Kumbalangi village in Kochi has come to the limelight again with the movie 'Kumbalangi Nights' enjoying a successful run in theatres. The first tourism village in Kerala, the place provides picture post card images from every angle, attest photographers.
An ideal route to reach Kumbalangi, enjoying the scenery, is via Chellanam from Cherthala. Visitors are greeted by mangroves as they turn to the village. Soon coconut trees leaning over the waters and Chinese fishing nets come into view. Children play football on the premises of tile-roofed houses and housewives head to the public water tap carrying plastic pots. Life goes on in a leisurely manner in the village on the banks of the backwaters.
There are two routes to Kumbalangi. One is along Chellanam, Kannamali, and Puthankari. The other is from Aroor and across the Edakochi bridge. Kumbalangi literally floats in the backwaters with paddy fields, water channels through which canoes pass and overhanging Chinese fishing nets.
The scenery can inspire any poet. No wonder, lyrics of old film songs have referred to the waves on the backwaters in Kumbalangi that create music, hearing which showers of pearls are witnessed on land. A trip from Kumbalangi to Chellanam via Chandakkadavu would attest to this fact.
On both sides of the road are the backwaters which cover a large area. Fish are harvested in paddy fields, on the ridges which electric posts and coconut trees vie for supremacy. The area is rich in birdlife. Along with herons and water hens, several species that can be spotted at Kumarakam also visit Kumbalangi. Small canoes and country boats are moored at several spots in the canals. They have appeared in the background in numerous movies.
Most tourists head to Kumbalangi to enjoy the taste of pearl spot and squid. But if they are open to experiencing the other attractions that the place offers, the tour can be made more interesting.
The nearby Chellanam is one of major fishing areas in Kochi. Beyond the Chanthakkadavu bridge, a sea wall made of rock has been built to block the invading waves and tide. If visitors climb on top of the wall, they can watch the local fishermen engaged in their task in the waters, singing sweet boat songs. It is a brilliant scene, reflecting the struggle of the villagers who eke out a living catching fish in their tiny canoes.
On the roadside from Chellanam to Eramalloor, elderly women could be seen, keeping watch over copra spread out to dry under the sun. These women may be in their eighties and facing several health issues, but are still engaged in such tasks to earn their daily bread. Many tourists to Kumbalangi focus on the beauty of the place, but miss such dark aspects of village life.
Among the must-visit destinations in Kumbalangi is the Kallanchery Retreat, where Lillikkutty awaits travellers seeking authentic local cuisine. An old film song refers to prawn curry made with pot tamarind, but Lillikkutty can serve a side dish made of prawn that her mother-in-law Annamma taught her to prepare.
This and other Kumbalangi tastes can be enjoyed at the house of the Lawrence-Lillikkutty couple called Kallanchery. But guests need to inform the couple one day in advance about the number of customers and preferred dishes. By lunch time, Lillikkutty would be ready with the items. Those who have enjoyed her hospitality include film stars, directors and top politicians. Lawrence’s mother Annakkutty had passed on all her knowledge about Kumbalangi cuisine to Lillikkutty.
While he was young, Lawrence loved rice gruel and fish curry. Lillikkutty came to Kumbalangi after marrying Lawrence and within a couple of months introduced her innovations, creating new tastes. They include dried prawns fry, fish curry in coconut milk, prawn-mango curry, clam fry, pearl spot fry, roasted prawns, crab curry and beef fried and powdered.
When Kumbalagi was designated as a tourism village, Lawrence's house witnessed a steady stream of visitors eager to enjoy the culinary masterpieces of Lillikkutty for lunch. When served with the dishes prepared according to the recipes suggested by Annamma, all the patrons were satisfied. The praise they offered soon reached others, attracting more people to Kallanchery, turning the house into the main centre of Kumbalangi cuisine.
The dishes prepared for lunch are arranged on a table at a lawn behind the house. A typical lunch comprises pearl spot roasted in banana leaves, prawns fry, 'pulissery,' 'theeyal' with green banana, beetroot 'thoran,' pickles, salad and 'njalipoovan' variety of banana along with rice.
If more than 50 persons are planning to visit Kallancheril, prior information has to be passed on to the hosts as Lillikkutty plays the role of the cook as well as waiter.
Chinese nets and the backwaters
Canoes and row boats are available at the park near Kumbalangi bridge and at private resorts which will take tourists for a ride in the backwaters. These boats move to the middle of the lake passing close to the Chinese fishing nets.
There are several attractions in Kumbalangi but what lingers in the mind of visitors is the taste of pearl spot. A large number of foreign tourists arrive in the area every year and they face no hurdles in communicating with the friendly local folk.