In Ezhattumugham, Prema Manmadhan finds a balm for frayed nerves
Quaint and serene, the river Chalakkudy at Ezhattumugham is a picture postcard coming to life – its flow punctuated by islets of greenery and boulders of all sizes and trees growing right in the middle of the gently moving water. A full-grown tree surrounded and nurtured by flowing water is a sight one cannot easily forget. And the mini waterfalls, which not only tickle your feet, but also remind you of the gentle force of water.
At one point, the Chalakkudy gets by the islets and boulders into seven flowing streams, and that is how Ezhattumugham (seven faces of a river) gets its name. Look around and there are so many shades of green, yellow and brown that you soon lose count — more shades than the computer can create for any paint company. Earthy colours must also include grey and black, you get convinced, looking at the boulders.
During the non-monsoon months, the river bares its beautiful depths and you can walk on these boulders and islets through shallow water, right to the other bank of the river. If you are not the kind who gets scared easily, that is. Ezhattumugham lies in Ayyampuzha panchayat in Ernakulam district. While one side of the river is the northernmost end of Ernakulam district, the other bank of the river is where Thrissur district begins. But the river belongs to Thrissur, villagers are quick to add. During the monsoon months, the river hides the smaller islets and the water sometimes reaches the road by the banks.
The river and the islets coexist in absolute harmony. The smaller islets are the kingdoms of wild shrubs, trees, birds and squirrels. On the bigger islets cash crops, like coconut and banana, grow. So who planted them? Murali, who runs a shop by the river, says industrious people have just used the land in a productive way. Nobody owns them. In fact, he adds nonchalantly, even his shop has no title deed.
A narrow pathway goes down from the road, by the side of his shop, to the point where the river gets split into seven. On the banks, there are about 20 sacks of sand piled up. The local people have collected it for their own use, not for selling, a passerby informs you. Tourists do come, in a small way, but only during weekends, when they want to chill out, he says with a mischievous smile.
Ezhattumugham is yet to enter the tourist's itinerary for one very good reason. About 13 km away, uphill, lies the majestic Athirappally Falls, which sashayed into celluloid history with Raavan, starring Aishwarya and Abhishek Bachchan. Film crews, both from the north and the south, often camp in its precincts to exploit its raw appeal. Therefore the quiet charm of Ezhattumugham, through which Chalakkudy flows leisurely, remains eclipsed by the glamour of Athirappally.
While Athirappally evokes awe, Ezhattumugham calms the soul. There are no signages to take you here and local people give you several directions including shortcuts, where crater-sized potholes pass off as roads. The oil palm estates of the Plantation Corporation form a big part of Ezhattumugham.
The state government's attempt to woo tourists began with Prakriti Gramam, a park on the side of a check-dam at Ezhattumugham. People walk along this check dam and cross over to the other side of the river. Poorly maintained, with little security, the park, built less than five years ago, is at best a glorified entrance to the check dam. An outlet selling biscuits and soft drinks is manned by Shinoj, who tells you the people who live there, like him, are mostly families of plantation workers. Acres of oil palm trees, with parasitic creepers all over them, line the road to Ezhattumugham. Women carry baskets of red oil-palm nut bunches to a lorry to be taken to Anchal, near Kollam, for processing.
According to a report of the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow, Chalakudy could well be the richest river in fish diversity in India, with thick vegetation on both sides. The sleepy village and the shallow parts of the river at Ezhattumugham, where you can sit and do what you like, can be a writer's delight and a balm for frayed nerves.
Ezhattumugham is around 80 km from Kochi. Though there are a few shortcuts via Angamaly, it is best to reach Chalakkudy and proceed from there. But Kochi or Chalakkudy have hotels that suit all budgets.