Kumarakom Where Pink Water Lilies Bloom
Text & Pictures: Suresh Jacob
The blooming of the water lilies in mid to late October in the paddy fields and water ways across Kerala is a sight to behold. It dots the emerald terrain around the backwaters with shades of deep pink. The event is not as well marketed - as the once in twelve years bloom of the Neelakurinji in the Munnar hills and slopes of the Nilgiri mountains; yet the water lily (Nymphaea Stellata or ambal in local parlance) bloom, which is an annual display across the fresh waters of Kerala heralding the end of the monsoon rains is catching on with ardent travellers and photographers. We stumbled upon these breathtaking carpets of blooms in shades of soothing deep pink around Kumarakom and went on to explore further in and around the surrounding villages.
For us Canadians (of Indian origin), Kerala is a long way off, calling for a travel of 15,000+ km with over 24 hours spent between flights and airports. Coming from a country where nature enhances all your senses with its breathtaking beauty, it does take an extraordinary display to amaze you. As a photographer bent on capturing and sharing the beauty in unique parts of the world, my hunting grounds has largely been North and Central America, Europe, Mediterranean and South East Asia. So, on this travel I decided to focus on Kerala, introducing my adult daughters, first time visitors to the country, to the hospitality and rustic beauty of the State. The pink water lilies at its peak blossom time, I am told, covers nearly 600 acres in this area. In other parts of the state the lilies have spread into many local ponds and waterways. Life in the water lily garden displays a unique biodiversity. Bird watching there is an amazing experience.
Locals and visitors often refer to these as Pink Lotus and it’s easy to get the two aquatic plants mixed up. The general belief is that Lilies came from the West and Lotus from the East. They belong to different plant families; the water lilies (Nymphaea species) and the Lotus (Nelumbo species ). There are large number of varieties and colours in tropical Lilies and Lotuses. To the layman’s eye the obvious difference between the two is that the Lilies have leaves that float on the water whereas the lotus has emergent leaves on stems that usually rise from the water.
Kumarakom area has a plethora of tourist accommodation and home stay opportunities. We had the opportunity to stay at and visit some of the upmarket resorts in the Kumarakom area and along the shores of Vembanad lake. The lake itself has patches of purple flowering hyacinth competing with the larger flotilla of pink water lilies, all teeming with a variety of bird and animal life. Other villages in the Kottayam area like Malarickal are working on luring tourists to enjoy the presence of this seasonal calming pink flotilla, as are the flooded paddy fields of Kumbanad and backwater villages of Alleppey district.
Village life itself around the backwaters takes on a colourful freshness after the monsoon season. The locals ramp up for international tourists who arrive in hoards during the peak season of November to February. For me floating around on a boat on the lake and more importantly in smaller canals around Kumarakom was an awesome experience, and a wonderful opportunity to observe and record rural Kerala life. The back water levels are nearly on par with the surrounding land that puts you in the midst of village life, yet allows you to remain a largely detached observer. One of the few places in my travels that you feel you are not intruding as the locals go about their dailygrind; often acknowledging and waving out to you, but not hindered by your presence. I guess, being on the water, puts you in a different dimension from the happenings on the land. Life on the shores, whether it be the lady spear fishing or the other one doing her laundry in the muddy waters or the rickshaw driver who decided to take a dip to cool off, or the boys playing on tree lined shores, the houseboats repositioning for their trip, or the fishermen gathering their nets, goes by without interruption.
It is obvious that the average Malayalee in their maturity and uncanny level of intelligence, has finely honed the art of tourism. As keen observers they learn from every encounter and use the gathered information to fine tune the specifics for marketing their attractions. They work with long term strategies. Overthe years they have learnt that the real traveller comes in to observe, study, engage, and perhaps participate in their way of life. They are not merely tourists. While the Kerala tourism industry puts up with the run of the mill tourists, their real target is the well heeled repeat traveler, who revels in the Malayalee traditions, lifestyle, hospitality and food. Many of the restaurants haunted by the locals are any foodie’s dream.
I do agree that many of the so called five star resorts in the area are getting a little long in the tooth and perhaps are beginning to price themselves out of the international luxury travel market. However the incredible hospitality, authentic rural life and tasteful food choices are memories to cherish. Kumarakom area is well located with the towns of Kottayam and Alleppey close by, if you want a touch of urban scene from your lakeside resort. Cochin and the airport are not too far either. If you get tired of the lakes, canals and back waters, the un-crowded beaches at Mararikulam is only about 15 km away – a relaxing spot to watch the waves at sunset. There are many beach resorts in this area too. After a while if you long for the cool mountains and colourful hills, Munnar and Thekkady are only a few hours’ drive away. All said and done, the 18 hour flights and many more hours in airports and on the road certainly was rewarded with the experience that Kerala had to offer a seasoned world traveler.
About the Author
With 30+ years in image making, Suresh Jacob is a photographer & photography teacher. He specializes in events, people, lifestyle, travel, nature & commercial photography. His stories cover a wide variety of topics.
Jacob by training and qualification is a professional engineer. He has been pursuing his passion for photography for decades from the B&W era with his own dark-room to current high tech digital imaging times. Suresh Jacob believes in images that stir the soul. His efforts are aimed at freezing moments in time that convey full-fledged stories. He specializes in making photographs as he visualizes them in his mind’s eye, rather than merely take them as they are. He understands relationship between objects / subjects and their environment, as well as the intricacies of working with people. He combines his heart and mind to capture moments in time, with artistic passion and technical brilliance. He likes to tell visual stories while capturing rare moments that open a flood gate of memories.
He has an interactive photography page on www.facebook.com/jacobphotographer and a travel blog page – www.facebook.com/jacobstravel. You can see samples of his work on his web page www.jacobsphotography.ca