Swayed by tourism wave

The interior of St. Antony's Church in Kannamali.

The interior of St. Antony's Church in Kannamali.  

Kannamali is separated from Kumbalanghi just by a strip of the backwaters. They share panchayat borders and when Kumbalanghi basks in glory as the first-ever tourism village, it is natural that Kannamali too is swayed by the tourism wave.

Tourism activity will be centred on St. Antony's Church at Kannamali and its century-old celebration of the feast of St. Joseph in March. As the first step in the process of warming up to the tourism drive, the Papal Nuncio, Pedro Lopez Quintana, laid the foundation of a shrine on the church premises this week.

"We have requested the Ministry of Tourism to provide us help as they have done at centres like Vallarpadom, Malayattoor and Kalady. They wanted us to chart out a detailed project report. We have done that. Officials at the ministry have informed us that we have been enlisted in the official tourism calendar," said Monsignor Joseph Puthenparambil, priest of the church and chairman of the celebration committee set up to mark the centenary celebrations.

The first feast was given in 1905 to counter the spread of cholera in the region. Based on the quantity of food supplied, church officials put the number of people visiting the feast anywhere between one lakh and 1.5 lakh.

The church also has its share of history. "This is the fourth church that we have now. The first two were destroyed in sea erosion and the third, which dates back to more than a century, is now a cemetery. The new church was consecrated in 1945," Monsignor Puthenparambil said.

Placed between the narrow strip of land between the backwaters and the sea, Kannamali is trying to cash in on natural bounty.

Among the first steps to be taken to make the church a spot for pilgrim tourism is the construction of a walkway on the eastern side of the church that faces the backwaters and a boat jetty. Pedalling boats, speed launch and restaurants will follow.

The church will organise a number of programmes in its run-up to the centenary year of the feast; this will include a traditional food festival in December and honouring Joseph namesakes and couples in the parish in January.

Even though the church-turned-cemetery has captured the attention of the Department of Archaeology, it is in a dilapidated condition. And the new church is slowly sinking in.

"We were told that there used to be six steps at the entrance of the church. You can see there are none now," the priest said. No conservation effort has been made on either of the structures.

Many, like E.P. Joseph, media convenor of the celebrations, believe that it will take another 10 years for the tourism drive to pick up. Leaving one to wonder whether the sea and the backwaters will give that much time.

By Anand Haridas

Photo: H. Vibhu

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