Harvey and Carole reached Kumarakom bird sanctuary from far-off Victoria state in Australia to catch a sight of kingfisher, Carole’s favourite bird. Carole, an avid bird-watcher, had read that the woods of the Pathiramanal Island teem with the bird species. It was on her insistence that the couple made the trip to Kumarakom and they are not disappointed. One of the most striking scenes was of a bird trying to fly away with a paral (Giant Danio) fish it had caught from the lake.
“Multi-coloured bird species can be best enjoyed at the bird sanctuary. Luxurious houseboats, rich cuisine and a variety of spices. A web of lagoons, lakes and the Pathiramanal Island… of course, Kumarakom is a wonderland,” Harvey waxed eloquent on the natural beauty and attractions at Kumarakom.
Carole and Harvey are among the thousands of tourists arriving in the area, via Alappuzha, from around the world. The bird sanctuary, the wide expanse of the backwaters and the Pathiramanal Island were all stuff of their dreams till they landed here. It is this exposure to international tourists that earned Kumarakom the title of ‘Iconic Tourism Destination’.
However, the attraction of the destination is not confined to the backwaters and the trip on the houseboats; the place offers much more to travellers.
Kumarakom bird sanctuary
The entry gate of the Kumarakom bird sanctuary is near the Kavanattinkara bridge. The road, which starts from near the canal, along which tourist boats conduct service, ends at the Waterscapes resort of the KTDC. The path that leads to the forest is on the right side. Walk two km along the cobbled path that lies parallel to the banks of the canal, and you reach the lake shore. The woods are home to around 150 species of birds, both migratory as well as local.
Carole was all excited naming the birds she had sighted: “There were so many migratory birds like cormorant, moorhen, darter, egret and coot. They reached here after crossing several oceans; maybe they will return to our place even before we reach there,” Carole remarked.
It was Alfred George Baker, an English missionary, who set up a sanctuary for birds on 14 acre spread along the banks of the Vembanad backwaters. He had felled several rubber trees to create a resting place for migratory birds. Now, more than one-and-a-half cenruries since the time of Baker, both Kumarakom and its bird sanctuary have become popular tourism destinations. Tourists, who arrive in Alappuzha which was promoted as the Venice of the East, make it a point to visit Kumarakom which falls in the adjacent Kottayam district.
There are two watch towers in the bird sanctuary. One has to walk 2 km to reach them. Barely 1 km from Kavanattinkara is the spot where the canal joins the lake. Tourists can relax at the facilities available here. The first watch tower is on the path leading towards the east from here. The second watch tower is around 750 meters beyond. Several species of migratory birds can be observed from the towers close to the lake. Many of them have striking features like red beaks, fine head gear made of feathers etc. Watch them frolicking in the water. Visitors have to take a boat trip either during sunrise or sunset to enjoy such scenes.
Tourists arriving in small boats at the landing point on Pathiramanal Island walk along a stone-paved path to proceed to the interiors. A 30-minute boat trip starting at 8 am from Kayippuram takes visitors to Pathiramanal. Several rare bird species can be spotted here during dawn. The island is a haunt of the Siberian crane which arrives here all the way from distant Russian provinces. With mangrove forests, dense trees and creepers all around, Pathiramanal can be defined as a world of its own, rather than just another island on the backwaters.
In olden times, the local people used to call the island by the name ‘Ananthapadmanabhan Thoppu’. The families who lived there were relocated after the Land Reforms Act came into force in the mid-20th century. Subsequently, human habitation on the island became history. Now the myth surrounding the island relates to the ‘bath’ of the legendary Vilwamangalam Swamiyar. It is believed that the island emerged from the lake to facilitate the Swamiyar to offer ‘sandhya vandanam’ (evening prayers).
Anyhow, the island with a thick forest in the middle of the Vembanad Lake is a curious sight. It can be noticed while passing along the Thanneermukkom Bund as well as from Kayippuram. Local folklore does not mention from which of these two spots Vilwamangalam Swamiyar stepped into the lake.
The boat-landing point on the island, which is almost circular in shape, is situated on the western side. From the landing, Muhamma can be observed in the south-west direction. On the north-west is Kulakkozhichira. To its left is Thanneermukkom Bund.
Just above the boat landing are two cabins for security personnel. The stone-paved path leads to the interiors of the island and its mysteries. On both sides are thick growth of mangroves, wild creepers and climbers as well as swamps. An ‘Ezhilam Pala’ (Alstonia scholaris) rises majestically at the spot. The modern folklore considers the tree as a good sign for lovers while it is blooming. Fascinated by the tale, numerous lovelorn couples reach the Pathiramanal Island to make their dreams of union come true.
The path ends on a sand bank on the eastern side of the island. A long line of trees flank the area. Visitors can relax on the wide strip of sand. The Sree Narayana Guru Mandiram on the island is situated here. Several rare birds can be seen here too.
The flora of Pathiramanal is also diverse, with mangroves known as kayal kandal and chakkara kandal, trees like kommatti, 161 types of flowering plants and nine varieties of pannal plants, 22 species of shrubs and 13 types of creepers. In addition, the island is home to 34 varieties if butterflies and 24 species of dragon flies. These species are usually overlooked while visitors look around for the 93 varieties of birds recorded in the area by the environmental sciences department of Mahatma Gandhi University which conducted a biodiversity study in the area.
Shikara boats and house boats conduct service to Pathiramanal from Kumarakom. It will take two hours to circle the island taking the route on the northern side of the church near the boat landing and past the light tower. Boat travellers can enjoy the views of Kavanattinkara, Thanneermukkom Bund, Kulakkozhichira, Kaippuram and Muhamma. The dishes offered by the toddy shop at Kulakkozhichira are well-known.
Towards the southern side of Pathiramanal someway across the backwaters is the water body termed Pallikkayal. There is a ‘junction’ in the water way here which is known as Krishnankutty Moola. It is in the R Block, which is part of Kuttanad. The water way bifurcates here, to Kavalam and Alappuzha. The route from Cherthala to Kottayam first touches Thanneermukkom Bund and then Kumarakom. Adding to the beauty of the area are the luscious green paddy fields and coconut groves.
A visitor cannot but agree with the Australian tourist Harvey, who said, “Of course, Kumarakom is a wonderland…”