The World Travel and Tourism Council has predicted an 11.6 per cent growth rate for Kerala’s tourism sector by 2013. Having spotted the kind of revenue that can be made in the tourism business, many countries all over the world are investing millions (if not more) into transforming their lands aesthetically; all of them vying to be the best. But Kerala’s natural beauty with its backwaters, rainforests and monsoons make it a strong contender for title No.1. Any book on this green state will list numerous places that are ‘must-bes’ and sights that are ‘must-sees’. Kumarakom is at the top of that list.
|The houseboat (Kettu-vallam) used to ferry visitors across the lake.|
On a rainless day, the weather simply cannot get any better. White plumes of soft cotton hang overhead, forming various shapes and creatures to the imaginative eye. The journey is wonderfully peaceful and pleasant from beginning to end. Compared to the blaring horns of traffic or machinery from nearby construction sites in the city, the low hum of the engine, birds chirping and the waves lapping gently against the side of the boat is as calming as a mother’s lullaby to her baby.
The ‘natural air-conditioning’ creates ripples in the aqua green waters, in which bits of seaweed float about. If the water isn’t disturbed much, the seaweed grow as a colony in plenty. But when there is too much movement, they break off in clumps and begin to drift away to the land of the Little Mermaid. A little while on, the ‘Sands of Midnight’ comes into view in the distant horizon. A hundred acres of natural island covered fully by trees, it is being currently developed further by the government.
The return journey gives one another glimpse of the bird sanctuary and resorts. The sanctuary has such a wild undergrowth of trees that you can barely see deeper in. The occasional wild fowl wanders out to skim the water. The sanctuary is a stretch of about two kilometers and home to almost every kind of tropical bird. Visitors can take a walk through its forest paths in suitable weather conditions. As for the resorts, there are about 7-10 major resorts and numerous smaller ones. They are available in all ranges from economical or low-budgeted all the way to high class living accommodations where a single day would cost Rs. 75000 and one could expect all sorts of modern amenities including swimming pools.
The speciality of this boat race is in the sheer number of rowers required and the incredible coordination involved which is crucial for victory. There are 93 rowers, five helmsmen and nine others called cheerers, who encourage and give directions to their comrades – all in one boat. As if this feat wasn’t commendable enough, it is accomplished with just 11 days of training, three hours a day. “The oarsmen are fishermen who are already trained. All they need to learn is complete coordination with the others. It is the cheerers along with their team captain who carry out the training,” explains Abraham. It wasn’t always a ‘piece-of-work’ victory. “The first year that we won, we had tight competition because the boat we were using wasn’t so great. The next two times, we had an easy victory,” he says, proudly. “Our boat ‘Paippad Chundan’ was the best because it was custom made and lightweight.”
The Nehru Trophy boat race is the only race that’s held at the same time every year, in connection with the festival of Onam. Lakhs of people turn out as spectators to watch this prestigious and widely acclaimed race. In fact, its fame has spread so far that this year that foreign teams also register for the race. “It’s not just about having a nice team,” Abraham emphasises. “You need to have discipline, and this team had that.” This annual boat race is also a part of the government’s tourism programme, marketed all over the world.
Man-made works such as amusement parks are lovely in their own right as works of art but they cannot even hope to compare with such natural splendor. There are many reasons to make Kumarakom one of the next destinations of your visit. Where else can one discover beauty so rich except in nature herself? It is, after all, God’s own country.
[* On August 11, 2007, the Kumarakom Town Boat Club did clinch the rolling trophy, making it their fourth consecutive victory.]