Kakkathuruthu, a tiny picturesque island on the Vembanad lake, 30 km off Kochi, was little known to the outside world for a long, long time. With just about 275 families on it, life was quiet, without the traps and demands of the present day. Occasional greetings from bird watchers were the only “outside things” they were familiar with.
But fortunes have changed ever since National Geographic listed Kakkathuruth as one of the places worth visiting in its Around the World in 24 Hours photo tour, two weeks ago. The resulting influx of tourists from all over has just begun and the villagers are keeping their fingers crossed.
“Now, daily, we have 10 to 12 visitors — including foreign tourists — coming here for the sunset. The interesting part is that students from colleges are also stoping over after reading about us on the Web,” says Surendran Kalathara (59), the oarsman on a snakeboat that conducts free trips from the island to the mainland. His boat service lasts from 6 am to 9.30 pm daily and is an initiative of the local panchayat. National Geographic says Kakkathuruthu is the best place to be at 6 pm.
“There were just one or two resorts at the opposite ends of the island and tourists were rare. But now, people are flowing in in large numbers. The two snakeboats and a makeshift junkar are busy for most part of the day, especially during the evenings. “It’s true that the sunset here is breathtaking. It’s because of the reflection from the water around us,” says Viji Rajan (46), another resident of the island, which counts an Ayurveda hospital and an anganawadi as its only state-sponsored infra.
Because the island has no black-topped roads, motor vehicles and the scattered water bodies around it have blooming lotuses and water lilies among other flora which give the island a lush forest-like cover. It’s truly a stunning sight.
Kakkathuruth has always had potential to make it big on the world tourist map and students here had listed the island as one of the best unchartered tourist destinations in Kerala — a tiny state that took in 1,16,95,411 tourists in 2014. To find an island untouched by this rush is an important discovery and many are now thrilled at the prospects.
Tourism promotion council secretary P.I. Sheik Pareeth, of Ernakulam — a major business district of Kochi — had in 2014 inaugurated the Guide Us 2014 programme which had included the list prepared by the students. He’s now overjoyed that predictions have come true. He has company.
“Now the lives of the residents of the 9th ward in Ezhupunna panchayat won’t be the same as several employment opportunities await them,” says Riya Ann Cherian, director, Guiders’ Education, a Kochi-based tourism and Travel institute.
Besides its sunset, the island does not have many attractions. There is of course, the Manveedu — a house built using just sand and cement. It’s owned by an engineer who had built it for weekend getaways and its tranquil design is now famous.
But the locals say it’s time for more facilities and fear increasing tourism could put pressure on their limited civil infrastructure.
A bridge connecting their island with the rest of Kerala has been a demand for decades. But it remains unfulfilled. In the absence of a bridge, Kerala’s famous snakeboats double up as ferries and despite the ergonomic and design challenges, not a single sinking or drowning has been reported in the region.
“A few years ago, primary work had started on the bridge but the works stalled — for reasons unknown to us,” says Natarajan (58), a coconut tree climber on the island.
So it’s now a battle of preserving the nature or development at the cost of it. Some on the island wonder if the new-found fame is positive news while others are calling for better infrastructure. Whatever the case may be, the Sun has just risen here....