Alappuzha: Tucked away in the tranquility of Kerala’s backwaters, the quaint Perumbalam Island is set to emerge as a charming destination for intrepid travelers seeking a genuine escape. Accessible only by boat, this rustic carbon-neutral island, located in the middle of majestic Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha district, is poised to captivate hearts and become a cherished discovery for those who yearn for a more serene and authentic experience.
Kerala Tourism, as part of its mission to develop several women-friendly destinations, is coordinating with the largest island panchayat of the state to transform a relatively untouched landscape, adorned with swaying coconut palms, lush greenery, and the gentle lull of the backwaters, into an idyllic setting that transports visitors to a bygone era. “We’ve embarked on a major initiative to develop women-friendly destinations across the state. For this, training has already been given to nearly 3000 women. Also, studies like gender audit are currently progressing in the identified destinations. The nature-gifted island of Perumbalam is one of them,” said Rupesh Kumar K, State Responsible Tourism Mission Coordinator.
The island spread over an area of six sq km and houses around 10,000 residents, is witnessing a series of tourism development initiatives, may it be the development of basic infrastructure like roads or the empowerment of women to start small-scale industries or training them to don the role of tourist guides who can give the pleasant experience of the village charm to the visiting tourists.
Perumbalam is adorned with nearly 20 temples and 118 sacred groves. The lush, verdant spaces brimming with ancient trees and an aura of sanctity offer visitors a chance to reconnect with nature. The island comes alive during its cultural festivities, where the convergence of sacred rituals, traditional arts, and community celebrations creates an atmosphere of joy and reverence. These festivals, often centered around the island’s temples, testify to how ancient traditions co-exist with the rhythms of nature.
“After a busy period of travel and work, we wanted to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life and embarked on a journey into a realm of tranquility, seeking solace and reflection in the lap of nature. So when we landed in Kochi, we inquired about a quiet, serene location and landed up in Perumbalam,” said Simon Hanggi (48) from Switzerland and Farah Mullah (35) from Bombay, both full-time artists.
“It’s the perfect place for ideating. Amidst serene landscapes and untouched beauty, nature unfolds as a comforting embrace. I could do a lot of creative writing. The rustling leaves, the gentle sway of big old trees, the melodious sounds of birds, the quiet lakeside haven allowed us to rediscover the beauty of stillness amidst the whirlwind of life,” reflected Farah. However, the duo, who spent almost a week staying at one of the homestays on the island, were very much appreciative of the “nice people” and the local cuisine, teeming with fresh catches.
“Last night we were able to witness Pooram, as part of a temple festival, and could witness the mesmerizing Theyyam art form. The fire dance and the lighting of hundreds of lamps were all just mesmerizing. The sailing in public boats from one part of the island to the other was another memorable experience,” said Simon, who is visiting Kerala for the first time.
The construction of a Rs 100-crore bridge, connecting the island to the mainland, is progressing and is expected to be ready by the year-end. One of the longest bridges in the state, with a length of 1140 meters, the project funded by KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) would facilitate seamless travel to the island, currently accessible only by boats. The arch-shaped bridge will have three navigation spans in the center to facilitate the passage of big vessels.
“We expect a substantial number of visitors once the bridge, a long-term demand of the islanders, becomes a reality. The island lies close to all three districts of Kottayam (Poottatta), Alappuzha (Vaduthala) and Ernakulam. It’s just half 28 km from Kochi. Currently, 75% of the bridge work has been completed. We’re widening and relaying the roads in the panchayat for which a sum of Rs 56 lakhs have been sanctioned now,” said Panchayat President Adv V V Asha.
The PEPPER (People’s Participation for Participatory Planning and Empowerment Through Responsible Tourism) project is being implemented to facilitate sustainable development of the island by bringing the local community also into its fold.
Focus on Farm Tourism
The panchayat bets big on farm tourism to showcase the rich agricultural and fishing traditions of the natives and provides a unique experience to visitors. “Tourist clubs will be formed and tourist guides will be deployed to offer visitors the chance to experience the daily lives of the natives by participating in traditional farming and fishing activities. We’ll arrange cultural programmes, storytelling sessions, or workshops to educate visitors about the history and significance of betel leaf cultivation, coffee and peanut farming, coir production, and fish and duck rearing. Guided tours will take visitors through the entire process of cultivation, from planting to harvesting. There are over 100 varieties of mango trees here,” said Vice President Dineesh Das.
Plans are afoot to encourage the sale of locally made handicrafts or produce to support the livelihoods of the natives. “For instance, small-scale industries like making coconut chocolate and oil and handmade screw pine mat have been set up. There is also an eco-product shop from where visitors can buy pure commodities. The island also houses the traditional ‘nalukettu’ and ‘ettukettu’ buildings and an Ezhutasan kalari. We’re sure all these will be catching the imagination of tourists,” he said.
While the development brings economic opportunities and improved infrastructure to rustic islands, it also poses a significant threat to their ecological integrity. “Striking a delicate balance between progress and preservation becomes paramount to ensure the sustainable growth of these island communities,” Simon and Farah point out as they pack their bags after winding up their week-long pleasant stay on the island. “We’ll visit again to immerse in the timeless beauty of Perumbalam,” the duo signs off as they catch the boat back to the main island.