The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake, and is part of the Kuttanad region. The bird sanctuary here, which is spread across 14 acres is a favourite haunt of migratory birds and an ornithologist’s paradise. Egrets, darters, herons, teals, waterfowls, cuckoo, wild duck and migratory birds like the Siberian Stork visit here in flocks and are a fascinate the visitors.
An enchanting backwater destination, Kumarakom offers visitors many other leisure options. Boating and fishing facilities are available at the Taj Garden Retreat, a sprawling old bungalow-turned-resort.
Waterscapes, the backwater resort of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation has independent cottages built on stilts, set amidst coconut groves and panoramic view of the backwaters. Holiday packages involving houseboats, traditional Kettuvalloms (rice barges) offer great experiences.
Kumarakom – What’s in the Name?
Some say that the name Kumarakom was derived from the words ‘kuminja’ and ‘akam’. Together, they refer to a land formed by the accumulation of sediments. This explanation seems quite plausible as Kumarakom is a land constructed by the deposition of mud and other materials through natural and man-made methods.
According to another version, the name is a combination of the words ‘Kumara’ (Lord Subrahmanya) and ‘aham’ (home). This is with reference to the Murugan (Lord Subrahmanya) temple located a few kilometers from the heart of the village.
Geographic and Demographic Details
Kumarakom is part of Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, which lies a few feet below sea-level. It is a cluster of islands about 14 km from Kottayam. A two-hour journey from the Cochin International Airport or a half hour boat ride from Muhamma of Alappuzha district will take you to this fascinating land.
The village sprawls over an area of 51.67 sq km, which is inclusive of 24.13 sq km of the lake. The lush paddy fields below sea level are spread over an area of 15.75 sq km. The remaining portion of 1253 hectares is dry land. This is the inhabited area – patches of land criss-crossed by canals and streams – of about 1179 hectares.
Records from the early 19th century reveal that the area was only sparsely populated. The census of 1891 shows that a population of only 8332 existed in the village and that the number of houses built at the time was about 1700. The latest survey conducted in 2001 shows that the population has increased to about 23,000 and the number of households is about 5,120. The sex ratio, like that of the State, is in favour of women. As of 2001, the ratio was 1026 females for 1000 males.
The climatic conditions here do not pose great risks or challenges to the visitors. The temperature is relatively moderate and varies from 22 to 34 degree Celsius. The weather is agreeable all year, thanks to the proximity of Lake Vembanad and the constant flow of cool wind from the lake to the land.
Kumarakom receives two monsoons – the southwest monsoon (June to August) and the northeast monsoon in November. During the southwest monsoon, backwater cruising is not allowed. The average rainfall is 1100 mm. The best time to visit is between November and March, but there is no dearth of tourists any time of the year.
With the growth of tourism, there was a shift in the occupational trends of the villagers. Many left traditional agricultural work to reap the harvest of this relatively new industry. However, there are still more than 2000 villagers with jobs in the agricultural sector.
Lime-shell collection, fishing and construction are the other major occupations.
Shell Mining in Kumarakom
One of the main activities of the villagers is shell mining as there is an abundance of black clam (Villorita cyprinoides) in the backwaters of Kumarakom. The villagers, mostly women and children, stand knee-deep in water and pick the shells from the water bed.
The backwaters are an ideal habitat for Villorita. The shell has great commercial value as it is used as raw material for manufacturing cement, fertilizers, pesticides and some medicines. The heat technique is used to facilitate shucking and the clam meat is cooked and eaten or used as shrimp feed in shrimp farms.