- Water Colored Landscape of Munnar – God’s own art
- Tea and Other Exotics of Munnar
- Nilgiri Tahr on the wild ramp of Rajamalai National Park, Munnar
- Boat Safari in Periyar Lake @ Thekkady
- Nature-walk in Thekaddy
- A visit to the kingdom of spices in Kumily
- Backwater cruise from Kottayam to Alleppey
- Enticing Munroe Island
- Flavour of local ferry in Kollam
The backwaters of Kerala are also known as ‘Venice of the East’. Till we reached Kollam and explored ‘Munroe Island’, I found this labelling quite exaggerated. A visit to the Munroe island changed my opinion.
My guidebook recommends DTPC organized half-a-day trip to this island. So as soon as we reached Kollam from Alleppey, I rushed to the DTPC office, which is adjacent to the Kollam bus-stand, to book the afternoon tour.
In the afternoon, we realized, we were the only tourists who booked that tour. It generated mixed feelings. There was no possibility of meeting any irritant co-passenger; we would be getting undivided attention of the guide and the boatman and probably we could request slight changes in the itinerary as per our likings. However, it also lowered the expectations; less tourists indicated that the tour had lost favor among tourists.
Munroe Island is in the Ashtamudi Lake, at a distance of around 25 Km from Kollam. The name ‘Munroe Island’ might arouse in some readers’ minds memories of Marilyn Monroe. I am not aware of the origin of such a name for this island. However, let me assure you that the Island was as beautiful.
At the island Sujith, the guide, and the rower RadhaKrishan received us. Ours was a simple boat, pushed and punted with a big bamboo. With fifteen-twenty people on board it might have been crowded, but with only five of us it was comfortable quarters.
We rowed through a labyrinth of amazingly clean narrow alleys of backwater. Reflections of the surrounding greenery changed the color of the water to a dazzling emerald green; numerous coconut trees alongside the canal surely would be gazing at and admiring their shimmering images in the placid waters. The peaceful surroundings had an immense calming effect. Time seemed to have stopped there. Simple curved footbridges, along the way, forced us to bend our heads seemingly with regard, respect and reverence to the divinely beautiful island.
There were families living around these narrow alleys with enough room for a simple house, yard and boat. When we crossed them, the kids waved us and the elders greeted us with gentle smiles. On the way we exchanged pleasantries with people on a boat loaded with lots of sand probably headed to a construction site.
At another location, a private tour operator’s boat quite full of foreign tourists, crossed us. The ability of private tour operators to lure tourists was in stark contrast to that of DTPC. We were told that at times the DTPC craft does not get even a single tourist while private tour operators always carry boatloads. This is despite the fact that these tour operators confine tourists to narrow alleys and never take them to the vast expanses of the lake.
I felt that for a guide more tourists (esp. foreign tourists) meant more money and so I asked Sujith why he also did not think of moving over to the private tour operators. He elucidated that being a government tour guide was a matter of great personal pride and so he would prefer to remain with good old DTPC.
Sujith had a pleasing personality. I told him that his accent reminded me of young Kamalhasan of the 80s. He smiled and then further queried me about his style and mannerisms. I admitted that it was also similar, which pleased him.
On the route we visited a small island (island within Munroe island), apparently owned by one family! They were living on that big and beautiful piece of land with their livestock – the cows, goats and dogs altogether. Rich people of that area! Strangely, Sujith told us that they were neither rich nor poor, but were of middle class. I noticed, they appeared contended with their pace and style of life.
On that island, our boatman climbed on a coconut tree and threw down three coconuts. He seemed adroit in climbing swiftly up to the top of that curved sky-bound swaying coconut tree. We were then offered fresh coconut water as welcome drink, fresh from the three artillery shells that had just bombarded us! Ah it tasted like ambrosia! We cherished the sweet nectar. The effect of unpolluted surroundings was evident in its delightfully sweet taste.
On that island we were shown the coir making process. During the cruise we had mentioned Sujith that we had never seen a cashew plant and he promised to show us one. You too can see it here.
We restarted from the island and moved with cool and gentle breeze giving us a company. Sujith made a fan with banana leaves and gifted it to Rachit. The wind-powered fan kept Rachit busy. Sometimes, when for several moments the wind slowed down and his fan stopped rotating, a question mark popped up on his face; soon a sudden gust of wind rotated the fan, removed wrinkles on his face and brought back the smile.
We were rowing on the edges. The only sound in the vicinity was that of the oars gently caressing the water. Many water birds were sitting on the edges; Some of them were sitting in philosophical mood, enjoying their solitude and others were frolicking around playfully in groups. An egret peeped from the veil of coconut leaves and a kingfisher was resting on broad coconut leaves, blending the blue shades with the green surroundings.
At one point we crossed flock of black feather water birds sitting in an orderly fashion, looking like a bunch of lawyers patiently waiting outside the court. At another point, there were flocks of sea gulls – the white birds. Though it is rare, but sometimes life can present itself in perfect black and white – devoid of any greyish shade in it 🙂
From the narrow alleys we rowed towards the vast expanse of the lake. What a wonderful evening! The sun was about to set in perhaps an hour. We had already started imagining sight of the sun taking a dip and vanishing behind the backwaters.
Suddenly, we were shaken awake from that dream-like reality. We were told that it was time to return! We plaintively requested the guide and the rower to remain there till sunset and even offered extra money for that. But the rower had to go back home to cook for his kids and wife, who was returning late on that day. When we learnt of his genuine limitation we understood and disappointedly relented.
Sujith came up with an interesting proposal and asked us whether we would mind visiting his house? He told us that from there we could catch wonderful views of sunset. “अँधा क्या चाहे दो आँखे”. What a blind man would wish for – obviously two eyes. We happily agreed to his earnest suggestion.
Sujith guided us on his motorbike and we followed him on the auto rickshaw. On the way, Venice came back to our minds. Though comparing these two beautiful places would not be fair, still we felt that the myriad paths and canals of Munroe Island were a bit different from Venice. Buildings around canals in Venice are in dilapidated state. It costs a bomb to maintain them and a nuclear bomb to get them repaired! There are only a very few Venetians left in Venice and only tourists related activities thrive and survive there today. Munroe Island, on the other hand, is away from that insane rush of tourists. Here one could enjoy the Keralite tradition, way of living and hospitalities as compared to the tourist culture of Venice.
In around 15 minutes we reached at Sujith’s house. Sujith introduced us to his mother and sister’s son. It was a beautiful family and we got a warm welcome. We were offered home cooked cake, made by Sujith’s mother. It was delicious and made us lick fingers. A few words of genuine praise from us ensured that rest of that cake was packed for Rachit :). Outside his house, Sujith showed us one-day-old kid of his goat that was barely able to open its eyes.
As we moved to the backyard of Sujith’s house, much to our surprise, awe and delight there were shimmering backwaters right in front of us. It was such a spectacular view and location that we actually suggested Sujith to build a few rooms for tourists.
That moment had a perfect combination – A gradually setting sun in full view, marvellous backwaters and some of the nicest people in our company. Many a times one forgets wonderful places or ornate monuments, however it is not possible to forget nice people one meets and the profound effect they have on you. I am quoting Sheen-Kaaf Nizam whom I heard reciting this poem at one of my college cultural functions:
रास्ते में वो मिला, अच्छा लगा,
सूना-सूना सा रास्ता अच्छा लगा,
बादे-मुद्दत आईने में अपना चेहरा अच्छा लगा
In short it can be roughly translated in English as “The pleasing company of a stranger changed my own outlook about myself.”
Sun was about to disappear behind the backwaters. The silhouette of a solitary fisherman’s boat on that crimson evening made the scene picture-perfect. We stood there looking at it and it filled us with bliss. We were drunk with the loveliness of it. It was time to close the eyes to take it in forever.