Life on Vembanad Lake, God’s Own Country, Kerala

Unique Ecosystem: Vembanad Lake, situated in God’s Own country, the state of Kerala, India, is the longest lake in India and largest lake in Kerala. It has a unique ecosystem, It is a freshwater lake, separated from the ocean by a set of narrow island. For this reason such areas close to the sea and facing ingress of saline water is also know as the backwaters in Kerala. This area known as Kuttanad is also the rice bowl of Kerala. Under the Kuttanad Development Scheme a salt water barrier was created to prevent the tidal waves bringing in the salt sea water into the fresh water lake. It does get flooded and the water is sometimes pumped out before the paddy crop is planted. There is therefore a brackish water part of the lake and the freshwater part which is replenished by six rivers of Kerala. The salt barrier has helped farmers to control the salinity in the lake and to plant a second crop of paddy. There are gates in this barrier that is opened to let the flow in and out of salt water like the Dykes of Holland.

Onam Boatrace: Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in Kerala as the arrival every year of legendary King Mahabali under whose regime Kerala is said to have prospered. On a visit to the Rani ni Vav Stepwell in Gujarat we had seen statues of the legend of King Mahabali that I recorded in this blog post. Onam celebrations continue for 10 to 12 days. The Vellamkali (literally meaning water game) snake boat race, is conducted as part of the celebrations in the Vembanad Lake. These are long boats rowed by a team of oarsmen competing for the Aranmulla Boat Race or the Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

Houseboats: We, a gang of five college friends, went on a tour of the Vembanad Lake a few years ago and observed life on the lake. The tourist industry prospers here with local and foreign tourist enjoyed the day and the nights on houseboats. These houseboats are set up almost like five star hotels and the visitors are served fresh fish from the Lake.

Life on Vembanad Lake: People live on the bank of the backwater lake and also in houseboats. They conduct their daily activities. Water is supplied to them by the local municipality in boats. Men and women collect the water in containers. There is even an enclosed bathroom for women from well-to-do households to bathe in. Construction material and other goods are transported on similar long boats. Fish is a staple food of people in Kerala. Instead of street vendors there are ‘boat-vendors’ selling fish. We had similarly observed life on the Dal Lake in Kashmir during our visit.

Animals and Birds: We saw ducks being herded in a large group on the lake. They fed on the wild animals in the lake and were sold as duck meat. We also saw a rat snake and the nest of a weaver bird.

Us: The Gang of Five also enjoyed Selfies with the Boatman and my ‘Juthies’. Views of the sunrise on the boat ride and the sunset from the Sailing Club were a treat.

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