R2I Housing - New Home Purchase Experience in Kochi

When purchasing a house in India, where laws and regulations can be gray, it is a given that dicey situations are lurking. We shadowed our cousin’s detailed research about six years ago and inked the deal on a villa project very close to the Infopark in Kakkanad (Kerala, India). Thanks to her research, we are blessed with a premium location! In the wake of the real-estate boom in Kerala, builders have mushroomed and purists consider our builder (Heera Constructions), though well known, a notch below premium local builders. It is best to designate someone to work with the builders while construction is in progress, for unlike in the US, most villa projects provide options to alter construction based on a generic plan. It is also possible to remotely coordinate without a middleman as builders are used to working with NRI’s.

With most builders, the quoted price (per square foot rate + statutory and other charges) is for the shell with a single-coat of paint and basic landscaping. Builders however encourage upgrading via them to make the house livable. Though we refrained, we highly recommend this option, as it allows the flexibility to be hands-off with a single point of contact. Upgrading through the builders is slightly more expensive but the alternatives are not much fun either: be a renter till interior decoration is completed or move in as-is and get the upgrades done. We chose the latter approach which while economical was painful.

To our builder’s credit, our community had the luxury of water and electricity from day one. Water connection from Kerala Water Authority (KWA) was a work in progress but they had an RO plant and some wells to ensure water supply. In peak summer, the community purchases water by the truckload to contain needs. KWA connections are slowly getting done at all the villas, although receiving water is still to become a reality. KWA pumps water twice a week to the area, but most houses are yet to receive a single drop of water – it is fishy and there is speculation that it is based on some understanding between private water suppliers and KWA valve operators.

At handover, many items were below par with the glaring ones being design considerations that did not factor in the monsoons of Kerala. Below are examples:
  1. Sunshades: For aesthetic appeal, the sunshades atop the windows and the roof resembled a shallow tank with drainage vent on one side. That design with inadequate slope allowed water to collect and leak into the walls. Newer designs of a sloping thin slab would have been a better option. We added sloping wherever required and waterproofed throughout. Another alternative is to keep the existing structure and add a sloping tile roof to the parapets.
  2. Open Balconies: Our house had three sit-out areas upstairs. While aesthetically pleasing, water came pouring in during the monsoon. Most homeowners had to cover these patios in some way.
  3. Termite/Pest Control: While the literature promised termite treatment after constructing the basement, it did not seem effective at all and pest proofing was not even promised. This translated to the owners doing these messy processes after handover. The former involves drilling holes into the structure generating a lot of dust, not to mention the fumes from the liquid injected to kill the termites. The latter involves misting the walls throughout – a health hazard. Fumigation seems to be unheard of.
  4. Roof tile work that drained to a channel within the roof structure: Rain falling on the tiles atop the roof drained to the inside of the concrete roofing and then drained down via the down spouts. The design is flawed for it did not consider water leaking through the roof due to blocked drainage or inadequate sloping or broken tiles.
  5. Underground Water Pipes: As these buildings were constructed on landfill, a certain level of settling was to be expected. These underground water-pipes were a bad idea as many homeowners experienced pipe breakage. As a preventive measure we invested in cutting the underground portions off and brought the pipes up.
  6. Landscaping: Lawns were standard in the front but no drip irrigation facilities were provided. Given the water shortage, the idea of supplying villas with water-intensive lawns was a poor choice.
  7. Water: Although our builder invested in an RO plant, the capacity was enough only for a fraction of the villas constructed. Inadequate water is an on-going problem that needs to be addressed.
To summarize, buying into a new villa project in Kochi is very different from purchasing a new construction home in a developed country. In the shell given at Kochi, time, energy, and resources are required before it can be called a home.


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Day Trip to Bolgatty Palace and Vicinity

Bolgatty, an island on its own, along with the Vallarpadam and the Vypin islands are known as the Goshree Islands. It is across from mainland Kochi (Kerala, India). Until the Goshree Island bridges were inaugurated in June 2004, access to these islands were only by boat. In February 2011, a new access point to the islands materialized with the inauguration of the first International Container Trans-shipment Terminal (ICTT) by Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The terminal boasts several firsts for the country including the largest individual terminal in India (4 million TEUs once the two phases are completed) and the country’s longest railway bridge (4.62 km) connecting it to mainland Kochi across the Vembanad Lake.


As for getting to Bolgatty – from Ernakulam, at the northern end of Shanmugam Road past High Court and the National Institute of Oceanography, cross the first Goshree Bridge and hang the first left (there is a sign-board which can be easily overlooked as the road is understated). From ICT Road, take a left in the direction of the first Goshree Bridge and take the 2nd right just before the first Goshree Bridge. The road leads through an unkempt locale to the entrance of the Bolgatty Palace Hotel. The hotel premises run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) is guarded like a fortress and unless one has a reservation or you are part of an event, gaining entry for the uninitiated is an exercise in negotiation - the site has a café and a restaurant that is open for visitors. Rooms are priced between Rs 8K and Rs 15K, depending on the season. Birthday parties and other functions are priced upwards of Rs 500 per head - this can be a great option as the setting is hard to beat, especially for evening out-door events. The building to the left is newly built by KTDC and the other side of that building is a private docking facility, which is a vantage spot, offering spectacular views of the Kochi skyline. The other building to the right is the old palace building (completely renovated) with the main guest rooms and the honeymoon quarters to the right. The KTDC building has a café and the old palace building has a full-fledged restaurant. The palace building showcases a huge winding wooden staircase leading up to the guest rooms – it is visible across from the main restaurant corridor. There is a large pool by the side of the restaurant and across the pool area facing the water body are the honeymoon quarters. The palace grounds are appealing and features the remnants of the 9-hole golf course, which the staff considers functional. Its practicality though is anybody’s guess! Crossing the second Goshree Bridge, which is, but a short distance away from Bolgatty Palace takes one to Vallarpadam. The terminal area is completely cordoned off, although both the landmarks - the railway line and the Vallarpadam railway bridge - are visible when driving past the bridge. The island is home to a very famous church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Vallarpadam. This imposing structure can be noticed from the main road and is less than a kilometer on the first left past the bridge. The beautiful place of worship, established in 1524, features a famed picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary believed to possess miraculous powers. The church is a melting pot for all religions, and the feast of Vallarpadathamma (Mother of Vallarpadam) celebrated between September 16th and 24th every year is a major draw-card.

The promenade along Marine Drive hugging the backwaters of Vembanad Lake is a great place to catch the evening breeze, though pollution can be a deterrent. The 1.75 KM walkway is popular among locals and tourists alike. Street vendors along with representatives of the Marine Drive Tourist Boat Association dot the pathway. An hour-long boat trip covering the prime spots along Vembanad Lake starts at Rs 50. Speed boats are another option and its pricing ranges from around Rs 400 for a quick 15 minute ride for a maximum of four people to Rs 1500 for an hour-long trip covering Cochin Shipyard, Naval Base, Oil Tankers, Wellington Island, Fort Kochi, Vyppin, Dolphin Aria, Chinese Nets, Vallarpadam Container Terminal, and Mattanchery. A far more economical option is to tough it out with the locals at one of the two Jetty's - Main Jetty (regular services to Fort Kochi, Vypeen, Mattancherry, and Varapuzha) at the end of the walkway near children's park and the High Court Jetty (service to Bolghatty Island) at the other end of the walkway. The Varapuzha route is especially scenic and recently earned a Lonely Planet mention.

There are several eateries, shopping complexes (GCDA and Baypride Mall), and a couple of touristy bridges (Rainbow Bridge and Chinese Fishing Net Bridge) along the walkway. Across from the GCDA Complex is another major shopping mall called Penta Menaka. The vicinity around Penta Menaka is a huge shopping area covered by street vendors as well as small-time shop-owners. The place is popular with the locals.



Last Updated: 07/2011.

Day Trip to Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi, about 12 km from Kakkanad, is the northern part of an island off the coast of Kochi City (Ernakulam, Kerala, India) accessible via a few bridges. To skirt city traffic, use NH 49 after Maradu - (past NH 47 bypass) – Thevara – Wellington Island Bridge – with a sharp left turn to the Mattancherry Bridge. There is a tollbooth upon entering the island from the Aroor-Edakochi Bridge (NH47A). Take the immediate right and drive north to reach the general area where the Jewish Synagogue, the Police Museum, Dutch Palace and the Cemetery are located (inquire about the Jews Street if lost). The island is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west; Vembanad Lake to the east separates it from mainland Kochi. Prior to the colonial era (early 16th century), Fort Kochi was a major spice trading post. The Chinese arrived in the 14th century, and the name Cochin (co-chin – like China) is argued to have originated as its consequence. Testimony to their influence is the famous Chinese Fishing Nets that still serves as a landmark. Fort Kochi is a tourist hub because of its varied culture and architecture influenced by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British.

Jews Street is a popular tourist location and the touristy feel is further promoted by the array of antique shops and restaurants on either side of the road. There is a designated parking area to the left as well. Handicrafts are authentic but somewhat pricey – depending on the merchant (road-side vs actual shop), the quoted price is slightly negotiable. Jewelry, handicrafts (close to Rs. 1000/- for a small but exquisitely hand embroidered table cloth is typical), spices, miniature autos (tuk-tuk - Rs 150 and up), and small collections of old coins (Rs 300 and up) seemed to be the most popular items on display. Jews Street is equipped with excellent direction boards and they guide you to the end of the alleyway where the Jewish Synagogue (aka Mattancherry Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue) is located. The Cochin Jewish Community built the synagogue in 1568. Entrance fee is Rs 5/- and most possessions including cameras and handbags are not allowed inside the building. A unique local influence is the need to remove sandals or shoes. From the outside, it looks like any other old building - an 18th century clock tower and police presence are the only visible clues as a place of great historic prominence. The articles of interest inside the building include hundreds of Chinese hand-painted porcelain tiles, an oriental rug which was a gift from the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, many Belgian glass chandeliers, scrolls of the law, gold crowns received as gift, and a brass-railed pulpit.

The Mattancherry Palace Temple and the Dutch (Mattancherry) Palace are located adjacent to the Synagogue and easily accessed by following the direction boards. Entrance fee to the palace was Rs 5/- and tickets are purchased upstairs. The palace is a treasure-trove for history buffs with a huge amount of information presented in various frames. Murals and materials used in the palace (pallaks, jewelry, combs, etc) are on display as well. Visitors interested in the history of the place should allow upwards of two hours in the palace. The cemetery in one of the side roads off Jews Street seemed permanently closed with a bolted lock sealing the main gates. The Police Museum while small earns full credit for the presentation and material – it depicts the history of the police department through authentic presentation of equipment and uniforms from the colonial era onwards – entry free.

The northern tip of the island is five more kilometers further up which is where the main tourist area of Vasco Da Gama Square is located. In that general vicinity, there are a number of attractions including the Chinese Fishing Nets, St. Francis Church, Santa Cruz Basilica, Children’s Park, Parade Ground, Cochin Club, Cemetery, etc. The view across from Vasco Da Gama Square features the Ernakulam skyline along with Bolgaty Island and Vallarpadam Container Terminal. There are also a few functional Chinese fishing nets in close proximity to the shore near the square. A short walking distance on Princess Street gets you to Santa Cruz Basilica (open daily 7AM-8PM – free), the first European Church built in Asia by the Portuguese in 1502. It has several paintings and other decors. The church serves as the primary seat of the Latin church of Kerala and was declared a Basilica during the Pope John Paul II’s visit of 1984. Princess Street has several western cafes, souvenir shops, etc and is a good leisurely hangout area. Bastion Bungalow featuring Dutch architecture can be seen along the way – it is the official residence of the Cochin sub-collector and hence entry is restricted. Further down the road (River Road) on Napier Street is Parade Ground and en-route is the beautifully landscaped Cochin Club – a British colonial club established early 19th century with 250 members currently – the security at the entrance do not frown at the camera. VOC Gate, the only remnant of the office of Dutch East India Company is a large wooden gate with the VOC inscription located across from the Parade Ground. Further down and off Napier Street (0.5KM) is the St. Francis church (open Mon-Sat 9:30 AM to 5PM), the burial site of Vasco da Gama – the remains were transferred to Lisbon fourteen years later. Gama’s gravestone and a cenotaph in memory of the people of Kochi who fell in WWI are also at this site.

It is difficult to squeeze everything Fort Kochi has to offer to a day. On our part, we missed out on the Indo-Portuguese museum (9AM to 6PM except Mondays), the Pierce Leslie Bungalow (now a boutique hotel on Beach Road, Indian Naval Maritime Museum (INS Dronarcharya), etc. Established by the late Dr. Joseph Kureethra (Bishop of Kochi) to protect the rich Portuguese heritage, the Indo-Portuguese museum is located near Parade Ground in the Bishop’s House compound.

There are a few good eateries on Princess Street and a few other spots around Fort Kochi. Another option is to dine in Ernakulam MG Road (via Thoppumpady Bridge - Willington Island - NH47A) where plenty of excellent mid-priced options abound – Dwaraka (vegetarian) and Cochin Bake House located before Jose Junction on MG Road standout in terms of access, service, and price.

There are many places to enjoy local performing arts when in Fort Kochi: Kerala Kathakali Center (near Santa Cruz Basilica, K.B.Jacob Road – Rs 150 to Rs 200 for an hour long show), Greenix Tourist Theater, and Kerala Folklore Theater, to name a few. Also, the village of Kumbalangi which promotes eco-tourism (Mastyafed Milky-way Aqua-Tourist Village: located in Vypin, South of Cherai Beach) is a very good day-trip option.

Last Updated: 08/2011.

Medieval Era Music (500-1450) – An Intro with Books, and other Resources


Music of every era has been largely a reflection of the frame of mind the society bore at that period in time. While Western music from the ages to the present is collectively but incorrectly referred to as Classical Music, documented evidence defines the musical era as:
  • Medieval (500-1450)
  • Renaissance (1430- 1600)
  • Baroque (1600-1760)
  • Classical (1730-1820)
  • Romantic (1815-1910)
  • 20th Century (1900-2000)
  • Contemporary (1975-present)
The overlapping years are the transitional period of each era.

Medieval Era:

The end of the Roman Empire marked the beginning of this era, which continued till early fifteenth century. Society broke free from the primitive, uncouth ways of the Dark Ages and took on a polished appeal. European music primarily evolved as sacred music under Christian influence. The initial prayers and the vocals used by the church were monophonic in nature until music arrangement shifted to polyphony. Despite the fact that the church considered blending sacred and secular music as sacrilege, it was the rage of the era. Travel prompted by Crusades further shaped the society and toned the music outlook. Slowly, Arabian love songs, French Troubadours, Trouveres and Minstrels who sang of courtly love and romance, along with the English, Scottish and Welsh bards lend harmony to the mix.

Although there is no dearth of composers for that period, the more famous ones are Phillipe de Vitry, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes de Muris, and Guillaume Machaut. Vitry is regarded as the visionary who formally laid out the Ars Nova theory (includes all European polyphonic music of the 14th century), and as the main developer of the motets. While mostly secular, some of Vitry’s works had a religious tilt. However it was Machaut who embraced Ars Nova and took it to higher heights. Machaut is also well known for his work Mass of the Notre Dame. Dufay, on the other hand, was the transitional composer who handheld the medieval music into the renaissance era. His calm and smooth works were a sharp deviation from the harsh and complicated music composed by his peers.

Below are music selections by composers of the medieval era:

Composer/TitleThumbnailISBN/ASINBest PriceDescription
Les tres riches heures du Moyen Age: A Medieval Journey Box Set

B00000074R $59.98Boxed set of Medieval compositions. Over 7 hours. Composers: Gregorian Chant, Pierre De Breville, Bemart de Ventadom, Folquet de Marseille, Alfonso X, Neidhart von Reuental, Tannhauser, Oswald von Wolkenstein, Adam de la Halle, etc.
Phillipe de Vitry and the Ars Nova B00000204S$19.98The music is full of correspondingly bold, stark harmonies and strongly accented rhythms. 14th century motets - The Orlando Consort.
Patterns in Play: A Model for Text Setting in the Early French Songs of Guillaume Dufay by Graeme M. Boone - American Musicological Society Monographs978-0803212350$90.00Focuses on the early French songs of Guillaume Dufay and proposes a basis for determining some rules of common procedure for interpreting both underlay and style.
Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works978-0521036085$57Machaut's works in context of his long-term relationship to Reims and its cathedral
John Dunstable: Complete Works978-0852494080$80Critical edition of Dunstable’s music.
Oeuvres Completes Du Trouvere Adam De La Halle: Poesies Et Musique978-0852494080$31Reproduction of the original published before 1923.


While secular music was the highlight of this era entertainment music was not lacking either. Almost every medieval town, castle, and court had its own musical band known as Waits. Waits were musicians in groups of four that started off as watchmen of the castle and later became sentinels for the town. They alerted the residents of pending danger with high-pitched pipes called the shawns or hautboys. When the sentry role was no longer required these talented people became the official town band.

Musical instruments of the era are summarized in the table below. Most of them are still enjoyed by musicians.


ProductThumbnailBest Price Description
Shawm$50 and upMusical instrument of the woodwind family.
Flute $100 and up Woodwind family instrument.
Recorder $4 and up English version of the flute.
Gemshorn$995 and up Precisely pitched musical instruments frequently used by early music and folk music ensembles.
Ocarina$50 and upAn oval-shaped enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body.
Bagpipe$150 and upUses enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag.
Lute$200 and upLute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back.
MandoraNAMandora or mandore refers to various types of lutes.
GitternNAA relatively small, quill-plucked, gut strung instrument that originated around the 13th century and came to Europe via Moorish Spain A predecessor of the guitar.
Psaltery$50 and upStringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family.
Lyre$150 and upA stringed musical instrument well known for its use in classical antiquity and later.
VielleNAA European bowed stringed instrument used in the Medieval period, similar to a modern violin but with a somewhat longer and deeper body, five (rather than four) gut strings, and a leaf-shaped pegbox with frontal tuning pegs.
Fiddle$150 and upBowed string musical instrument, usually the violin.
Hurdy Gurdy$7 and upAlso known as a wheel fiddle is a stringed musical instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned rosined wheel rubbing against the strings.
Organ$990 and upA family of keyboard musical instruments characterized by sustained tone.
Harp$150 and upA stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicular to the soundboard.
Trombone$150 and upA musical instrument in the brass family.

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