “Tunnel” books), but we will have a few days to explore…and no doubt check on some of the spices. I will perhaps take some photos.




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