Chavara South ( Thekkumbakkam) an island on the Ashtamudi Lake, in Kerala, India
Let’s go across to Chavara South, by an autorikshaw to the ‘Bus stop’ or ‘Dalavaram Jetty’, take a fast motor-boat or a ‘pole’ boat (the boatman uses a long pole to push the bed of the lake to propel the boat across and ofcourse you may get a little ‘rocked’ when a larger and faster boat passes across making waves, just sit tight and say your prayers!). Once you are across the short expanse of the Ashtamudi Lake and land on the boat jetty called ‘Thekkumbakkam’, you will know you are on the right jetty when you see a large statue of Christ looking over the waters in front of a large Church and also a memorial to two children who died in a boat accident some years back.
There may not be very many pretty lasses left to greet you, sorry this is not Hawaii or a Polynesian Island, but I have the fortune of a very pretty neice to get by with!
Reaching there around 9 a.m., surprising everyone, I settled down to getting climatized to the atmosphere of coconut trees, loud blaring music ( one festival or the other is going on all the time), and light breeze across the lake. The house being located on the peripheral of the lake, the sight of boats and sunset can be quite beholding.
I shall try to put together a ‘memory collection’ down the years of the scenes one can enjoy from this location. Sadly there were some heavy rains a few months ago and the fish tanks in the compound were breached and lost by the high tides (see photo below), since the lake and sea are connected. Thekkumbakkam or Chavara South is a small village that is the second last stop by Government Ferry Boat from Quilon. It is a sleepy village, quiet and peaceful, with the breeze coming over the Ashtamudi Lake. The house "Palmgrove" where I normally stay belonged to my father-in-law, Suprein Jacobs, and my mother-in-law 'Dotty' was a well known figure around the village. Their place is like a heaven when I come from Bangalore, and I really relax in the backyard that overlooks the Lake. There were a couple of trenches dug that fish and prawns were bred, but the last monsoons have destroyed the supporting barricade that alowed the Lake waters to enter and the fish to go out. You can see from the number of photographs what a beautiful place it is. The sunsets are quite a colourful sight, and so is the lake with it's sprinkling of 'China nets' and boats along the shores. Below you can see the activities like the Ferry passing by. One can glimpse of the fish market which is in the open ground and lasts about two hours before the fish is sold out. A view of the 'motor-boat ferry' which carries even motorcycles. You see the local Government School.
I consider this place like an off-shoot of Paradise, and one must come with a mind to really shut-down from the ‘City’ environment, then you can enjoy the setting of the place. Later you will be able to venture out and walk through the winding roads, be weary of traffic like a odd motorcycle or a bus because the roads are quite narrow and blind corners are abundant.
Let me tell you a little about ‘Chavara’. This place is about 16 kilometres from Quilon ( Kollam ) , and on the National Highway NH47. It is well known for the different important ore found in abundance. The place is also referred to as the ‘Titanium Company’ as a stop, and as expected, there is quite a lot of pollution filtering into the Lake, waterways and Sea from here. However, Neendakara, where I get off on NH47 opposite the Church and before the last big bridge to Quilon, is quite far from the Plant and so far the pollution has still to be obstructive in this area.
Chavara South, basically an island on the Ashtamudi Lake, like any small village has a Village Panchayat, Village School, mini hospital (more like a Nursing Home), Post Office, Electricity repair man, Police Out-Post and other necessary facilities. People move around either walking or by bicycle, and everyone apparently knows who everyone is, and relations are spread all over down the years. A stranger is easily spotted and questioned where he or she is going. Serious crime is very rare, now and then there are a few ‘Mike Tyson’s’ amoung the inebriated seasoned old timers. As with most water ways areas in Kerala, some people in the region are fishmongers by ancestry. The Lake was the main fishing ground for the locals.
When it rains, as in all parts of Coastal Kerala, ‘it rains’, and usually accompanied by winds which do a courtesy of knocking down trees and electricity poles (and you will probably have to wait a day or two before you are reconnected). A photograph shows the coconut trees being blown in a storm, and a few spots of rain blur the lens! Children can really enjoy playing in the little puddles they use as fish tanks and even catch a few, but they will have to be aware of sharp edges of the debris that is usually at the bottom of the tanks under the muck. The soil is black, and this sometimes can cause boils to children with allergic skin.
Lets go on a boat ride to Quilon (Kollam), you would take the Government Ferry, and it goes zigzag across the picturesque Lake touching about 6 small jetties before you reach the last stop, Quilon Boat Jetty. On the way you will come across many large-sailed (patch-work of rice jute sacks) dugout boats carrying coir, copra, cashew or sand and building material, sea fishing mini-trawler boats, either returned from the trip or under service for repainting. Fishing boats usually leave before dawn for deep sea catch, they are now fitted with twin outboard motors, gone are the days of rowing! School going children on the Ferry are always dressed smartly in uniforms ( a legacy of the British Colonial Rule), and are off-loaded at different jettys for perhaps a further trip by bus to their schools. The large expanse of the Ashtamudi Lake becomes very powerful when you are in the middle. At Quilon (Kollam) you will be able to see many of the 'house boats' that tourists can hire or are used as eating places.When you reach Quilon, you can go to Tangasseri an Eurasian Anglo-Indian Settlement which is quite close by, or you could take the train to Cochin which is quite far and takes about 5 hours.
Parts of the Ashtamudi Lake is very shallow, and one can stand in the water waist high on the dunes. We used to hand-catch shell fish at these places, but because of the over fishing and demand in foreign markets, there is nothing left to catch. Some fishermen use round nets loaded with led slugs and toss them in the air to land in the water like a parachute. It is now a familiar sight to see many a ‘china net’ idle or abandoned, because it’s too much an effort to lower them as the fish are no more in abundance. They use them at night sometimes with a petromax light to attract fish, but it is not like in the good old days. The Government tried to encourage the fishermen to allow the fish to breed, but it was no use, as many live by daily catches.
When observing the shore lines, one would see some thatched or box like small huts protruding over the edge of the water. I call them ‘fishing shacks’ , these are toilets, and never have a drainage or water problem. Simple to operate with a tin ties to a string lowered into the Lake for water! Some of the Keralites (like my wife) will turn red, but it is a fact and life goes on for the stout of heart and with good balance, wonder what happens when one has a few under the belt! Don’t worry, almost all houses now are ‘modernised’ and have ‘European - style’ modern toilets, indoors with even a shower and hot water. The Ashtamudi Lake is dotted with houses that the Raja's used for their families, and they have a distinctive style of entrances.
A week at Chavara South is fine, after that, if you don’t have the right company of ‘ rummy card players’, then its difficult to pass the time. TV and dish antenna have come to the village, but to a ‘foreign tongue’ visitor like me it’s alien and almost life-threatening to my sanity. Toddy ( a juice from the coconut palms, allowed to be collected in earthen bowls, whiteish in colour and sweet-sour when fresh, but usually allowed to be fermented into a potent concoction) is available, but most often diluted, is the other past time, and not to miss out on the ‘daily gossip’ corners. Most people you see have an umbrella or newspaper tucked under their arms, which serves them for multi-purposes, and ofcourse they must be upto date with the ‘News’, because Kerala is the most literate State in the Country.
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Return to India Hello Bangalore Walla Namaskara!Collecting a Piece of GHod's Own Country, A visit to Kerala in May 2004
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