This is the fourth post in Kerala backwater series. In this post we are exploring Kuttanad and its backwater stretches…
Kuttanadu is called the rice-bowl of Kerala. It is the area of lowest altitude in Kerala. As a consequence, farming here is carried on below sea level!
Kuttanadu has some legend associated with the origin of its name! The epic Mahabharata mentions this place, as the place of stay of Pandava Princes during their exile which was then a dense forest. The epic also records the forest fire which destroyed this whole dense forest. So the place was called burnt land or Chuttanad which locally came to be known as Kuttanad. The presence of coal deep under the surface proves the point.
The main occupation of the locals for centuries has been paddy cultivation. It is carried out in the kayal (which means lake in Malayalam) lands that are the lands reclaimed from the great Vembanad lake gradually over time. In the early times, till the beginning of 20th century, water was bailed manually from shallow parts of the lake and the river Pamba. There were specific regulations by the King of Travancore on how to do that.
Paddy fields of Kuttanadu : Photo by sunilnagaraj via Flickr
As years passed with the advent of steam, kerosene and electric engines, land reclamation gathered speed and thousands of acres were reclaimed and farmed. It was the Christians in the area who took the upper hand and they flourished. Some of those families are still prominent in the area.
The only constraint was that the fields would get flooded during the monsoon as rivers brought in water. To prevent the flood, a Spillway was built to divert river water to the sea. During summer, sea water entered the land and made it salty. A bund (dam) was built with the help of locals across the lake to keep the sea water out. The shutters would be opened only during the monsoon. The farmers were happy that they could produce two crops annually. One man’s meat is another’s poison. The fishermen lost their abundant catch of fish which teemed in the slightly saline water.
Some interesting places in Kuttanad
Champakulam is a village in the Kuttanad area. The holy river Pampa flows through the village splitting it into two. On either side are luscious green fields of paddy, and coconut palms. Big groups of ducks can be seen moving gracefully, often driven by their tender.
One of the oldest Christian churches, St Mary’s Forane Church believed to be built in AD 427, is located here. The open air Rock cross and inscriptions are pointers to the antiquity of the Church. The annual feast is celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of October.
The Moolam Boat race held here in July is a popular event. The Chundan or Snake boats are revered by the villagers and it is a matter of prestige to win the snake boat races. Their Chundan 130 ft long, with a breadth of 69 inches has won many a trophy including the coveted Nehru trophy.
Chengannur is a major town in the eastern part of Alapuzha district. It is well connected to the capital and other cities by NH 220. The ancient Mahadeva Temple and the old Syrian churches here are famous.
Kavalam is another such village through which the river flows. The scenic beauty is amazing! Film makers haunt the region for shooting. Even a few years back, Kavalam could be reached only by boat which gave it a laidback atmosphere. Now there is road access from Alleppey and Kottayam to this serene place. Still the water junction of five canals remains as a rare sight to behold…!
Kavalam also has its chundan which occupies a pride of place among the “Kavalians”. Muricken Outhachan, the Krishi Rajan (farmer king) as he was then called by our Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, hails from Kavalam. So do some famous poets and writers who retain “Kavalam ” in their names.
Kuttanad is about 65 km south of Kochi. It is actually a cluster of small villages interconnected by winding waterways. Taking a country boat ride along these waterways is a sure way to enjoy the village life of Kerala.
Taking a “kettuvallam” or a house boat cruise would be ideal, if you wish to spend to a couple of days enjoying Kerala backwaters.. There are so many waterways to sail through in Kuttanad; the sights everywhere offer eye candy. The greenery, the swaying palms, gliding birds….these views are interspersed with cameos of village life, workers in the fields, the coconut pluckers, simple shops where men sip tea and read newspaper, toddy shops…. Kerala is different indeed!
Have you visited Kuttanad? Did you find this backwater stretch different? Do share your experience…
Here is the complete list of articles in Kerala backwater series.
3. Fishing…For Fun at Njarakkal Aqua Fish Farm (Part of Kochi Backwaters)