108.ODISHA. (2) AROUND CHILKA LAKE

Chilka ( also written as Chilika)  Lake is actually a brackish water lagoon formed on the Bay of Bengal. At 1100 square kilometres it is the world’s second largest water body of this type. Theoretically all the various parts of the lake can be visited from the land side but there are only three major locations from where lodging and boating facilities are available. Two of them are on the west side of the road and one on the eastern side facing the sea. We decide to explore the lake from all three spots- Rambha, Barkul/ Balugaon  & Satapada.

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The southernmost of such spots is the facility provided by OTDC at Rambha. We are greeted at the entrance to the town by this religious procession associated with Veerabhadra, a form of Lord Shiva.

The OTDC complex provides large cottages as well as rooms, with fabulous views right on the lakeside.

Exploring the lake is possible only by a boat and there are plenty of them available. We have those operated by the OTDC and also those owned by the private operators. The first place we are taken to is called Breakfast Island. The story is that the British colonials used to visit this rock on weekends for their breakfast and the structure was built for the purpose. It has survived well.

The next stop is at the Bird Island. A smallish island which hosts a large number of migratory birds during the season. We are well into March and cannot expect the migratory birds at this time of the year.

We have to make do with the sighting of the local deity with whose blessings the migratory birds make a safe passage back to their respective places in the north.

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The lake hosts a large number of other animal species. The endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin is one. We could see a few but the photographs did not come off well.

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There is a small bivalve mollusc resembling the Green Mussel growing on the lake. At first glance, it looked like the young of the Green Mussels but the boatmen clarified that this is the maximum size this species grows up to and they are not edible. I guess this would be the food for some of the birds visiting the lake.

There is another place on the eastern shore of the lake near Rambha which houses a shrine to a Goddess and one has to crawl through a tunnel in the rocks to reach it. We decide against this adventure and return to have a meal with fresh lake fish at the resort.

Our next stop is Barkul. Barkul with it’s neighbouring  Balugam has been a tourist place for quite some time. We had stayed here about 20 years back. Barkul is busy the year round, birds or no birds. It has a naval establishment very close by and there is an island with a famous temple which is accessible economically from this place. The Goddess Kalijai has a huge following in this part of Odisha and visitors keep coming continuously. Add to this the birding season and you have a perfect commercial place. To make things more attractive the OTDC has developed a Water Sports Complex on the lakeside.

We reach Barkul late and decide against a boat ride and stick to the sunset.

 

After some early morning birding the next day, we proceed towards Puri, passing Balugam on the way.

Whilst at Rambha we had contemplated visiting Satapada from the eastern side, the seacoast side. As we were driving the people at the resort discouraged us from the journey. There are a number of  water crossings on the way and the roads are not good. There might be work going on a bridge. Nobody was certain if we could make by that route. The other option was to go to Puri and then drive southwards to reach Satapada, only place having accommodation on the eastern shores of  the lake. We decide on the Puri option.

The road to Puri is through several villages and an enjoyable ride. We stop at many places as we go to look around.

We stop for a drink of the tadi, the sap of the palm thinking that it is the Borassus palm sap. It happened to be the sap of the Date palm. This is the first time we had an occasion to drink the sap of the date palm and it predictably tastes sweet.

Here is a house at the village Pattajoshipur with masonry walls with elaborate decoration but with roofs of the palm fronds.

This temple on the side of a small lake has sunk on one side and appears tilting to its right.

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This arch looks incongruous in the village. Perhaps it belongs to another era when this was a rich town.

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This method of lifting water for irrigation is still being practiced not far from the capital city of Odisha.

The drive from Barkul to Puri is more than 143 Kms. Puri to Satapada is 48 Kms and Puri is also a place we need to visit as it is a coastal town, we decide to halt at Puri. For the sake of continuity, allow me to skip Puri for the time being and jump on to Satapada.

This part of the drive is through another set of villages and small towns and through an area which is more densely populated. A few kilometers from Puri we are greeted with a huge flock of Glossy Ibis foraging in the wet fields.

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A wild growing tree in the region grows seeds of large size. They are dried for extracting oil. Edible? No. They make soap out of the oil.

Cashew trees are in flower. It appears a bit late for the first flowers. I call up my brother in Goa to check up on the status of the tree on the west coast. I get the information is that the fruit came up on the west coast more than a month ago. Now it is the time for the ‘Hurrak’, a liquor made out of the fruit juice. Here in Odisha it is just flowering.

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We come across a traditional method of fishing in shallow waters of paddyfields- very interesting and probably very efficient.

This video shows the action:

( Link is at the end of the post.)

 

We reach Satapada in good time to check in at OTDC  and take a late morning boat ride to one of the islands towards the sea and there are many of them. The boatman offers to take seven ‘points’. In all tourist places in India they have ‘point’- five, seven, nine, eleven etc. The price differs with the number of ‘points’ done. One of the points offered by this boatman is ‘dolphins’, as if they were a tree.

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What one can see all along in the lake is the fishing nets. The water is low with the right amount of salinity and the bamboo sticks planted in the lake basin allows the nets to be spread in wide areas.

And here is the fabrication work going on :

The boatman has started showing us the seven ‘spots’. Here are two:

Which two?

‘the island is one.’

‘and the other?’

‘the small temple under the tree’.

For the third ‘spot’ we are taken a bit towards the east to show us some water which is supposed to be seawater entering the lake.

For the next ‘spot’, we have to scan the lake for the dolphins. We then move on to another island. This one is formed with the soil dredged from the lake bed. And it is here that we can have our lunch. It is another matter that it is counted as another ‘spot’.

The lunch with fish and fresh crabs is delicious even when served in aluminium foil.

We return to the resort and wait for another glorious sunset on the lake.

 

On our way back to Puri the next day we visit the famous Alarnath Temple.

In many parts of Odisha a house is painted on the occasion of a marriage ceremony and this fact is duly recorded in paint. Now, this paint and the fact of the wedding ceremony will remain intact until a fresh coat of paint is given which probably will come at the time of the next marriage ceremony.

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Next we meet at Jagannath Puri.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik   suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video by Veena Naik

March 2017.

 

 

 

85.GOAD’S OWN COUNTRY 13. ANJENGO, TRIVANDRUM, KOVALAM.

We are nearing the end of our travel in the God’s Own Country. The tail-end is remaining to be covered but nothing comes easy in GOC, even the tail-end and the tail-end stretches a bit into the neighbouring Tamil Nadu as well.

After the stay at the Ashtamudi lake, we head for Thiruvanantpuram or the good old Trivandrum after a brief visit to Kollam. As usual we take the coastal route and make a stopover at Anjengo.

Angenjo or Anchuthengu was connected to Kollam by the British by a canal. Smart guys. Kollam means ‘pepper’ which is what they wanted and that is what the Company was formed for. To distract others, they renamed the place Quilon. That is history for you guys. At some places the canal still exists. I love Kerala for its thick cover of complex and colourful history.
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In 1694, the Queen of Attingal who was ruling this region which is 35 Kms north of Trivandrum made the mistake of her life. She granted the British East India Company the rights to establish a Trading Post (whatever that means) and a Fort. This is probably a great achievement for the Brits as it allowed them a foothold in a region which was more of a Dutch and Portuguese ‘Area of Influence’, then.

The fort is intact, 323 years on, in  Excellent condition and used for drying the neighbours’ laundry.

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 Here are some pictures from inside the fort.

From the outside it is being prepared for encroachment which will happen shortly.

There is a Lighthouse, bang opposite the Fort. In fact if you remove the road, it is inside the fort.

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The Trilingual nameplate at the entrance of the Lighthouse proves  the complete and comprehensive failure of the government policy of Tri-lingualism and a triumphant victory of Bureaucratic India. I demand an investigation into the amount of money spent in making this nameplate. I have not seen any of this type anywhere at any of the Lighthouses on the western coast of India. The Devanagari rendering of the name is hilarious.

This place is known in Malayalam as Anchuthengu, meaning five (coconut)palms. Very odd. There are coconut palms everywhere and I believe they were there always, before and after the White Man came. What is the significance of ‘five’?

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Anyway. I don’t want to talk too much about the Brits because I use their language.

I think not many tourists come to this place. They are tired by their revelries on the ‘backwaters’ to the north and the Kovalam beach and Trivandrum temples to the south. This little place is conveniently forgotten. It deserves a better deal.

We move on in the scorching sun and reach a place a few kilometers away which has a huge fishing jetty and market. It is called Muthalapozi Harbour.I would have loved to watch the fish auction here. From the size of the place it is clear that it is BIG. We are late and have to be satisfied with the stray boats coming in. ( More about this in the previous post No. 84)

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Even the stray boats late in the day bring here a lot of fish.


We move on from here and check-in at a hotel in Trivandrum around the temple complex where vegetarianism is ordained. One has to eat only veggies as a matter of tradition. Fine, let us live it for a day. This is not to say that we stayed in the temple complex. We stayed in a hotel booked on the net.

The Temple complex of Trivandrum has a huge security arrangement after the discovery that the complex contains a hoard of gold and jewelry which will take several years to evaluate. It is said that it is the richest religious establishment in the world. May the Goad bless the Special Audit Authority. I wish them a lot of luck.

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The rear side of the complex with it’s lake is beautiful. I dont know hat is hidden under the lake or if there are any tunnels which are not known to the Supreme Court of India.

If Lord Padmanabha’s estate is willing to negotiate, I might consider believing in God.

The reason we are not dwelling longer on this place is the Dress Code of the temple. I am not willing to compromise for the sake of seeing some stone idols. I cannot attribute any special value to them. I would have certainly considered it if they allow me to have a look at the gems and jewelry discovered in the faults. Anyway that is not to happen.

We move on to the better places like the seashore. It is crowded but still has some fresh air left. And the Shanmugham beach  has some refreshing sculptures.

We did visit a beautiful a museum in the temple complex. By now I have forgotten about it as they don’t allow photography.

There are a couple of other museums in the city. Cant take pictures inside.Thank you.

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People who come to Trivandrum also visit Kovalam. It is the unwritten law. I did it when I came here first about say twenty years ago. I did not like the place called Kovalam. I will always wonder why people go there.

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Having said that, let me make an exception of the Lighthouse. It looks good from the beach. My wife is planning to buy it.

From Kovalam, where we stay the night, to the end of the Kerala territory is not very far.

We have only the beautiful Vizhinjam to deal with. Lovely place. A lot of fish and a lot of religion.

We go straight to the beach and the fishing harbour to find that there is more of religion here than fish.

Jesus is trying to save the world from the high ground across the harbor.

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What he looks upon or rather frowns on is the mosques built by the followers of his closest competitor.

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Not one, but two large ones.

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In this whole drama people tend to lose site of the real historical site. Not me. I insist on seeing the old Portuguese Church. The original one. Our Lady of Good Voyage. It is a beauty and it is simple. It has a lot of images inside. Good number of paintings on the walls.

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Among the paintings is the one which is relevant to the name of the Church. Excellent marketing considering the fact that the people here are fishermen but the replica of the boat down below is not correct. It should be a fishing boat.

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Among the paintings is one depicting the wrong method of crucifixion. These Jews were not trained well in their job of the painter was not briefed properly.

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Now, I am tired and I am hungry. I need to have some fish and if that is not readily available I could do some squids if they are available.

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We decide to leave this lovely place and move into Tamil Nadu for our lunch.

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Kerala, the Goad’s Own Country shall always remain a fond memory.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran & Veena Naik

 

 

 

 

 

84.GOAD’S OWN COUNTRY 12. THE CHINESE FISHING NETS AND THE FISH DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS OF KERALA.

The above two topics are not related although both of them deal with fish. They are clubbed together for the sake of convenience.

The Chinese Fishing Nets are unique to Kerala and are not found in any other seaboard state of India. Even in Kerala they are confined to Ernakulam-Alleppey-Kollam belt. There are two theories about how they landed here. One is that they were introduced by the Chinese fleet of Zeng He who visited Kerala in early 14th century. The other theory which is more plausible is that they were brought in by the ‘Casado’ Portuguese settlers who came from Macao. If this later theory is correct, the nets have a comparatively more recent history. In any case, they are a part of the south Malabar landscape for at least 300 years.

They are called CHEENA VALA, localy.

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Why did they become popular as against the traditional fishing methods? The nets take less effort to operate compared to the more traditional method of hauling the net through the sand on the shore. It also requires lesser number of people to operate. On the flip side, it is not a very efficient method of fishing. The yield is quite low. The operation of these nets requires tidal waters. They catch fish only at the high tide when the seawater enters the creeks and the ’backwaters’. That explains their geography. You cannot operate them in the open seashores where most of the commercial fishing takes place.

We first encountered the nets at Vypin island. I guess they are found another fifty kilometres or so up north  in the Kodangallur area.

It is perhaps on the Vypin island in Erankulam district that they are economically important even now.

The fishing nets are a sort of factory. It needs a platform, staff, storage space etc. depending on the level of activity.

It is generally thought that these objects are made of wood. Not true. Although considerable amount of wood is used the main cross members of the beam are made of steel and bear most of the stress. In mechanical terms the nests are easy to lower into the sea and raise above after the catch with minimum efforts made possible by use of levers. They don’t require any other electro-mechanical inputs. Maintenance of the components appears to be the major source of expenditure in the operation.

Skilled workers are required to lower and raise the nets.

In terms of the fish caught, they appear to be insignificant in the overall fisheries scene of the state. Insignificant in terms of quantity of fish caught and its value. The major fishing method is of course the motorized trawling.

Apart from the estuarine  areas around Cochin, the southern backwaters also have the presence of these fishing nets. On  the Ashatmudi lake, they seem to be operated at night and use electrical lights to attract the fish. You can see the lamp on the top of this net.

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Whether economically important or not the nets add a lot of beauty to scene. No visitor to Kochi will return without the photographs of the nets.

At many places I think the nets are used as a piece of decoration, as here at Kumarkonam.

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At  Kochi a particular section of the town is called Fishing Nets area. I need to caution people about an activity caried out here.

A few people sell a lot of fish and crabs here. The selling point is that the fish is fresh off the Chinese Nets and you can have it coked instantly by the service provider on the pavement. They never say in so many words that the fish is off the nets. It is implied and we take it for granted, most of us. We establish a connection between the two.

This story has two parts, the source of the fish and the availability of cooking facility instantly. The first one patently untrue and the second part is absolutley true.

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Look at the wide variety of fish sold which includes Pomphrets.

Many of these are deep-sea fishes and cannot be caught here in the creek.

This is all about the Chinese Fishing Nets that I could observe.

Whilst at it, allow me to share a couple of other traditional fishing methods of Kerala.

The pictures below show a large net being used on the seashore at the receding tide. This method needs huge manpower and is a collective efforts by the fishermen community. The pictures below were taken at Kovalam in southern Kerala. This is not unique to Kerala. It is practiced in Maharashtra, Goa and presumably in Karnataka although I have not seen it. This provides the freshest possible commercial catch and is sold at a premium.

We have covered this in an earlier post in this blog. It is called Rampon or Rampan in Maharashtra and Goa. I need to find out what they call it in Malayalam.

There is another fishing expedition we could observe at Varkala in southern Kerala. Very interesting and Varkala being a cliff, we could observe it clearly but not at a close range.

Two boats venture into the sea. One is large, the other small. the larger one is carrying the net.

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They spread the net in a circle.

A third boat provides some assistance or perhaps some supervision.

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They are now closing in, bringing the entire net to the larger boat. In a short while the net is dragged on to the boat.

The whole operation took about 90 to 100 minutes. The boats return to the shore with the catch.

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PART II- Distribution.

OK, the fish has been caught and it has to reach the plates of the customers. Let us see how they do it.

Practically everyone in Goad’s own Country eats fish. To feed this vast population with fresh fish is a challenge that has spawned various ingenious delivery methods.

The traditional roadside shop exists as it does everywhere else. They could be small makeshift kiosks or more elaborate structures which allow storage of unsold stocks.

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They also exist at the wholesale market places like the one below.

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Fish is sold at many places with the sellers seating on the ground with a basket or two arranged in front. This is particularly true when women are selling.

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More commonly it is a raised platform where the sale is completed standing up.

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Carts with bicycle wheels are also used in smaller places.

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In Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka selling of fish is women’s monopoly. In Kerala I guess the men do not trust the women with the money. I did not see many woman selling fish.

In most cases the sale is by weight but in many cases the age-old method of selling on the basis of a ‘portion’ prevails.

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The ‘portion’ system’ works well for odd items like the squid above or the Blue crabs below.

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At times  the larger items are sold on ‘piece’ basis , like these  rays below.

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This ‘numbers’ method is also useful for certain kind of shellfish like mussels. You can buy a 50 or a 100 of the delicacies below.

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Do they sell cleaned (dressed) or as it is found in the sea? The popular method in Kerala appears to be as it comes from the sea. The person cooking appears to be the deciding  on the method of cleaning.

Delivery on bicycles is still going on but looks like a dying institution but still exists all the same. The pictures below are in the heart of Kochi town. .

The motorbikes are a more viable proposition and they have been adapted very well for this activity. Look at this bike.

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It has the provision to fix the box with the fish and the ice. The melting ice water has to be drained. Provided for. The smelly water is drained on the road to burn the nostrils of the vegetarians passing by.

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You will find this scene in many small towns and villages in Kerala.

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Frozen Fish does not appear to find favour with the Malayalis with most of the folks looking for fresh fish but use of ice appear to have gained acceptance. My friend Ibrahim at Ponnani does not use ice at all.

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On the Ashtamudi lake and other ‘Backwater’ areas fish is sold door to (wet)door by the small boats or canoes.

For movement of medium quantities, autorikshaws particularly the larger ones (6 seaters) are used, as are the ‘tempos’, the small trucks.

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Use of saloon cars is not prohibited.

There is an interesting phenomena we could witness not very far from Trivandrum. We entered a large fishing harbour called Muthalapozhi. It was empty but for a couple of stray latecomer. The fishing auctions were completed very early in the morning and the fish had gone to the smaller markets. Here we see a boat with fish. This is not a fishing boat. It is a ‘transport’. It brings the fish from the Trawlers when it is fresh and sells it here.

A  Trawler is at sea typically for 2 to 3 weeks and use ice for storing the catch. The quality of the fish after the three weeks is not the same as fresh fish. Many people do not buy fish from these trawlers. As a via media, these enterprising people buy fish from the trawlers, presumably mid sea and bring it to the shore-fresh.

The above information is from a buyer I met on the jetty and was willing to pay a higher price to this fish as compared to the one sold in the market.

If you really enjoy yourselves at a ‘market’, I recommend you a visit to a fish auction on the seashore when the small boats bring the catch ashore. And what better place for it than Kerala?

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Small lots are laid down on the beach one by one in quick succession and the bidding takes a minute or so for each lot.

Believe me, women are at their ferocious  best when they are bidding against each other.

Text and Pictures : Suryakiran Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

 

83. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – 11. Ashtamudi Lake

In the last post, we passed by the lake and proceeded briefly to Kollam for the sake of convenience of the narrative. The Ashtamudi Lake deserves its own Post. So, we are back here. Ashtamudi Kayal is what they call it in Malayalam.

A bit of geography and history would be in order here although this Blog does claim to be a technical one.

River Kallada and a few other smaller rivers discharge the waters they bring from the Western Ghats into a lowland area abutting the Laccadives (Or Lakshadweep now) sea which is a part of the Arabian Sea. The lowlands form a very complex ecosystem of lagoons, channels, backwaters, islands and creeks. This system is generally known to us as ‘Kerala Backwaters’ which with their more complex resorts and spas and Ayurvedic Massages establishments are a major business. Most people don’t realize the immense historical, social, political and economic significance of this system. This lake with its elder (and larger) sister called Vambanad up north form an amazing ecological universe. The beauty of this whole system is that it is navigable for over three districts. It has a length of 241 Kilometres with 41 rivers, small and big, discharging the waters they bring from the upland western Ghats to make it a mixture of saltwater and freshwater which has produced a few hundred Ph Ds in Marine Biology.

Our brief in this post is the smaller portion of the  system called the Ashtamudi Lake which terminates at Kollam in the south. Before me, among the important people who came here was Ibn Batuta the Moroccan traveller in the 14th century. Between  Ibn Batuta and myself, there was a remarkable Englishman who came here at the behest of East India Company of London.

Col John Monro came here as the EAC’s ‘Resident’ after the local kings played into the hands of the White Man and surrendered their sovereignty. This Scotsman is widely revered in the region. He worked on the lake, reclaimed some lands as island which are named after him- Munro Island. Among other things that Munro did wad to dig a narrow channel on a part of the land so that it could be in communication with another part. The eastern part that you see in the map below is the place through which the National Waterways No 3 passes and connects to the northern part of the system. The encircled area is the one that connects the Munro Island area to the eastern side of the lake.

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It is on the bank of this narrow channel that we stay the night at the place called Roomi’s Nest. Roomi’s Nest has rooms on both sides of the channel. If you want to go from one to the other, you go up along the narrow path lining the channel, cross the bridge and come down again. Very complex for a hotel.

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 The difficulties and smallness of the place is compensated for by the very co-operative nature of Roomi and delicious food cooked by his wife.

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Entrance to Roomi’s Nest

 

Now what do you have in the lake? Many things if you have the time and the inclination. Unfortunately for us there is a feast going on that day at the Church and most of the resident fishermen of the area being Christians have excused themselves, leaving us with very little fresh fish. We were counting on three species of clams and one of oysters. We could not get any of the famous clams.

 

 

 

  We start the morning on the boat owned by Roomi. He joins us with his crew of two and there we go exploring. It requires a license for the skipper of the boat to operate it on the lake. It applies to all motorized boats.

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The houses on the shores of the lakes are colourful. It should be fun to live so close to the water although it may have its own difficulties , like the mosquitoes, the falling coconuts etc.

 The Chinese Fishing Nets are here on the western side of the Munro Island, but not many.

Among the economic activities one can observe on the islands is Goat-rearing.

Cows are seen but not many.This cow seems to be enjoying herself.

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There is a weed which grows along the shores of the lake and I was told is liked by the cows.

 

Rearing ducks appear to be an activity quite common all over Kerala and Ashtamudi lake is not an exception. It is quite interesting to see roadside shops in the state selling three types of eggs- the common hen eggs, larger Duck eggs and the smaller, spotted eggs of the Japanese Quail which is called Kad of Kada here.

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Coconut farming is a natural occupation of the people in Kerala and this lake area is not an exception. Processing of coconut was not noticed, neither did we see anyone selling green coconuts.May be it is done at places in the lake that we did not visit.

Fish farming, particularly the rearing of the Pearl Spot or the Karimeen is a lucrative business. We visit a farm where they raise the fish.

The fish are in the net. The net is puled out to show to the customers. If you dont like, the net goes back to the water with the fish remaining alive.

Roomi flatly refusesd to pay the asking price which he called exhorbitant for what was on offer.

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We could notice a Saw Mill on the lake shore indicating timber logging as aneconomic activity.

 

There are no school buses here or one has to go a longer distance to catch the bus. Taking a boat to the school is a better option for many of the students.

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Student awaiting arrival of boat to school.

Ashtamudi means eight-coned. The lake is a maze and requires transport systems to match.

There are the crossings from one side to other on small country boats.

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And also the larger motorized boats for the larger vehicles.

It looks like these houseboats are also used for transportation of people and goods.

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Churches and temples are aplenty along the lake shores. Devotional music can be heard.

The sport of angling is prevalent on the lake.

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Angler with his fish line under a railway bridge on Ashtamudi lake.

 

What is more interesting is that it is also practiced by young women which is rare. It was heartening to see woman anglers.

Fish is sold along the lake fringes in small country boats. The sale transaction is done with the vendor in the water and the customer on land.

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Fish Vendor-1

 

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Fish Vendor -2

 

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Fresh fish off the nets.Premium Quality.

 

There are a few islands in the lake apart from the larger Munro island and 43 species of Mangroves are supposed to be growing in the lake system which make growth of a large number of fish species.

As many as 57 species of birds have been recorded in the lake area, Among the most visible are the Cormorants who reside here in large numbers and constantly enrich the water with their dropping for the fish to grow on.

There were Kingfishers of course and the Terns and Bee-eaters.

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River Tern

 

Roomi’s nest has a few residents. The White-Throated kingfisher has his holes in the sand banks. The Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker also nests in the coconut palms.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik