Poovar Kerala’s Shangri-La
My friend Prashanth calls me from Trivandrum. It is an invite to the city steeped in culture and arts with a dash of scenery. I have visited this State capital three times. Human mind yearns for a change and newness. Adventures issue out of such cravings. “Ready for adventure? Come and stay at Poovar island. Be marooned like Robinson Crusoe” suggests Prashanth. The predilection for exploring new places propels me to set off on the expedition. Our usual train, Ananthapuri Express, is running 1 hour behind schedule. We alight at Neyyatinkara (again a new location), the penultimate station before Trivandrum.
The sedan, after passing through bazaars and a temple, zips past the Kerala-styled houses and finally reaches a well paved boat jetty. It is a sunny day and the place is swarming with passengers. Our out of the world experience has started here itself. After a wait of 20 minutes, a motor boat from the resort arrives to pick us up. The boat ride is gripping. As it cruises through the Neyyar river, flanked by vegetation on both sides, we watch nature in its full glory. A cormorants skims over the lake. The egrets swoop and soar out of the creepers and vines. A kingfisher dives for its prey. The ambience is so serene and still that even a whisper would be an infringement. As the boat negotiates a curve, the river widens and suddenly the spuming sea separated from the backwaters by an aureate sand bar looms before us. The sight is so bewitching that we fail to notice that we have reached Poovar. The launch is berthed on the edge of the island near the jetty. Adjacent to it are thatched cottages positioned on placid waters creating an illusion of a floating island. The ethereal surroundings beckon us to explore it. Unmindful of the usual formalities and pangs of hunger, we hop into the boat and sail to the beach just across the island. The sky is grey though it is just half an hour past noon. The heavens may open at any time. The beach seems to be a tranquil and a no litter zone.
Nobody except three of us are present on the golden sands. We turn back to have a glimpse of the islet and its environs. All the beauties of nature can be found in this place. Poovar lies on the cusp of backwaters and sea, and a river which empties into that sea at close proximity. It is also blessed with a stretch of beach which separates it from the backwaters. We walk upto the mouth of the estuary. But the beach does not end here. The busier beach at Chowara peters out 12 kms south at Poovar where the river Neyyar joins the sea. Thus, the extraordinary confluence of river, lake, beach and sea is Poovar’s unique offering. This little paradise, tucked away in the southern tip of Kerala near Trivandrum (25 kms away), is literally cradled in the arms of nature.
Turning to history, before some cataclysmic event threw up a sandbar here, a harbour used to overlook the estuary,which is said to be the port Orphyr famous in the ancient world as a flourishing trade centre. The island’s name is connected with monarchs too. Raja Marthanda Ravi Verma was given asylum here by a powerful local merchant Moosa Marikkar. Flowers that had fallen from Kovala trees covered the river Neyyar with a carpet of red, a picturesque scene described by the king as ‘Poo aar’ or the stream of flowers. An apt description that even today succinctly defines Poovar.
We don’t know how much time we spend gazing at the horizon. As day melts into night, the eternal crimson ball starts drowning in the sea. The waves gently lap around our feet. The zephyr ruffles our hair gently. Can anyone expect a more romantic setting?
We return to our ‘floating’ cottage only to be rocked by the rippling waves. Even in the darkness we can see some boats in the cove. We scurry out to the deck for our candlelight dinner under the ultramarine sky and a thousand twinkling stars.
Next day at cocks crow, we rush back to the beach. We are completely obsessed with the pristine beach. Now we see some fishermen spreading their nets and readying for their daily business into the sea. We decide to take a catamaran ride. Poovar is basically a fishermen’s village. Our expedition continues to a nearby village. A chat with the locals is interesting. Once back in the resort, we move along the water meadows, village greens and landscaped gardens with no intruders in sight. The coconut and palm trees sway to greet us. Throughout the island, coconut trees and an invigorating sea breeze thread their way through the beautiful landscape. Breakfast and tea are disregarded. At times we are on the fringes of the island and birds flap their wings and fly to their daily chores. The chirping and warbling of the avian population provide music to our ears and souls. Luxuriant nature triumphs over creature comforts. That’s the magic of Poovar! After the morning constitutional, we have a dip in the natural pool and move to another resort, which is just another extension of this magnificent island.
Now our wish is to explore the places around Poovar. The first place on our list is Vizhinjam, a fishing village near the much hyped and congested Kovalam.This tiny village has one of the most ancient rock cut temples in Kerala. Located in a beautiful garden some 13 kms from Poovar, it has a niched cave on a boulder which encloses a one-celled shrine with a loose sculpture of Vinamdhara Dakshinamoorthy. The outer wall has unfinished reliefs of Shiva and Parvati in dancing poses. These sculptures dates back to the 8th century AD. History says that this place was the ancient capital of the Ay kings who ruled Kerala centuries ago.
Our chauffeur now drives us to the Vizhinjam harbour. As this site is close to the International sea route, a state-of-the art port is being developed at this place. But what we see is fishing boats bobbing at a distance, a beautiful view of the bay, the minars of a mosque and a poorly maintained beach. A local admonishes us that this place is not only dirty but also unsafe in the evenings. Now we move our jaunt to the banks of the Neyyar river. In the days of yore, ghee (ney)was flowing in this river. Hence the name. The must-see spot is here a beautiful shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna. As legend goes, Prince Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, when fleeing from his enemies, was saved by Lord Krishna here in the guise of a boy, by asking him to hide in the hollow of a jackfruit tree. The remnant of the This Ammachi Pilavu or mother jackfruit is still preserved near the western entrance of the temple. We walk around to the northern side of the temple to view the river winding below. The door to the Sri Kovil (sanctum) is painted in gold.
The post-lunch session includes a spectacular canoe ride around the island. Blissful is too small a word for this experience. We just sit back and admire nature. The oarsman, a local, speaks in ‘Tamiyalam’ (Tamil with a Malayalam accent) and regales us with his own stash never heard stories. The flapping of the birds and the plop of the paddle are the only sounds to be heard. One need not be the famous ornithologist Salim Ali to appreciate the birds here. Most of the channels (narrow and wide), are water boulevards with a green canopy and the sun sneaking through the thick foliage. Suddenly, it starts drizzling. Even a shower is welcome in this ambience. With only Mother Nature to give us shelter we take refuge in a coconut grove. The rains are unpredictable in Kerala, not to speak of an island like Poovar. If you are much concerned about your clothes and health, then carry an umbrella or wear a raincoat, advises our boatman. The showers are gentle. It stops within a short time. But we are still not in a mood to return to the dinghy. We walk amidst the groves. The scene has become entirely different! The pastures, completely washed of dust, look dazzling! The verdure is overwhelming! The scene seems straight from a picture post card. The scenery acts as a balm for our city-weary eyes. We gulp down a cup of Kashayam ( Ayurvedic potion), to reduce the ill-effects of getting drenched. With the marvels of nature etched in our mind we hit our beds. On the final day, in the morning, we once again go to the beach to have a rendezvous . Our children collect the shells and oysters. The lads and ladies attempt to play some outdoor games. Like a solitary reaper, I saunter on the white sands to devour nature’s bounty. I wish I could walk straight into the surging waves or become one with the rippling brook. But mundane thoughts of duty above beauty pull me back. With tears brimming in my eyes I salute the Sol with a Gayatri mantra and move towards a boat. Any trip to Thiruvananthapuram would be incomplete without a visit to Padmanabaswamy temple. Even an atheist will enjoy a visit to this shrine. It is maintained by the royal descendants . The temple is immaculate and the sculptures are noteworthy. One can learn how a temple should be maintained. The other feature is the main deity, the Anantha Padmanabha, reclining on a five hooded serpent, which can be seen only through three separate openings.
Poovar is nature’s Benjamin, a rare environment and a good balance between ecology and luxury. Enveloped by the most serene backwaters and opening out to the sea and a dream golden beach, it offers the best panoramic view of the nature’s wonders. Relax,unwind and let your heart absorb the ecological mantra.