Where to Go in Kerala: Kumarakom
Aside from Alleppey, another jump off point of a backwater cruise in Kerala is at the Kumarakom. But, in this article, we’re not going to focus on its backwater cruise. Rather, we’ll discover the village of Kumarakom as a pioneer of responsible tourism in Kerala.
The Kumarakom is a humble village composed of a group of islands along Vembanad Lake. Aside from the backwater cruise, Kumarakom is popular for its bird sanctuary where unique indigenous birds and different migratory birds can be spotted. Then, it also boasts of Aruvikkuzhi Waterfall which is a trekking and picnic area.
The small village of Kumarakom has a good list of places to visit and things to do within its area. No wonder it was chosen as one of the four tourist destinations picked by the Tourism Department of Kerala. The three others were Kovalam, Thekkady and Wayanad.
The responsible tourism program of Kerala is a public and private partnership project. In Kumarakom, it was first launched in 2007. A few years after it was launched, it already received recognition from prestigious organizations.
The responsible tourism program in Kumarakom is an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about a good model of responsible tourism and, of course, the life and culture of people in Kerala. So, I’ve listed the highlights of activities when we signed up in the responsible tourism program in Kerala.
How to get to Kumarakom:
Kumarakom is about two hours away by car/taxi from Cochin International Airport depending on traffic and on the route. Its nearest train station to Kumarakom is located in Kottayam, Tamil Nadu and is more or less 36 minutes away.
We started our Responsible Tourism Kumarakom trip by riding a boat at the jetty with nearby landmarks Samrudhi Ethnic Restaurant and Cheepunkal bridge. We then traversed through the narrow waterways to get to the Manjira village.
Highlights of Activities:
- Coconut Tree Climbing
Kerala is known as the Land of Coconut. In fact, its name was derived from Kera and Alam which means Coconut and Land, respectively.
The villagers demonstrated to us how to climb and descend a coconut tree in two ways, the traditional way and by using a mechanical device. Climbing with the mechanical device takes a good coordination of hands and feet to get to the top. It saves time and energy. Plus, it helps the climbers avoid getting the scratches and bruises.
Sadly, I was wearing a dress and I couldn’t climb. You know I am always one for trying things. I guess I’ll go for it next time.
- Coir Rope Making
Many of the traditional houseboats are still sailing and are over a hundred years old now. These are built with wooden planks put together using coir rope.
Kerala is the hub of coir factories in India. Aside from rope, the coir is also used to make doormats, brooms, brushes, mattresses, handicrafts and many more. Because of the fine quality they produce and because of the increasing eco-friendly trends, the coir and coir products made in Kerala are now in demand and exported to different parts of the world.
The villagers then demonstrated to us how coir ropes are made. Coir ropes are made from the fiber of the coconut husk.
To make the rope, they use an electricity-powered wheel with hooks. These are where the fibers will be attached.
These fibers went through a long process. This process must be what made their products export quality.
Anyway, so, the coconut husks go through the retting process which means soaking them with freshwater or saltwater, depending on the color of the coconut. It takes six to ten months. Other coir manufacturing companies though now use techniques that speed up the retting process into one to ten days.
- Make your own Shampoo
Hibiscus Plant is called as Thaali in Kerala which is endemic in South India. The Hibiscus plant can help make your hair and scalp healthy.
The Kumarakom villagers taught us how to make a natural shampoo using Hibiscus leaves and flower. So, they just put the leaves and flowers in a bowl of water. Then, they squeezed them with bare hands until the water becomes thick and sticky.
- Enjoy a fresh coconut juice
After walking around the village, we then stopped by to enjoy a fresh coconut juice.
- Weave Coconut Leaves
The next stop is at the coconut leaves weaver. Here, I participated in the weaving. They weave the coconut leaves into sheets to use them on roofs or walls. Others make them into other crafts like baskets and mats.
- Try out Toddy
Toddy is a palm wine which, is called Tuba in the Philippines. So, Toddy is something we, Filipinos, are already familiar with.
During our tour, a professional coconut tree climber went up to collect the toddy from the coconut tree. The freshly collected toddy taste sweet and tangy. It becomes sour and fully fermented after a couple of hours or days.
Toddy is also used as a leavening agent for their bread made from rice dough and other Kerala traditional food.
- Weave Screw pine
A fun fact about the screwpine weaving is that it is one of the oldest handicraft industries in the world. And, it originated from Kerala.
Screwpine leaves are those similar to palm leaves but only thinner. Kerala people weave them into mats, hats, bags, basket and many more.
- Other livelihoods
Other livelihoods of the villagers are fishing, farming and raising livestock. I guess that sums up their simple life.
Kumarakom is located within the region of Kuttanad, the largest rice producer in Kerala. So, expect the sprawling rice paddy fields. Also, it has tons of forest mangroves which make the Vembanad Lake inhabitable for different aquatic flora and fauna.
Final Thoughts about Kumarakom
I think they are also a good representative of Kerala, India. Through the activities they showcase, they already tell the history and fun facts about Kerala.
I loved the warm welcome of the villagers. Their village and system of responsible tourism are really inspiring and educational. It is a good give-and-take system between the government, locals, and tourist.
I hope you can witness the simple rural life of Kumarakom too. To schedule and arrange your Kumarakom tour, you may visit their website through this link.