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

 

61. DEVGAD, KANAKESHWAR, ACHARA

Today we are  going from one fort to another. Vijaydurg to Devgad. Next it would be Achara via Kanakeshar, not a fort.

The aficionados of the art of eating Alfonso mangoes will always argue on which is the best variety of that fruit, the Ratnagiri Hapus , Goa Mankurad or the Devgad Hapus. Devgad lends its name to the last one and in turn has been named after the eponymous fort.  Mangoes are not in season and therefore no pictures here.

Here is the picture of the jetty at Devgad, very close to the fort. Here the passenger boats docked for carrying the locals to Bombay. No, I dont intend to travel that way, I am just standing there as I liked the breeze.

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The cotton textile industry which flourished in Bombay from 1854 onwards was very labour intensive and drew workers from all over the Konkan region. Deogad port was one of the gateways for the people to make their way to the great city of Bombay. A large number of today’s Mumbai inhabitants of Marathi origins had their forefathers coming to Mumbai from here, not only to work in the textile mills but also to engage in various other activities including government jobs. Right now there are no such passages. Even if people want to travel they have the frequent buses and the Konkan Railway at their disposal.

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The creek waters near the jetty are unbelievably clear. It is about 10 am and I could take this pictures of the fish, eel and the Squids in the water  from the shore without any special equipment with an ordinary DSLR camera.

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The Fort, said to be put together by Kanhoji Angre in 1705 starts right at the creek where you can see its ruined walls.

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One can drive up in the fort, although the road is quite narrow. You come to a stone arch near the corner where the Lighthouse is located and has to stop. Difficult to pass through and moreover it is prohibited.

The Lighthouse at the Devgad fort is amazingly friendly. At other places that we have been to so far they behaved as if they were custodians of the nuclear bombs. Here they behaved as if they were in-charge of a Lighthouse.

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The Devgad creek is a place of scenic beauty that requires a better photographer to capture. I could not capture half of what I could see.

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Deogad has a nice little beach which can be seen best as you are descending the fort. Seen beyond is the Windfarm.

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The Deogad creek is a scenic beauty and can be observed from the Lighthouse in the fort. The fishing harbour is better seen from the shore, nestled in a cove with the background of a hill on two sides.

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It is time to leave Devgad. We have forgotten that tomorrow is the Diwali or Dipawali, the festival of lights.

This festival is related to post summer harvest in northern India when food is in abundance. Sikhs and some Buddhists also join in the festivities for different reasons. In the Konkan region including Goa (and some parts of Tamilnadu, I am told) this festival has a very different meaning.

The story goes back to the Puranas. There is a demon by the name Narakasur who is harassing the people big time. It befalls on Lord Krishna, as usual, to kill the demon. This guy takes the prize for killing all bad people.

Anyway. In Konkan, we  make an effigy of the demon Narakasura, dance around the villages with him and a finely decorated Lord Krishna who is usually an young active boy from the village. Very early in the morning     ( as the Lord Krishna kills the demon), the Dipawali starts. The lamps are lit, crackers are burst and people take  bath( even those who dont normally like to do that) wear new clothes etc.

This Narakasura is seen today as we drive in every village.  There was one where I did not see it. I stopped and made enquiries and was told that they are working on it and it will be in place well in time.

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Satisfied with the clarification, we proceed. I cant stop explaining about this Diwali of ours.Give me a moment. These days we see the Diwali lamps, celebrations, gifts and everything else well before the Big day. 50 years back and I can remember it well in Goa, the lamps were not lit until the early morning and until then it was all darkness because of the havoc caused by Narakasura. Narakasur is burnt in the early morning.

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The logic behind this festival makes sense to me against the background explained above. I am not happy with what they are doing these days in the cities where the celebrations start during the lifetime of Narakasura. I am happy with the fact that the tradition is alive here.

Life goes on. We move to a place called Kanakeshar. This is one more seaside temple. All these seaside temples will one day be overshadowed by seaside resorts. I strongly believe that once the temples were the centres of economic and social activity. This role is now being taken over by resorts. I dont want to make any comment on the propriety of it.

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We drive on and reach the beach at Achara expecting to find accommodatin there. There is none. We find some signboards on the beach. We call up on the phone number on the board and are directed to a small island less than a kilometer away-Jamdul.

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Jamdul is a small island in the creek owned privately by a few families. The resort is owned by a Konkani-speaking Christain family. It is a nicely done friendly place with a restaurant called ‘Begina Ye’, meaning Come Soon.

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It is low tide and one activitiy associated with this time is collection of stones on which a variety of shellfish grows.

Locally called ‘Kalve’, it is a delicious variety of shellfish. It cannot exist independently as it grows attached to stones which are exposed at low tide and allows the people to collect them. When they come to market for sale, they are pried open and taken off the stones.

At the creek surrounding the resort you can indulge in other activities like watching the birds or these Fiddler Crabs.

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Crabs have ten legs. Eight are used for locomotion and two for hunting. Not the Fiddlers. The big one you see is used only for display, for attracting females. It is a pleasure to watch them go about displaying the brightly coloured claw. They dont use it for any other purpose.

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The island and the creek is surrounded by mangroves which support all this variety of life. I could see some Otters early next morning. The mangroves look beautiful in the morning sun.

Achara has a nice beach with the inlet for the water entering the creek making ut picturesque.

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Unfortunately we found a number of dead fish and squid on the beach. I am not sure if this is due to some sort of pollution-related phenomena. There are no industries on the coast nearby.

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Beach cricket is catching up.  Will this be a new sport?

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The sunset at Achara beach was glorious as the clouds on the horizon were not many.

This post is becoming too long and I am yet to comment on the birding at Achara. I will stop here and combine that with the next post.

Thanks for reading.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Day 3 & 4. Naliya, Kutch.

The distance from Narayan Sarovar to Naliya is only 68 Kms. but it is an interesting drive through the desert and within a short range of the Arabian sea and several industries.

A short distance from Narayan Sarovar and within it’s village Panchayat area lies GUHAR MOTI or GUHAR MOTA or simply GUHER as per the official records. If correct, the importance of this place lies in the fact that it is the western-most INHABITATED village of India. There appear to be BSF observation posts beyond this but no permanent settlement.

My equipment recorded the co-ordinates as under:

23.630172, 68.581296 Or

23d 37’ 48.6’’ N, 68d 34’ 52.7’’ E

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A few more kilometers south your map shows you Harudi Lighthouse. It also appears on the list of Lighthouses on the website of the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships. One starts looking for it without any success. Our inquiries with the village elder reveals that there is a ‘Diwadandi’ nearby but it does not have lights. He directs us to the place nearby. Yes, we find it shortly to get the explanation for the absence of the light in the ‘Diwadandi’. No, it has not been shut down. It is merely a signal relay station and not a typical Lighthouse. The officer at the station was very helpful with the explanation of how it works.

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(In fact we had missed these two items when we travelled from Narayan Sarovar to Naliya on 16th and drove back to-day, 18th to cover the gap)

17th August.

Spent the first half day looking for a single species of bird. The Great Indian Bustard. It was an unsuccessful search at three different locations covering a vast area. No. Nothing. We had to satisfy ourselves with some commoner birds and this pretty hare jumping.

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These two local guys- Charan Sinh Gadhvi and Ram Gadhvi spent a lot of time looking for the bird in the vast grassland which is being developed as a sanctuary. Our sincere thanks to them. Ram later on helped us with our internet connection. Charan is a lawyer, Ram works for Vodafone.

 

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The next location nearer to Naliya is Jhakau (pronounced more like Jhako by the locals). It is an ancient port known to have traded with Arabia and Eastern Africa including Zanzibar. This place also appears to have been a victim of changes brought about by nature- the sea, earthquakes etc. Now it is difficult to believe that this place was once a thriving international port. Salt transportation appears to be a major activity.

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This place also sports the tallest lighthouse in India at 46 meters. The one on the left is the new one. The older one is on the right. It looks brighter as it is freshly painted.

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This place also appears to be the first place on the western coast of India to sport a mangrove forest. The species of mangrove here in the creak is very short in size. We found some people fishing mud-crabs using a fishing line, not nets as is the practice on the southern part of the coast.

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This Blog appears to be about a lot of records. First the western-most village, then the tallest Lighthouse, perhaps the western-most Mangrove forest. Now let us wind this up with the northern-most and western-most sea beach of India. It is called PINGLESHWAR.

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There is the temple of Pingleshwar Mahadev two kms. before the beach. One is expected to make an entry in the register maintained before driving to the beach. When asked the reason for the same, the security person explained that it is because people go to the beach to commit suicide. I spent a lot of time wondering how maintaining the register will prevent people from committing suicide and what about those who can walk to the beach?

Pingleshwar Mahadev

The Gujarat Police use this vehicle for Coastal Patrolling.

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Thank you for reading.

18.08.2016