This Kochi town is a tourist haven but for locals, everyday life is a nightmare

Kumbalangi has been promoted as a “model fishing village” since 2003 but for residents, ground reality is harsh.
This Kochi town is a tourist haven but for locals, everyday life is a nightmare
This Kochi town is a tourist haven but for locals, everyday life is a nightmare
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With their giant spider-like legs spreadeagled, the Chinese fishing nets are cast over the backwaters of Kochi, as the sun sets behind the coconut grove. The picturesque views together with fish farms, and country boat rides have put Kumbalangi, the island-village on the outskirts of Kochi, on the tourist map, with foreigners and domestic travellers soaking up all that this “model fishing hamlet” has to offer.

Kumbalangi is made up of three islands – Kumbalangi, Kallanchery and Anjilithara – and has a total population count of 123 families. While each island is connected by narrow mud roads, residents also use small country boats to travel around.  

And while the state government has promoted Kumbalangi as a model tourism village since 2003, with tourists taking in its breath-taking views and its tranquil setting, for many residents it is nothing short of a living nightmare.    

“In the rainy season, you can’t imagine how people travel here. These mud roads will be covered with water and people often fall into the backwaters, even if they travel by bike,” said Fr Sebastian Kootungal, Vicar of St John the Baptist Church in Anjilithara and convenor of People’s Action Council told TNM.

A narrow dirt path, partly covered in brambles and shrubs cuts across the backwaters, connecting Anjilithara to Kumbalangi and Manakkur area. Residents are now demanding the construction of a small bridge to the island as constructing a road isn’t feasible.  

“Last week a person died here. His relatives struggled to carry his body out of the island for the cremation, as it was raining heavily. While walking, our legs get stuck into the mud and we struggle to come out. It is more dangerous for children. Their parents are forced to quit work and guide them to school during the monsoon,” lamented the priest.

11-year-old Akhil fails to understand why so many tourists come to Kumbalangi.  

“My Appa carries me to school during the monsoon as my cycle gets stuck in the mud. Once I fell into the water and my neighbours saved me. It’s impossible to walk in rains,” he said.

And while Fr Sebastian Kootungal realises that the untouched, rustic environment may lure tourists for a day or two, for those living here the struggle is real. “Narrow mud roads and water everywhere would surprise the visitors, but for 123 fishermen families living here, it is an everyday struggle,” he said.

Several projects were announced by the Kerala government in 2003 when the project to transform Kumbalangi into a model fishing village and tourism spot was announced. However, much of it remains largely paper. This includes the plan to revive cultivation of salt-resistant pokkali rice,  and the artists’ centre to promote local art forms, reported The Hindu in 2013.   

“We have nothing here. Even to buy groceries, we need to go to the main road. But maybe officials want to us to live like this. All of us are from poor families, we all are fishermen, maybe that is why we have been neglected. For tourists, this place has to be like this so that they can enjoy the natural beauty of mud roads and water,” observed Raghavan, a local fisherman.

And if everyday life is hard, Raghavan said that when tragedy strikes, their difficulties seem unsurmountable.  “During emergency situations like a death or hospitalisations, we think of killing ourselves, the difficulties are unbearable,” he added.

With no options, residents say they intend to go on an indefinite strike to bring their plight to the notice of the state government.

(Edited by Anna Isaac)

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