In the past, Kochi constituted a group of islets surrounded by the lake as well as the sea. The people there enjoyed life according to their means.
Long before Ernakulam gained prominence as a major city, the tiny islands of Kochi had a major role in the social, cultural and economic affairs of the region.
N S Madhavan's landmark novel 'Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal' which relates the history of Kochi and the life of the people there is a favourite among Keralites. Madhavan’s Lanthan Bathery is surrounded by water on all sides and maintains a youthful nature. The novelist uses his experiences and familiarity with various islands in Kochi to create the imaginary place called Lanthan Bathery (Dutch Battery).
A trip covering areas like Ponjikkara, Vypeen, Kadamakkudy, and Bolgatty which are described in detail by Madhavan, a former IAS officer of Bihar cadre, would be an interesting experience.
In the novel, it is mentioned that a sort of 'island mentality' existed among the inhabitants of the islands. However, with the arrival of Goshree bridges and the Varapuzha Bridge, the islands of Kochi are more accessible now. A visitor need not wait for a boat to reach them.
Lanthan Bathery is described as an island situated west of Ernakulam city. The boats heading there start their trip from the Ernakulam Jetty near the High Court Junction. Boats belonging to the State Water Transport Department conduct regular services from the Jetty to various islands in Kochi. The boats still offer a hassle-free ride avoiding the traffic blocks along the roads to the islands.
The Lanthan Palace
The Dutch, locally referred to as 'Lanthakar,' reached Kochi after defeating the Portuguese in 1663. The novel describes how they established their presence on an island named Mezhukuthiridweep (Candlestick Island). “The Dutch captured Kambojikkad. They also received the rights to bring drinking water from Aluva. Bungalows were built by them at Ponjikkara. At Lanthan Bathery, a palace was built for the Dutch Governor,” says the book. It is obvious that Lanthan Bathery refers to the Bolgatty Island. The stately palace was built by Dutch traders at a place named Candlestick Island in 1744. The palace soon became the residence of the Governor of Dutch Malabar.
Now, the Bolgatty Palace Island Resort is a popular tourism destination. However, Lanthan Bathery is surrounded by water on all sides and maintains a youthful nature.
, Peerangi Maidanam (Cannon Ground), cannons that protect the trade route along the Periyar River and the Portuguese Chapel which a curious traveller will never find on Bolgatty Island. Still, the view of Vallarpadam and Ernakulam Jetty from the Palace Jetty at Bolgatty is similar to the description in Lanthan Bathery.
The Goshree Bridges
The novel refers to a third bridge which would soon be built in Kochi apart from the ones connecting Ernakulam with Venduruthy and Venduruthy with Thoppumpady.
In addition, bridges have to come up from Fort Kochi to Vypeen, Vypeen to Vallarpadam, Vallarpadam to Ponjikkara and Ponjikkara to Ernakulam. A trip covering all the bridges would offer a grand tour along the entire perimeter encircling Kochi.
As these bridges are yet to be built, the 'island mentality' still exists in the region. At present, there are bridges from Marine Drive to Bolgatty, from Bolgatty to Vallarpadam and from Vallarpadam to Vypeen. These Goshree bridges have brought about some change to the isolated feeling felt by the islanders. A flip side is that the streets of the islands are now chock a block with vehicles as in the city.
Across one of the Goshree bridges is Vypeen. From the bridge, a traveller can notice several tiny islands on the lake which are covered with thick greenery. Most of them are alive with fishing activities. The lake offers sustenance to fishermen on motorised boats as well as canoes.
It was from Vypeen that the family of Jessica, the heroine of 'Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal,' migrated to Lanthan Bathery. They were a big family of carpenters and had reached Lanthan Bathery four generations before Jessica's.
The biggest attraction of Vypeen is the Church of Our Lady of Hope set up by Portuguese missionaries in 1605. It is also the oldest church in the area. This place is situated near the confluence of the Vembanad Lake with the Arabian Sea. It is right across Fort Kochi. A visitor who has read Madhavan's novel would quickly recall Pony Gueseler, the master ship architect (Kappal Perunthachan) of Kochi.
The premises of the church have been beautified with lawns and stone-paved paths. It has retained its charm even after centuries. Right in front of the church is the lake. But the traditional boats mentioned in the novel cannot be seen from the church. Instead, motorised boats race across the lake. Chinese fishing nets and fishermen using nets can still be witnessed in the area. Far across the backwaters are Fort Kochi Jetty and the historical buildings there. Local people and visitors arrive here and wait for the fishermen bringing fresh catch.
A light house belonging to the Navy offers amazing views of the area. On the west is the Arabian Sea and on the east is the greenery of trees. Numerous islands can also be viewed from the top of the light house along with the natural gas terminal of ONGC.
A spiritual place
According to the novel, across the Boniface Bridge from Lanthan Bathery is Ponjikkara. Residents of Lanthan Bathery found spiritual solace at Ponjikkara. The path to Ponjikkara was across a bridge made of a single trunk of coconut tree. “They could not resist the call of Ponjikkara. The place fulfilled several spiritual needs. When the bell of St. Sebastianos Church rang, they headed north to Ponjikkara. When the boatmen shouted from the toddy shop in Ponjikkara too, the residents of Lanthan Bathery became restless,” wrote Madhavan.
Now, Ponjikkara can be reached by travelling north from Bolgatty. The road is narrow, but, St. Sebastianos Church is not far ahead. The church faces the lake. The cemetery of church is where the first couple of Malayalam literature, Ponjikkara Rafi and Sebina Rafi, were laid to rest. ‘Lanthan Batheryile Luthiniyakal’ has not failed to mention these eminent writers. Jessica, who finds some relief in reading, says, "In our neighborhood lived a couple who gave a new direction to Malayalam literature. They were Sebina Rafi and her husband Ponjikkara Rafi, who was born in a carpenter's family like us. His 'Swargadoothan' is the best novel in Malayalam and can match any other work from the west."
Rafi was once a noted Malayalam novelist who wrote works like 'Papikalum Pronobisum.' It was widely discussed in literary circles. Another noted work written jointly Rafi and Sebina, 'Kaliyukavum Sukradasayum' was also appreciated by critics.
A little ahead of St. Sebastianos church is the Ponnarimangalam boat jetty. People wait there for travelling to other places refusing to accept the reality that they no longer lived on an isolated island.
Another island which is closely linked to Lanthan Bathery is Kadamakkudy. It is the place from where the workers who built the thatched shed for Jessica's baptism hailed from. Over a century before that, the master craftsmen of the area had also played a big role in building the ship 'Fateh Savad' of Cornelius.The play 'Ningalenne Communisttakki' was staged at Kadamakkudy during the days when the Communist party was banned.
This island has maintained its rustic charm even during the present day. The path ahead comes to an end near the water body at Moolampilly. A traveller has to take a 'jankar' to proceed. A new bridge is being built, but till it is ready, the 'island mentality' of the local residents will remain.
Across the water is Pizhala, an island in the Periyar River. The roads in Pizhala are narrow but the island, being the headquarters of the Kadamakkudy grama panchayat, houses the panchayat office, primary health centre and the veterinary hospital. But local people have several complaints about the arrangement as there are seven islands in the panchayat and reaching Pizhala for important matters is a bothersome
affair. The jankar here has been formed by tying two boats together and fixing an engine to it. Compared to the Moolampilli-Pizhala river crossing, the Pizhala-Kadamakkudy crossing is shorter. The jankar service connects Chariyathuruthu, Pizhala and Kadamakkudy. Though residents of the areas have not much liking for the jankar, a tourist will find the ride exciting.
The road starting from the boat landing at Kadamakkudy is also very narrow, but tarred. The path is flanked by mangroves and paddy fields and joins the Kadamakkudy–Varapuzha road. Kadamakkudy is a pristine village with old trees, 'pokkali' fields and a gentle breeze.
A green outing
Kadamakkudy is a favourite destination of young travellers from the city who prefer to spend time there enjoying the unspoilt natural beauty. Another route to Kadamakkudy is via Varappuzha bridge which involves no jankar ride. Wide expanse of paddy fields which resemble green carpets is the main feature of the area.
With the main islands in Kochi being connected with bridges, the urban lifestyle of the mainland too has reached the once-isolated residents. Ernakulam and Kochi are gradually merging into one great metropolis.
Jessica refers in the novel to, 'The 11 o'clock boat from Vallarpadam.' But the bridges have changed things forever and the islanders are no longer worried over being isolated. Even amidst such sweeping changes, there still exist islets on the lake which prefer to keep things as they are. The greenery, the birds and the narrow paths could make a traveller believe that each such place surrounded by water was Lanthan Bathery, where 'Island mentality' prevails.
Lanthan Bathery's attractions
A tour of the locations mentioned in 'Lanthanbatheriyile Luthiniyikal' would enthrall not only aficionados of literature but also any traveller. The islets in the backwaters of Kochi are blessed with incomparable natural beauty.
Boat services are available from Ernakulam to Vypeen and other islands. The ride over the wide expanse of the Vembanad lake offers an unforgettable experience to not only foreign tourists but also many Keralites.
The attractions can be enjoyed along with a trip to Mattancherry, Fort Kochi and Marine Drive. Islands like Kadamakkudy present sights of unspoilt village life and landscape. Travellers will also get an opportunity to taste traditional cuisine which has fish as a main ingredient.