After the river walk a new road

Aap revolution

 

 

 

After the Pamba Walk, Riju Stephen and I (Ajit Joy) joined a new kind of revolution sweeping the country today. The revolution of the Aam Aadmi Party. This is the revolution that guarantees respect for humans, for environment, for justice, for dignity of the common man and a clean and decent society. We are now fully into the Aam Aadmi Party in Thiruvananthapuram and hope to change the current oppressive system to one of justice and sustainability. We look forward to many more joining us.

Palliyodam snake boats of Aranmulla

During our walk we came across a number of Palliyodam snake boats. This is the peculiar mighty boat of the Arnamulla area. In the off season they are kept in the shed awaiting the arrival of the next season. These days the number of bats have gone up with even a small area owning three Palliyodams.  A total of 50 Palliyodams today participate in the Vallam Kalli (Boat race) at Aranmula.  The first picture is courtesy Kerala Tourism showing the Palliyodam in action at Aranmulla.

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Some pictures from Mesmerizing Kuttanad

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Typical life of Kuttanad, water, water and more water. Bridges, boats, rain, paddy and people join into this sea of water into making  of this magical place. The pictures in this post were taken from governement line boats which we took tracing the flow of river Pamba in its final stages before it joins Vembanad Kayal. The main places include Thakazhy, Viyapuram, Chambakulam, Mambarikiry, Allapuzha, Nedumudy, Pallathuruthy and the place we stayed in Parambady.

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Day X, Last Day of the Pamba Walk

DSCN6125At our Idyllic location we were joined by two guests this morning who spent the last leg of the Pamba Walk with us. Pradeep Suthan, the Managing Editor of Yentha.com and Sundar a business man turned activist from Punnalur.

work goes on strengthening the sides of the river as part of the Kuttanad package to reduce flooding

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Main branch of Pamba joins the Vembanad lake

We traveled by a boat of the Kerala water Transport that took us along the various Blocks of Kuttanad through one of the branches of Pamba and later on to the Vembanad lake where this branch joined the Pamba river. Travelling further on the Vembanad, we came to the spot where the main Branch of Pamba meets Vembanad.

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Ajit Joy (l) and Riju Stephen below the Palluruthy bridge, Allapuzha at the completion of their 10 day Pamba walk, during which they walked about 130 kms along river Pamba

The river in the final stages crosses the Pallathuruthy bridge, famous for all the house boats parked there just before Allapuzha, and then in about 5-6kms its triumphant journey starting up in the misty mountains of the Western Ghats ends.

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House boats clogging the waterway as we near Allapuzha

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The Allapuzha boat getty

We are back in our homes in Thiruvanathapuram this evening and shall file a more detailed report tomorrow.

Pamba Walk Day IX, Kuttanad

IMAG0986The last but one day happened to be relaxed as a holiday; it was a cruise through the backwaters in Kuttanad. This was a voluntary decision as this was the only option to navigate through a vast area where Pamba branches out into several interconnected flows along with Manimalayar, Meenachal, and Achenkovil rivers to form a labyrinth of waterways. Those who are familiar with the geography of the area would know that covering long distances on foot is not a practical idea. We had two highlights before reaching our rest place; one was the interaction with Mankompu block panchayath president, and the other one was Fr Peelianickal, Executive Director of Kuttanand Vikasana Samithi.

The Thakazhi Bridge

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Kuttanad from our boat

We got into the state owned transport boat starting from Viyapuram at 7.45am. Our destination was to get down at Mankombu. Throughout the boatride we enjoyed the  apparently pristine scenery. The flood waters had washed the weeds and hyacinths but the occasional plastics and Styrofoam were an eyesore amidst the morning bloom of water lilies. After an hours ride, we had our break fast at Takazhi. We rushed out with the boat crew to feast on hot idlies at a not so neat place just below the Thazhy bridge. There wasn’t a better place in the vicinity to eat. We  witnessed the shop owners using the waterfront to dump waste and were directly washing utensils in the lake. For any establishment on the waterfront, big or small there has to be piped water and a proper drainage for the waste water. Though it appears to be in a small scale, it is the small drops that eventually form large streams.

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Kuttanad The rice basket of Kerala

Another two hours would take us to Mankompu. Getting to the road from the jetty reminded us of the marshy traverse through the rain forest during the initial phase of our journey.

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Chambakulam Block Panchayat President Mrs Ramani S Banu

After emerging into the main road, the Champakkulam Block Panchayath office was right in front of us and we thought it was the right thing to go inside. In  the office we met the President Mrs Ramani S Banu.  She heartily welcomed us into her office and the discussion soon ran into the gravest issues that touch the heart and soul of the people in her panchayath that included the problem of land, loss of fish species, pollution in the Pamba and the problem of waste disposal where land was a luxury.

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Father Thomas Peelianickal of the Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi

Father Thomas Peelianickal was the next man to visit. In office, he elaborated on the critical issues the Kuttanad region faces now. According to him, all the four rivers draining into Kuttanad, have to be treated as a single system, and in the current scheme of things, Pampa gets a whole lot more attention while the rest of the three Manimalayar, Meenachal, and Achenkovil are relatively neglected. He finally zeroed into the most critical issue in Kuttanad – the frequent flooding. The guys who were waiting to see Father before us had also told us that they were there to complain about the flooding. Father explained to us his main arguments on flooding.

  1. Thanneer Mukkam Bund, which is an end to end structure across the Vembanad Lake, separating Kochi Kayal from Vembanad Kayal (Lake) is not doing what it is ought to do. The middle of the bund is still a mud embankment and the existing shutter system is so defunct that it is not possible to open and close to regulate the flow of salt water from the sea into the paddy fields.
  2. Thottappally spillway which has been intended as an easy exit of the flood waters into the Arabian sea proved to be a fiasco because the engineers who designed the structure failed to create a system that maintains a seaward gradient to facilitate the flow of water into the sea.
  3. Allapuzha – Chenganoor AC Canal which originally is an excavation for sand for the construction of embankments brings in new waters from inlands and inundates the area as there are no proper drainage out to the sea from this canal.
  4. The reclaimed paddy fields towards the east of lower Kuttanad had channels that allowed the easy flow of waters including that from Pamba. Later, due to some reasons on the strengths of the retaining walls, the flow of water has been blocked at two places within the reclaimed paddy fields, which causes excessive flooding now.

Father Pelianickal thinks that floods are a blessing to the region as it washes all the dirt and filth out into the sea. Without the floodings Kuttanad has no existence as we see it today. Controlling a natural phenomena with our engineering expertise would often obstructs biological and physical balance in the area.

DSCN6013Later we took another boat that takes us through this heaven of waterways, paddy fields and tall swaying coconut trees to a place back of beyond to spend our last night in idyllic peace.

Pamba Walk Day 8, Pandanad, Mannar, Viyapuram, Pamba twists and turns and splits and then joins again

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We started walking at 7.15 am from Chengannur downstream with Mannar as destination and if still well to go on to Viyapuram. Pamba was still flowing with the same vigour and might as we had seen her the previous day. Soon she would branch out into smaller streams as she prepares for her final leg into the low lying Kuttanad

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backwaters of Allapuzha district. This walk has taken us through Pathnamthitta district quite extensievely and for brief periods through Idukki and Kottayam. For the next few days we will be in Allappuzha. Local people guide us on the way to be as close to Pamba as possible.

DSCN5967Throughout the day we stay close to the river and then when the road ends we get on to the main road. In Pandanad after two hours of walk, we are in our endeavour to catch the point where the first bifurcation occurs in Pamba during this stretch. On the way, we stopped for water at a house close to the water front.

Pamba in Pandanad

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Chellamma speaks to us

Chellamma, the lady in the house, accosted us at the steps that lead to the river. She shared her childhood stories of her interactions with Pamba. “ All these places had sand banks, and there was a large sand bar in the middle where I used to take my bath”, She recollected. We guess the issue that troubles many of those who stay on the banks of the river is their accessibility to the river; the banks are muddy and overgrown with weeds. It is practically impossible to walk to the waters for a refreshing dip. Probably, this could be one of the factors that alienate the folks from the river which they once held so close to their hearts. According the locals we met on the street at Pandanad, which immediately comes after Chengannur, this place used to be inundated every year. But they do not have any flooding in their memory in the last 10-15 years. They attribute this to the river getting deeper due to sand mining.

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Pamba forks with the right branch flowing on to meet Manimala river

We soon reach the spot of bifurcation called Kuthiathode. The main Pamba turns left and the other part turns right where in a kilometre it meets the Manimala river.

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Pamba branches again to encircle Parumala

By noon, we crossed Pandanad follow the southern branch which further splits to enclose a larger landmass now known as Parumala. A small branch of Achenkoil river joins the southern branch of Pamba a few hundred meters down south. We cross the Illimala bridge to enter the island of Parumala. At Parumala, we are lucky to get a room in the famous Parumala church compound.

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A temple Kavu

Just before reaching the church we see the famous temple Kotrathil Shrivalliya Panyannarkavu. This temple has two properties with acres of Kavu forests. Kavus do play an important role in preserving biodiversity as well as water balance. We are glad to see that the temple forests are well preserved. At Mannar the two branches of Pamba that enclose Parumala join again and flows on to Viyapuram.

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A church by the Pamba on the way to Viyapuram

After lunch we walk on to Viyapuram. At several places we see fields being slowly filed with soil and house creeping in. Loss of the remaining wetlands this way would be very dangerous to the ecology of Kerala.

IMAG0940By evening we witness a branch from Achen Kovil river join Pamba just before Viyapuram. At Viyapuram we see the Pamba flow on wide and proud into Kuttanad. At a distance of about half a kilometre, Achen Kovil also flows on parallel to Pamba into Kuttanad. Tomorrow is the day we follow Pamba into Kuttanad, where it is known to branch and flow wildly before it reach Vembanad lake.

A taste of what we are eating during our Pamba walk

A sample of the food that has kept us going. On our long 22 km walk the fact that a toddy shop would serve us lunch kept us going with all enthusiasm. A plate of Kappa and meen and natholi fry from the toddy shop was super after all that walk. At Perunad, with Ayappa swamis all around, the hotel owner an old lady was a little embarrassed serving mathi curry (sardines). It was hot and sizzling. Soda narnga vellam, (lime and soda) is our energy drink. And of course the veg spread from Aryas was excellent.

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Pamba Walk Day VII, Varattar- the dead river, Aranmulla Airport and Pamba as it makes an Island

DSCN5893Prof MVS Namboodri, Vice President of the Pamba Parirakshana Samiti is with us today. First thing in the morning we walk from the Professor’s house at Othera to see the Poorva Pamba or the old Pamba stream. At Pallikadavu near Atthikayam bridge Pamba forks into two. The main branch flows on straight and another branch turns right. This branch is called Poorva Pamba. This branch flows for 4.5kms in a square shape and then rejoins the main Pamba at Puthenkavu.

Poorva Pamba taking a 90 degree turn. Island of Edanad beyond

The land enclosed by this branch of Pamba is the island of Edanad. According to the people who live here, the current course of the river in between Edanattidam and Puthenkaavu had been a cattle track, and because of the causeway constructed in Vanjippottilkadavu near Edanattidam, the original flow was obstructed and Poorva Pamba became a stagnant body of water.

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DSCN5901A distributary of poorva Pamba called Varattar used to in the past connect with Manimala river. Varattar has disappeared due to the causeway that blocked water to Poorva pampa and the other usual causes such as encroachments and excessive sand mining. We walk up to the place where Varattar begins. A sand bank with overgrown grass blocks the entrance. Walking along Varattar, we see over grass and bushes, trees and other encroachments. A little ahead we saw the causeway that almost completely blocks flow of water into the poorvapamba.

Varattar River lying dead

Over the years, it also seems that Pamba and Varattar started flowing at two levels thus slowing entry of water into Varattar.

DSCN5907The Pamba Parirkshana Samiti took up the cause of this river and now the Panchayat Presidents of the locality Advocate Rajeev, President of the Eraviperur Panchayat, Nirmala Devi, President of the Koipram Panchayat and Thomas Varghese, President of the Kuttoor Panchayat have joined hands to clear encroachments and revive this river. We wish many such initiatives are taken for the cause of lost and loosing streams and rivers.

A cause way in Varattar that blocks the flow of water

 

 

 

Poorva Pamba branch

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Apart from Varattar, the Poorva Pamba or old Pamba branch also faces death. The inflow at the mouth was once about 100 mtrs wide, but now it is just a few metres. A cause way at the mouth of this branch, built to help a contractor take material for the Atthikayam bridge blocks the water from flowing freely. In addition massive silting at the mouth has narrowed the opening drastically. There is a need to dismantle the cause way and widen the mouth urgently to improve the flow in this branch of Pamba.

Pamba forks to form the Poorva Pamba 

 

 

 

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Edanad on map, see Pamba making a square island

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aaranmulla Airport

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Wetlands at the Aaranmulla project site

is a project which is now almost dead. In any case we travel to the proposed site. At first look the site seems ideal for an airport with the side open expanse that we see. On a closer look we see wide grass lands that were once paddy fields. Already several hillocks have been levelled and many small creeks vanished for ever.  Kozhithode river a tributary of Pamba flows through the site with several birds perching almost throughout its length. The area is within a heritage locality with several temples, churches, boat race location and a laid back life of the people around. The whole atmosphere of the place is going to change with an airport. We spoke to a few people who stay in the locality. They have no doubt that with the airport coming they are going to lose either house and livelihood. “Why should so called development take place at our cost. Why should we be sacrificed to benefit others?” they ask.

We have not studied the issue in great detail but all indications are that something is rotten about this project. Several moves have been made in secrecy in this day and age of more openness and transparency in governance.

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Sajan, on of the persons we spoke to at the proposed airport site. Most local people oppose the airport

Gavi : Should tourism be promoted?

IMAG0515The newspapers in Pathanamthitta district have a lot on Gavi these days. MP Anto Antony, Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash and other political leaders are all demanding that more tourists be allowed to visit Gavi and that the tourist facilities be developed there. Further they want the forest department to take off all restrictions for entry for tourists.

Grassland on the way to Gavi

Our opinion having visited Gavi is as follows. Gavi is located in a very ecologically sensitive reserve forest which forms part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Turning left on the Shabrimala road at Plapalli after taking a permission from the forest office at Aangamozhi, one has to travel 65 kms through dense pristine forest and at places grasslands to reach Gavi. One passes through mist covered forests and several dam sites and reservoirs on the way to Gavi, which has a small reservoir and a forest department resort. There are 5 check posts on the way where one has to submit documents. At the end of the journey  one has to pay Rs. 40 per head for entry and an extra amount for cars.

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In spite of checks on plastics and liquor, some of our “tourists” are out to violate the restrictions. For instance the car behind us had 7-8 young men who were openly drinking and playing loud music in the deep forests. Uncontrolled tourism in these forest will soon lead to littering with plastic bottles and snack covers that one would see in towns.

Thick forests on the way to Gavi

At many places we saw elephant crossing signs  with twisted cane and rattan and elephant droppings. The free movement of wildlife will be affected by the incursion of tourist vehicles. Tourists also freely stop at scenic spots and near waterfalls to picnic there.

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The only facility currently in the area is a KSEB canteen in Moozhiyaar and one more near Pamba reservoir and then a restaurant at Gavi that caters to tourists on package. If more tourists are permitted, then the extra construction and movement for supplies will add to the pollution and environmental degradation.

Five dams fall on the way to Gavi

The current restrictions on entry to Gavi which is 20 vehicles on week days and 30 vehicles on Sundays should continue. Another option to explore is to take tourists only on departmental vehicles under escort so that the impact to the forests is minimum.

We cannot afford to have the same enIMAG0497vironmental disaster that Shabarimala has become to be replicated in Gavi.

 

Moozhiyar dam the only location on the way to Gavi with a small restaurant