24th May 2017
The kids were intently watching our group — mostly foreigners — wandering in one of the backyards in their village. One shyly peeked through the plants and smiled as I eyed her. This was one of the scenes when we went for a responsible tourism visit in a local community in Kumarakom. It is located at the southern part of Kerala, India and our destination during the Day 3 of our Kerala Blog Express Season 4 trip.
Found in Kumarakom is a portion of Vembanad Lake, as well as a network of canals, waterways and rivers. But the best way to explore it is to see how the locals live their daily life. This is Kerala’s sustainable tourism initiative, which has earned the UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance, the National Award for Best Rural Tourism Project, and other distinctions.
This responsible tourism program, one that is community-based and community-driven, allows visitors to witness and experience the various activities and cottage industries of the locals while channeling 90% of the travel package earnings to the local community.
What do you get to enjoy in this village? Here are a few things we had during our trip:
From the boat jetty near the Samrudhi Ethnic Restaurant, we boarded one of the water taxis that took us to the village. But not before we breathed in the beauty surrounding the backwaters, from water plants to coconut trees to the tranquility of the place. Upon reaching the Manjira village, we were welcomed by the villagers with flower garlands and beautiful smiles.
The best way to get to the traditional village in Kumarakom is through a boat ride.
There is so much beauty surrounding Kumarakom, such as this postcard-worthy landscape.
Being hailed in one of the islands in tropical Philippines where coconuts abound, men climbing coconut trees is not an uncommon sight for me. But this visit showed me the faster and mechanical way of going up and down a coconut tree in just a few seconds without having to carve portions of the trunk. The villagers here use a certain mechanism that can put Spiderman or Ironman to shame. Some of my fellow bloggers tried it but I found that it takes some getting used to in order for one to do it in a snap.
There is a faster way to climb and descend from a coconut tree through the aid of this mechanism.
Coir rope, which is made of coconut husk fiber, is one of the materials that is used in the traditional houseboats or kettuvallam, the same kind we stayed for a night in Alappuzha (READ: Alappuzha: A Night In A Houseboat). The villagers showed us how they make coir ropes, which are very strong and durable. They attach the fiber to a hook on a wheel which is rotated by electricity. When two strings are created, the same process is applied to twist them into a rope.
Coir fiber is the raw material used in making this rope.
The fibers are connected through attaching them to a hook turned by electricity.
Coir strands are twisted through the same machine.
The memory of my aunt showing me how to blow bubbles out of hibiscus leaves during my childhood seemed to have been buried deep down my brain. But it was refreshed when one of the villagers showed us how to make shampoo from this plant. He squeezed soaked hibiscus leaves and petals repeatedly and later on, the liquid became a bit sticky and a few bubbles started forming from the mixture. The natural shampoo is often referred to as thaali in Malayalam, the main language used in Kerala. Hibiscus plant, through its flowers and leaves, is also applied in ayurveda.
Soaked hibiscus leaves can be used as a natural shampoo.
We walked through the rest of the village and made a stop at one of the houses where we had our fresh coconut water. Being in Kerala, the “land of coconuts”, it is a must to try this refreshing liquid, including its yummy meat. In fact, expect one in most of the destinations you will visit here.
We all enjoyed the fresh coconut drinks served during our visits. The author is the one at the upper left side. Photo by Jinson Abraham|Kerala Tourism.
In that same house where we were enjoying our fresh drink, a lady was weaving coconut leaves. The woven sheets are often used as thatch roofs or walls while others are turned into baskets, mats, and other products.
A woman showed us how to weave coconut leaves.
One of our guides brought us to a coconut tree where pots surround its bottom. He demonstrated how they tap toddy, a type of palm wine, and had us sample this local liquor. It was similar to what we call as tubâ in the Philippines. So when I took a sip, I instantly liked the taste (because I like tubâ). It has a sweet tang because it was not yet fully fermented and still has a non-alcoholic quality. But once it does, it acquires a sour flavor. They also mix certain ingredients into the coconut sap, which is stored in a clay jar and covered.
A local showed us how they tap toddy from the coconut tree.
We tasted the toddy collected afterwards.
Leaner and finer than coconut leaves, the screw pine leaves are woven elaborately, which are then made into mats, baskets, bags and other crafts and products. With smaller strands, they are even more intricate to make. It was amazing how it was done just by watching the villagers demonstrate the process to us.
Weaving screw pine is no easy feat, as shown here by one of the villagers.
Walking through paddy fields, passing by homes where they dry coconut meat for copra, watching fishermen put out their nets for a catch, and seeing cows tended in someone else’s background — it was a delight to experience their village life up close. Not that I am unfamiliar of rural living, but this is one kind of travelling, such as sustainable community-based tourism, that appeals to me.
Raising livestock is one of the livelihood of people in the village.
It was a serene feeling walking through the vast rice paddy field.
This program enabled us to be with the locals, appreciate their way of life, and learn from them along the way. On their part, it empowers them when they take the initiative to play an active part in this responsible tourism program, acting as guides and activity leaders.
All these activities compose a half-day or full-day package called “Experience Kumarakom: A Day with Farmers”. Other packages are: half-day trip “Beyond the Backwaters” which will allow visitors to interact with teachers and students in a local Anganwadi, a center that implements the women and children development projects of the government; and the whole-day “Alongside Nature” option that includes a temple visit in Vaikom. Some optional packages are also available depending on the preference of travelers.
These kids were on their way home from school.
Village kids, though shy, were fascinated by their visitors.
If you are interested to experience sustainable tourism and support the local community, you can get in touch with the following offices:
Responsible Tourism Travel Desk Kumarakom
Phone: +91 481 2523097
Nodal Agency for Responsible Tourism Kerala
Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS)
Residency Compound, Thycaud P.O.
Pin – 695 014
Phone: +91 471 2329468/ 2329539/ 2339178
Fax: +91 471 2323989
This article is part of the over-arching post First-time in Kerala: God’s Own Country where you will find the list of my blog posts related to this trip. Get updates on the Kerala Blog Express at thehttps://keralablogexpress.com/ and check #keralablogexpress #tripofalifetime and #liveinspired in social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.