Saraswathy Nagarajan discovers Munroe Thurutthu’s historical connect while revelling in its bounteous beauty
Munroe Thurutthu, a jade-green island set in the cerulean waters of the Ashtamudi lake and Kallada river, is just 20 km from the mainland of Kollam but time seems to stand still in this rustic place where a boat is still the best mode of transport to go around the island.
As we wait for the jhangar to arrive, the island serenely basks in the sun. Fronds of coconut palms swaying languorously in the breeze reveal glimpses of red-tiled houses. A bridge to the nearby Kundara and a railway line where an occasional passenger train stops for a minute or two connects the island to the mainland. The jhangar is the easiest way to travel between Kollam and Munro Thurutthu (thurutthu means island).
As the jhangar ponderously makes its way to the jetty, we can see people, vehicles of all kinds and bundles of coir on it. After the vehicles are driven off and the passengers rush off in the waiting autos, we gingerly clamber aboard the flimsy-looking jhangar along with some Japanese tourists, cars, motorbikes, auto rickshaws and a tempo. Carefully, the jhangar (a wooden platform tied across two boats, one which is fitted with a motor) makes it way to the island. Local residents smile at us indulgently as we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the picturesque palm-fringed banks that seem to dissolve seamlessly into the water. Fifteen minutes later we reach the island and make our way to the house that was built for Colonel John Munro, a former resident and dewan of erstwhile Travancore.
Munroe Thurutthu (Munro’s Island) a group of eight islands, was gifted by Rani Gouri Parvati Bai to support a seminary run by the Church Missionary Society in Kottayam that was set up on the initiative of Col. Munro. The island was given to Reverend Joseph Fenn and his successors so that the revenue of the island could be used for the upkeep of the seminary. A souvenir brought out by the St. Mathias CSI Church on the island says the Rani might have done this as a goodwill gesture to Col. Munro who left Travancore in January 24, 1819. As a mark of gratitude, the leaders of the CMS named the island after him. A devout man, Munro built a church on the island and even stayed there for a short while. However, the present vicar of the church says that the church has been rebuilt three times since. All that remains is the house he stayed in. A simple whitewashed building with thick walls, high wooden ceiling and thick wooden doors, it is now used as a nursery and vocational training centre. No plaques or memoirs remain to remind us that this humble abode was once the dwelling of a dewan.
The able administrator that he was, Munro made arrangements for a canal to be dug so that the fresh water of the Kallada river could be channelled into the island for irrigation. Known as the Puthenaar (new river), the canal runs through the island. Lined by mangrove and plants of differing hues of green, a boat ride around the island is a Nature lovers’ delight. Dragonflies and sundry insects skitter on the water as the oars of passing boats create quiet ripples that shimmer in the light. At places where the river narrows, the sky resembles a blue ribbon framed amidst the branches of towering trees.
Boats of various kinds, covered with electric blue tarpaulins, are carefully anchored in front of several houses. As we watch, a father and daughter make their way carefully in a small country boat called a kodambu vallam, a group of youngsters boisterously swim in the canal. No fancy restaurants, no theatres, no stores… just Nature at her pristine, colourful best.
K.K. Bhramanandan, a former panchayat president, arranges for a boat fitted with a motor to take us around the island. On the way, he stops the boat at a jetty and shows us his school that was established in 1920. Situated on the highest point on the island, the only way to reach the school is a climb up a steep incline.
As we resume our journey, birds rise up from the surrounding mangroves. Pointing to a patch of dense greenery, Roshin M. Nair, a teacher who is our guide for the day, says that the uninhabited island is owned by the Indian Railways and is a haven for birdwatchers. Gradually, the playful dip and rise of the boat is replaced by a thudding sound as we cross the placid Kallada river into the Ashatamudi lake. Far away, the railway bridge stands like a picturesque sentinel. A laterite hillock rises up from a corner of the island like a proud prow of a ship while the tropical foliage provides a perfect backdrop to the composition of red, blue and green as we begin our return journey.