When my colleague invited me for Onam to her vacation home in Trivandrum, I saw an opportunity to explore the most-talked-about backwaters of Kerala. And that is when I discovered the Munroe Islands. This is not your regular island surrounded by sand and sea and watched over by a sparkling sun. Rather, this is a cluster of eight small islands formed by the Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River, each separated from the other by narrow canals and lakes.
After the Onam festivities, I booked a chauffeur-driven cab from Trivandrum to Kollam, which is just some 25 Kms from Munroe Island. Soon, the lush green paddy fields gave way to thick coconut groves, camouflaging the islands.
A snapshot of island life
As my cab passed through the villages, I saw the morning disclosing the idyllic life of the inhabitants. The fishermen heading towards their docked boats, children rushing for school, while the elders sat outside their homes reading, chatting, or simply watching the day unfold in their high-backed rocking chairs.
I had booked my stay at a local homestay for the real feel of the place, and of course, fresh, home-cooked meals. My hosts were an elderly couple who had lived all across the country and eventually retired in this little village for a more peaceful life.
The next day, they offered to take me on a ride on their own boat through the backwaters. These locally made boats are a lot like wooden canoes and have to be rowed manually. There are also the motor boats for tourists, but what’s the fun in speeding, when you are out to relax and absorb the little elements of nature.
The quiet cruise
The clear backwaters with a complex network of canals once served as the main thoroughfare around these islands, when the first fishing colonies settled here. Now, of course, you have concrete roads connecting these islands.
As we cruised along the backwaters, the waterways narrowed into smaller canals, with thickets of coconut palms. At a few places, we even had to duck to avoid the dropping branches or a low bridge that connected two islands. There were little colonies on either side, where people were either making fishing nets or coir ropes, while some were tapping toddies from palms. A few kingfishers were diving in and out of the water, with their catches for the day.
My host also pointed out a couple of spice plantations of cinnamon and pepper, along the river. But my attention quickly drifted towards a high branch where a white-bellied eagle had just perched itself, looking for prey.
As our boat cut through the waters, meandering through thick plantations and fishing villages, I felt the true spirit of Kerala. The musty smell of the coconut trees, mixed with the pungent aromas of spice plantations, and the placid water, collectively added to a unique experience.
We even stopped to fish for our lunch. While my host and his friends were proved to be quite adept, I remained a spectator with my camera rolling and occasionally cheering them on when they got a good catch.
There’s an entirely different kind of excitement when you source your own food, bring them home, and prepare a meal with the freshest ingredients and lots of warmth. For an uber-urbanite like me, a visit to this quaint little island and experiencing its simplicity gave me a new perspective on life, which I am sure I will hold onto forever. The islands have excellent road connectivity and it is advisable to rent a car in Trivandrum from a highly-rated car rental service like Savaari.