Islands of Kochi

Kochi's Kuthirakoor Kari at a crossroads

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The way ahead is sustainable development for the island which has huge tourism potential

It was nearly 15 years ago that a road, long awaited, trundled into Kuthirakoor Kari, connecting it to nearby Kalathara, Palluruthy and beyond. It changed not just the way the islanders commuted, but also life as they had known till then. Snaking its way through the Vembanad, over time, it brought with it vehicles, a school, a couple of resorts and curious visitors. And slowly, the region the locals refer to as Kari ceased to be an “island”, almost.

Twenty-seven-year-old Anju Jinu does not remember the exact year the road was opened, but says, “Till then, we were going to school in small wooden vanjis. After the road came, we went to school walking.” For most other residents too, time is marked by the before and the after of the Kari road. “Back then, we had to make our way to school along the ridges of fields, through slush and water. Life was difficult. But now, everything’s changed,” says sexagenarian Saramma.

 

Today, the long, narrow road to Kari, which is home to 72 families, sports a fresh coat of tar and is lined with dense, wild plants and prawn farms on both sides. The entire region, with its vivid hues of green and blue, and dotted with mangroves and Chinese fishing nets, seems straight out of a painting. The road was tarred only six years ago, says Antony Manesh, ward member of Kaithaveli in Chellanam panchayat. The nearest bus stop for Kari residents is still an hour’s walk away at Veli in Palluruthy, but the tarred road has ensured that autorickshaw drivers do not charge exorbitant rates to come to the island. There are parts still left untarred; the rains turn them slushy and difficult to walk on.

Kochi's Kuthirakoor Kari at a crossroads

The proximity to the backwaters has resulted in low-lying areas on the island getting flooded during high tide. “Water entering our courtyards is a chronic problem,” says Ms. Jinu. Hers is also one of the nearly 20 families on the island that do not have access to piped water in homes. Potable water reaches them through public taps, which they then ferry to their homes. But 59-year-old Victoria has no grouses. “Earlier we had to travel in boats all the way to other banks to fetch water, or wait for water to be supplied in tankers.” It was after numerous protests that the islanders, living in the midst of water, finally got their uninterrupted supply of drinking water.

A major threat

For the residents, a majority of whom depend on fishing for their livelihood, the increasing pollution of the Vembanad is a major threat. Plastic pollution and the discharge of waste from nearby industries and fish-processing companies are strangling the lake, says V.J. Michael, a retired teacher, who owns a homestay on the island. “The depth of the lake has reduced drastically too; even small country craft tend to run aground in many places.”

Kochi's Kuthirakoor Kari at a crossroads

“We used to make ends meet by gathering clams. Now, there are hardly any clams in the water,” says Nelson V.E., a fisherman and carpenter. The fish wealth has depleted, he adds. And yet, several youngsters, who have regular jobs on the mainland, engage in fishing during their free time. “It offers freedom and independence. Plus, we earn a tidy sum,” says 22-year-old P.M. Tony, who specialises in catching crabs and prawns. He adds that several islanders continue to follow traditional methods of catching crabs and prawns, which are on their way out elsewhere.

Royal connection!

While prawn farms on the island have survived the onslaught of time, Pokkali cultivation has not been as lucky. M.T. Satchidanandan, a resident, says the island’s tryst with farming goes a long way. There still exists at Kari remnants of a kalam, where paddy was threshed and foodgrains stored reportedly under the kingdom of Cochin. Today, the dilapidated building, privately owned, is used to store coconuts from nearby farms. Near the kalam is a sacred grove where the erstwhile royals are believed to have offered prayers. Believers at Kari continue to light the lamp there on specific days, says Mr. Satchidanandan. The locals are full of such stories that link Kari with the Cochin royal family. The island’s name too might have a royal connection, says Mr. Michael. “This region was a rich source of the grass that was taken to feed the royal horses. I am guessing that’s why it was named after the kuthiras (Malayalam for horses),” he chuckles.

Kochi's Kuthirakoor Kari at a crossroads

The decline in Pokkali farming meant a fall in employment opportunities on the island. Mr. Manesh believes that the island has huge potential for attracting tourists and with help from the government, jobs can once again be generated at Kari. The road connecting Kari to other regions is too narrow and needs to be widened, he says. “Facilities for cycling, angling and kayaking could be set up.”

Birders’ haunt

Along with the nearby regions of Kandakadavu and Kalathara, Kari is a favourite haunt of birdwatchers. Nearly 100 species of birds have been recorded from the three regions, says Cochin Natural History Society secretary Vishnupriyan Kartha. However, he is wary of unsustainable development on the island, adding that the building of roads and filling up of backwaters would prove detrimental to the region’s ecosystem.

But, Mr. Manesh reiterates that infrastructure development on the island has not affected its ecology. Most families living on the island are economically backward and the growth of tourism could improve their lives, he says. Striking the right balance may well be the biggest challenge when Kuthirakoor Kari chooses the road ahead.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 9:24:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/kuthirakoor-kari-at-a-crossroads/article28763998.ece

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