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

 

82. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – 10. Alleppey to Kollam


We leave Alleppey and move southwards to Kollam. We don’t intend staying in Kollam town but still would like to be as close as possible to Ashtamudi lake and the inland waterways.  We need to do a couple of other places along this long road and it might take another halt before Ashtamudi. When in Kerala one has to be prepared for a lot of things including a lot of confusion.

 

The road from Alappuzha ( Alleppey)  down south is narrow as most Kerala roads are. The traffic is horrible. The bus drivers appear to be trained to reduce the population of the state. I have somehow survived to write this post.

On the way we see this Shiva temple where the Lord has been provided with State of Art lightning for making Him visible at night.

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The temple is modest but has a sizable along the highway.

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The first major attraction we go to see on this stretch of the coastal highway is the Krishnapuram Palace at Kayamkulam. This 18th century palace built by the Travancore Kings and is a miniature replica of Padmanabhapuram Palace and now doubled up as a Museum.

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Krishnapuram Palace

The palace is well-maintained but the same cannot be said about the exhibits of the Museum. The most famous of the exhibits is Kerala’s largest (154 Sq. ft.) mural painting ‘ Gajendra Moksham’

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Gajendra Moksham, Mural painting.

 

 

 

 The Kayamkulam Double-edged Sword is also on display here.

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Kayamkulam Double-edged Sword.

 If you are a philatelist with interest in ‘Indian States’, you would know what Travancore Anchal is.  Here is something very important representing the famous postal administration.

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The simple beauty created by the Kerala’s woodworkers is here to see on a large-scale as in other palaces and temples.

5 Here is the place from where the King would descend to the pond for his bath. I find the gap a bit to narrow for a king to enter through unless he liked crawling.

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We make a stopover at Ochiara as we find a fairly decent hotel on the highway from where we could visit of couple of other places and stop for the day. As a matter of caution TheBlueDrive after sunset.

After some rest, we start again late in the afternoon for Azheekal Beach which is close to the very complex Kollam-Kottapuram waterway.

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I meet here someone who could have been a long-time friend. No, we are not mutually intelligible but that is fine. Language is not a pre-requisite for conversation; in fact, it is a hindrance. Not understanding each others language prevents quarrels and fights.

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They are constructing a bridge between Azheekal and Valiyazheekal which will help my friend.

Until the bridge is completed he has to take this boat across to his home at Valiyazheekal and pay Rs.10/- each time.

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Azheekkal is an extremely busy fishing harbour. We stop at the bridge to take some pictures of the incoming boats at the end of the day.

And then reach the Para Brahma Temple at Ochiara at the end of the day to pray for our continued existence in spite of the driving techniques of Kerala bus drivers.

The next day is again spent in the maze of Kerala roads. We are looking for Kovilathal Lighthouse and are not able to get there. We decide to go to the Ashtamudi Lake at a place called Roomi’s Nest and explore the lake from there. This helped. Roomi’s Nest is owned and managed by a Gulf-returned entrepreneur by the name of Nizar Roomi. About this place and the Ashtamudi lake a little later, in the nest post. As of now, Nizar volunteers to take us to Kovilathal Lighthouse. We have spent quite some time to locate this place. For Nizar, it is not a problem. Nizar takes the driver’s seat- a first for TheBlueDrive. Kovilthal is an interesting place. The Lighthouse is right on the beach.

The views from the Kovilathal lighthouse are brilliant.

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Roomy has been a professional photographer and want to try some on us from the top of the Lighthouse, despite the low light.

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The compound of the Lighthouse has a colourful display of Whale-bones that they found nearby.

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The sands of Kerala in this area  contain some Rare Earth elements which are strategically important minerals which can separated from the sands on the beach. And the beauty of it is that the sand left behind is very white as against the black sand before the separation process.

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We also have a look at Kannakathu Devi temple before we retire for the day. This temple has a complex history which Nizar explained to me. On a certain festive day even males are required to dress like  woman to enter the temple.

Devotees who are desirous of having offspring offer replicas of cradles here to the goddess to help in the process. This is not the only place of this type in India. In this Blog we have already described another temple in Gujarat offering the same services.

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Here, allow me to jump a bit ( about 12 Kms) and go to Kollam for a brief visit to a Lighthouse and a fort and then return and do a detailed tour of Ashtamudi lake.

The Lighthouse at Kollam is a major attraction. For one, it is close to the the sea and it allows visitors, and it has a lift. What else do you want?

The views from this Lighthouse are really good. It attracts a large number of visitors largely because it has a lift.

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The city of Kollam can be fully viewed from here.

In this area, called Tangasseri , just before you reach the Lighthouse there is another important monument. In the year 1518 AD, 20 years after our friend VDG landed in India, the Portuguese built a fort here. This is known as St. Thomas Fort. It is is in bad shape but is being worked upon.Hope it comes back to life and survive.

In the next post we will take an interesting tour of Ashtamudi Lake.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik , Veena naik and one by Nizar Roomi.