Blue skies, azure seas, deep backwaters, dense vegetation, gracefully swaying palms in a perennial dance routine echoed in the sinous movements of the mystical Kathakali and Mohiniattam, a land peppered by ancient Hindu temples, old churches and mosques and a hospitality industry in permanent top gear - this has to be Kerala. A land that has captured travellers fancies the world over as God's own country.
Located in Kollam district the Ashtamudi lake or kayal and the network of backwaters are famous for its magnificent panoramic views. Slumbering on its banks the town of Kollam was once a bustling port a hub of international spice trade. The 8 hr trip from Kollam to Alleppy is the longest backwater cruise that can be had in the state.
A ride on the small wooden boat called kettuvallum along the shady backwaters is the perfect way to relax on a holiday. There is nothing better than spending your day's lazing in the sun or taking long, relaxing cruises while daily life unflods all around you. One can see little homes complete with their own productive little gardens of eden, perched on the banks of the waterways all along the Alumkadavu Sasthamkotta region. Each home has separate steps to alight into the water with atleast one canoe moored and ready to serve as transport for the family. Even the humblest home is self contained in food, bananas, yams, tapioca, jackfruits, and mango trees are found in small yards. The backwaters and the lake are perennial sources of many kinds of fish satisfying the never ending demands for the staple. The waterways also serve as a medium of commerce. Long low wooden boats carry thatch coconuts, and even dredged mud for daubing the homes. Sunburnt men clad in mundus (loin cloth) toil cheerfully on the boats, adding to the idyll.
Kollam town has a opulent past, known as Desinganadu in ancient times, this sea port has a sustained commercial reputation since the days of the Phoenicians and Romans. later there was even a flourishing Chinese settlement here. The Portugese came here in 1502, and set up trade. Soon the Dutch and the British followed. Kollam was one of the early centres of Christian activity in Kerala, the Apostle Thomas is said to have founded one of his seven and a half churches here.
The villages and small towns around Kollam are famous for many temples like the Nagaraja (serpent king) temple in Mannarssala (32kms), which finds mention in Mahabarata. The Satha temple of Achencoil another important pilgrim centre, the pushpabhishekam (offering of flowers) where stupendous amount of flowers are offered to the deity during the Revathy festival is a grand visual treat.
The beautiful Thevapally palace near the Ashtamudi lake is now in use of the Public Works department. Legend has it that a British resident who lived across the lake fell in love with a lady in the palace. His faithful dog used to swim across the lake to deliver love letters to his master's sweetheart . One day the dog was found dead in the grounds of the palace, either due to exhaustion or killed by a guard in the palace. A monument was errected in his memory which is now in ruins. There is another interesting legend based with the Devi temple at Thevalakkara. It is said that the Portugese once tried to plunder this temple and failed. When they tried to escape their ship would not move. Realising their mistake they apologized for their offence and even carved out their apology on a black stone tablet, which is kept in the temple till this day.
The land seems to have it all, attractive beaches, shady inland waterways, the vast ecological treasure of the Ashtamudi lake and ofcourse the ubiquitous Karimeen(pearl spot) fish. Witnessing a fisherman catch the karimeen is a tourist attraction in itself. The feel the underground water with their feet by day or use a torch and net by night. Once caught you can get the fish cooked right there on the boat and indulge in it along with the other local dishes.