Poovar, which is on the southern fringes of Thiruvananthapuram district and close to Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, is a miniature version of Kuttanad with the Neyyar river, Arabian Sea and the mesh of canals all interlinked to offer enough sights to attract visitors from far and wide. The canals are flanked by dense mangroves hosting numerous bird species.
The Poovar river, a tributary of the Neyyar, flows south of Kerala's capital city. As trees with thick foliage grow on its banks, sunlight doesn't reach the waters at many spots. A two-hour boat trip along this shady path is the highlight of any visit to enjoy the beauty of the destination. During the summer vacations, the route sees a steady flow of boats carrying travellers.
The boat trip starts from near the Attupuram Bridge. Boatmen like Jose are thoroughly familiar with the route. The boat travels fast across the wide Neyyar River. Our guide Shaiju gives an introduction to the destination. “Poovar, the place, offers the advantage of being with the river, its distributaries, its mouth as well as the sea during a single trip. Tourists from all over the country as well as abroad reach here in large numbers,” he says.
Shaiju explains the legend which gave the place the name Poovar. “Once upon a time, this area used to be called Pokkumoosapuram. Travancore king Marthandavarma, while escaping from an attack launched by Ettuveettil Pillamar (a group of nobles), ended up here. The Ummachiyumma of the Kallarakkal house offered refuge to the king. Saved from his enemies, the king reached the river for his morning ablutions the next day. He was pleasantly surprised to see numerous flowers of ‘koovalam’ (Indian bael tree) floating over the waters. “This is a pushpanadi (river of flowers),” Marthandavarma reportedly exclaimed.
Over time, the place began to be referred to as the place with the river of flowers, Poovar, says the guide. However, he is quick to add that this is a local legend and not confirmed by any historian.
The path to the sea
The fast ride along the wide Neyyar suddenly slows down as the boat enters a narrow rivulet. On both banks are a heavy growth of trees and thick undergrowth. Cool air from the vegetation prevails all around and dark shadows formed by the trees loom over the water.
The boat travels along the network of canals to reach a wide stretch of the river again. But before this, one can enjoy some of the most enchanting views of Poovar visit. The mangrove swamps alongside the rivulets are home to numerous bird species. However, apart from the typical mangrove plants, several other species of plants and trees grow in the area. The greenery is so thick that one gets the feeling of twilight even at noon.
When the boat reaches the broader section of the river, one can sight herons, brahminy kites, kingfishers and other birds. But the sound of the boat engine scares them. From this spot, three floating restaurants and finely built cottages can be observed. All these suggest the sea and a tourist hub nearby.
The biggest attraction near the seashore is the Poovar island noted for its golden sand beach. A sand bed separates the sea and the river. But during high and low tides, both the waters engage in a give and take. When there is high tide, the sand bank disappears from view. Foreign tourists make a beeline for this unique beach and enjoy the sea, sand and surf. Parasols on the beach offer relief from the blazing sun at noon. Visitors can also enjoy a horse ride along the sandy beach. The mouth of the river presents an amazing view from here.
Another peculiar sight from the beach is Elephant Rock (Anapara). One gets the feeling that an elephant rises from the waters close to the shore. It appears as if a sculptor had unleashed his creativity on a rock protruding from the sea.
A floating lunch
Tourists enjoy the view of the sea and the estuary from the sand bank. Around lunch time, the tour organisers take the boat to one of the floating restaurants. Most of the boats reaching the spot make it a point to visit one of the floating restaurants to order lunch before heading to the beach. While returning from the beach, the lunch will be ready. Shaiju owns ‘Samudra’, one of the floating restaurants. The lunch is arranged attractively and includes ‘variety sea food’. There are delicious crabs, prawns, pearl spot and fried rice.
After a fill, the boat ride resumes. The next scenic spot before the traveller is Pattanakkad, where mangroves grow abundantly along the rivulets. A little way beyond the floating restaurant is an idol of Mother Mary, offering succour.
“This route takes one straight to a bridge, which is the state boundary and beyond which lies Tamil Nadu. Pozhiyoor, near Poovar, is the frontier village as far as Kerala is concerned,” says Shaiju. “However, we will restrict our trip to the Kerala territory,” he says in jest. Returning from the border, the boat travels alongside the coconut groves fringing the banks of the river. This area is more wooded than the forest encountered initially during the trip and is home to a variety of feathered creatures.
The greenery of the swamps lying on both sides of the rivulets is more intense than witnessed elsewhere. The shadows of the trees create works of art over the waters. A long line of resorts can be seen along the river banks. The boat rides are operated by private individuals and visitors should take care and ensure that all safety measures are in place. Several country boats float along the river selling tender coconuts. Boats carrying tourists often slow down all of a sudden when other boats approach. The guide and the boatman would exchange greetings with the occupants of the approaching boat. Shaiju meets Ambi chechi and her husband who are returning from the market.
The sun suddenly appears in all its fury as the boat leaves the wooded area and enters the wide expanse of the Neyyar river again. The trip ends within 10 minutes as the boat reaches the Attupuram bridge; however, memories of the river, the shaded canals, the sea and the sand linger forever.