Munroe Island: A legacy of the British influence on Kerala

Munroe Island: A legacy of the British influence on Kerala
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Munroe Island located at the confluence of the Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River in Kollam district is unique in many respects. Blessed with natural beauty, the place, however, looks much different from typical Kerala villages.

The history of the island, called Mundrothuruthu by the local people, starts in the mid-1800s when the British ruled India. Colonel John Munro, who was the Dewan of Travancore, granted an isolated island in his territory to the Malankara Missionary Church Society to set up a religious study centre. The society, in turn, expressed its gratitude by naming the place after the Dewan.

There are, in fact, around eight islets, a web of narrow canals, numerous country boats and a host of picturesque locations on the Island.

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The Island can now be reached easily across the Idiyakkadavu bridge across the Kallada river. “Visitors can travel by car these days after the bridge came up. Till a few years ago, boat was the only option,” says Binu Karunakaran, the panchayat president of Munroe Island .

“Here, the lake, river, canals, coir and farming go together,” he adds. A fine breeze blows in the area most of the time.

The ideal way to enjoy the beauty of Munroe Island is to take a canoe along the narrow canals. “Tourists reach the place from November to February,” says Sujith, a guide under the DTPC (District Tourism Promotion Council).

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“The Munroe Island was formed from the ‘ekkal’ soil deposited by the Kallada River. This type of soil is ideal for agriculture and the island soon became a thriving agricultural area,” explains Sujith.

A grim future

But some years later the situation changed. Salty water from the Ashtamudi Lake began to flood the place and the life of the islanders has never been the same again.

All the crops were damaged and the soil condition of the island is no longer favourable for farming. Though there is water everywhere, Munroe Island faces acute shortage of drinking water. During the monsoon, houses in the low-lying areas would be flooded. Many residents have already abandoned their land and property on Munroe Island and shifted to other places.

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It is believed that island would be entirely submerged by the year 2050. “Days are numbered for all this beautiful scenery,” says Sujith.

The narrow canals and other sights

Water level in the web of canals is often low making canoeing difficult. But the houses near the canal would be inundated during high tide. To prevent this, resident scoop up mud from the canal and strengthen the compound walls.

Along the canal are situated a tea shop owned by a local woman named Rohini and the Kalluvila Sree Krishnaswamy Temple. On the way to Manakkadavu, prawn hatcheries can also be seen.

The biggest festival in the area is the ‘28th Onam’. Sujith relates its significance. “We consider the 28th day after Thiruvonam more important than Thiruvonam itself. The entire island will be celebrating and relatives will arrive from other places. Kallada boat race is held on this day and the songs of the boatmen reverberate in Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada river,” he says.

Sudarsanan, a man rowing a canoe, sings a song which highlights the strenuous efforts of the boatmen during the race.

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A little way off where the canals end, the most beautiful views of the Ashtamudi Lake spread before a traveller. On the return trip through the canal, one can notice some women labourers retting coir. In the past, Munore Island was a thriving centre of coir production. However, the cooperative societies engaged in the task later faced financial difficulties and closed down. Munore’s fame as a coir producer soon ended.

From the river to the lake

The second part of a visit to the Munroe Island can be started on a motor boat. This is essential to enjoy the scenery from the middle of the lake. Of the 13 wards in Munroe Island, 12 are now accessible by road. However, to reach Peringalam ward, local people as well as visitors have to take the government boat service or their own canoes. Binu Karunakaran, the panchayat president, is among the residents here. He rows his own canoe to the panchayat office.

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Taking the motor boat from Kathrakadavu, travellers can pass Nenmeli and Kidapparam before reaching Peringalam. From the Kallada river, the boat soon enters the Ashtamudi Lake. In the middle of the lake is a mangrove forest and the Dhyana Theeram (Shore for meditation). It is a path along the lakeside adjacent to the Bethel Marthoma Church.

Another attraction of the area is the Vedanchadi Mala (The hill from where the hunter jumped). This is the highest place in the lake and a legend is related to it. Ben, the boat driver, relates the tale, “Long ago, a hunter and his wife used to live here. Once a mendicant came to the area and fell in love with the hunter’s wife. The mendicant and the hunter’s wife soon eloped and the hunter, unable to suffer the loss of his dear one, jumped to his death from the top of the hill.”

At Pattamthuruthu is a church built in 1878 during the time of the British supremacy. “Only one Christian family lives in the area near the church now,” informs Ben. “The church festival is now celebrated by Hindus,” he adds.

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A little further is the Perumon railway bridge, where a major train tragedy took place in 1988. A memorial to the victims is erected below the bridge. Near the bridge two islands, Pezhumthuruthu and Neettuthuruthu. The Sree Bhadra Temple is located on Pezhumthuruthu and during the festival here, elephants carrying the idol cross the river to reach the temple. A bridge has come up at Edachal across the river, but the elephants still wade through the river, sticking to tradition.

A trip to the Munroe Island ends at Pezhumthuruthu. After reaching the Ediyakkadavu bridge, travellers can leave the amazing web of canals that was made habitable thanks to the initiative of a British official and the strains of a folk song could be heard in the distance.

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