Exploring the unexplored backwaters of Kerala

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Boating to see the stunning yet unexplored backwaters of Kerala
Boating to see the stunning yet unexplored backwaters of Kerala

Mostly, advertising exaggerates brand promise. But when it comes to Kerala, it does live up to its slogan – God’s own country. Rare are the places blessed with as much breath-taking beauty, unmatched heritage and rich culture as Kerala is. From soothing backwaters, stunning lighthouse lined beaches, abundant wildlife and dreamy hill stations to imposing forts, intricately designed temples, mosques, churches and Ayurveda retreats – the state has everything any traveller could ask. But for me, it was the people that exposed me to the human side of the state and made me fall in love with God’s own country. 

While I have been to the state several times in the last two decades, yet every time I return with a new heart-melting tale. This time was no different – I visited the most stunning but relatively lesser popular places of Kerala, Munroe Island.

I was looking for a place that had the same ethereal beauty as a more popular place like Alleppey has but is relatively unexplored, and that’s when my local friend, Sreekesh, came into the picture. 

Munroe Island, the untouched backwaters of Kerala

The unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island is where beauty and calmness meet
The unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island is where beauty and calmness meet

While most people explore the more famous backwaters from Alleppey in luxury houseboats, I decided to take a different course after hearing Sreekesh speak so fondly about his hometown, Munroe Island. An island, which he fondly calls the secret backwaters of Kerala. Unlike Alleppey, it is an untouched destination set amidst sprawling nature away from the claws of over-tourism and commercialisation. And boy, visiting Munroe Island, turned out to be one of the best decisions of my Kerala trip.

Coconut tree lined Lake Ashtamudi of Munroe Island, Kerala
Coconut tree-lined Lake Ashtamudi of Munroe Island, Kerala

The most striking thing about the island ( locally called as Mundrothuruthu) was its location – at the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River. Comprising of a group of eight small islets, this hidden piece of nature got its name in honour of Resident Colonel John Munro of the former Princely State of Travancore, who dug canals to connect them. Away from the hum-drum of the city life, navigating through the narrow and quiet palm-fringed channels of Munroe Island with backdrops of diverse flora and fauna felt so magical and calming at the same time. 

Something I would not bargain for any other experience in Kerala or anywhere else. Despite the language barrier, my boatman was eager to show me the hidden spots and even got me fresh coconut water straight from the tree. I found it very endearing.

For lunch, we stopped at a small restaurant where we were treated to the most delicious Keralan lunch made from the freshest catch of the day. Rice with fish curry, prawn curry, several chutneys and vegetable stew, richly flavoured with coconut and local herbs. The joy of eating on a banana leaf with your fingers is something I miss the most till date. And, thanks to my server Arun, I ended up eating much more than I usually eat. 

After lunch, Sreekesh gave me a small walking tour of the island – making me eat the elders and acquainting me with the history of the island. He took me to a Dutch Church built-in 1878, which is said to be one of the ancient churches in Kerala. Standing on the pretty banks of Lake Ashtamudi, the red brick church proudly showcased the blend of Dutch – Kerala architecture. Even though the foreign guests departed a long time back, their vestiges remain littered around the island.

Our tour ended with a refreshing dip in the local river as the valley got embraced in the golden glow and shades of orange, red and pink of the setting sun. By 7 pm it was pitch dark outside, and hundreds of stars twinkled in the sky above us.

Flora and fauna of Munroe island

Next day we woke up early to do an activity that is Sreekesh’s favourite – bird watching. Walking through the island Shreekesh passionately explained everything about the biodiversity of the area. I wasn’t much of a birder before the trip, but I couldn’t help fall in love for birdwatching here. Every once and now Sreekesh would point towards bouncy kingfishers, majestic Brahminy kites and elegant egrets.

The unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island is a paradise for nature lovers
The unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island is a paradise for nature lovers

Kerala is synonymous to spice plantations, and Munroe Island is pretty rich in spice plantations, coconut farms and rubber manufacturers. The Spice plantation owner was so generous that he gave me a lot of spices free.

I was quite intrigued to know the local village life, and that’s when Sreekesh took me to see the coir retting process and coir weaving. He told me if I want to see the village at its festive best I should come for the Kallada Boat race, which is one of the famous boat races in Kerala held during Onam festivities.

I was in no hurry to tick mark places, so I spent a week in Munroe island, just enjoying the serene beauty of the island and relishing the magic of everyday moments I shared with the locals. I felt there’s a lot we can learn from them how humans and nature can be in sync and live sustainably — a beautiful life of simplicity and contentment, without harming anyone.

How to get to Munroe Island in Kerala?

Exploring the unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island
Exploring the unexplored backwaters of Kerala at Munroe Island

The closest city to the island is Kollam from where you can either take a taxi or a train for a journey less than 20 minutes. Starting 07:45 am there are four trains in the morning until 11:10 am and three trains in the evening starting 17:10. The last train is at 19:05.

You can also take a bus from the bus stand very close to the railway station.

And, if you are coming from Alleppey, you can take either the morning train at 09:09 or the evening train at 6:55 pm that roughly takes around two hours. 

When is the best time to visit Munroe Island?

While the Munroe Island, Kerala backwaters can be visited all the year-round, the best time visit the island is during winters – between November and February

What to pack for Kerala backwaters trip?

Carry comfortable cotton outfits, flip-flops, sunscreen, hat and sun-glasses.

How to explore Kerala backwaters sustainably?

  • Instead of booking a Kerala luxury houseboat found in Alleppey, hire the local houseboats to get an authentic feel of the place and benefit the local community directly, cutting the middleman.
  • Carry your own reusable water bottle and a trash bag.
  • Book your stay at local homestays and eat fresh food at local restaurants
  • Public transport is not bad to use. Just make sure you check the train or bus timings beforehand.
  • Respect the local culture. Do not smoke in public places and dress appropriately when visiting places of devotion.

Interested to know more about the enchanting human nature of Kerala? Do check out this video

Disclaimer

Sponsored post by Kerala Tourism but the experience and content is mine. Please do not copy anything without taking my written approval. Special thanks to my friend, Sreekesh Radhakrishna, for sharing great insights from his hometown.

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