If you're someone who would like to visit a part of Kerala that's off the beaten track yet close to a city, then the Kadamakudy islands, an hour away from Kochi, would be the perfect place. To start with, there's very little information available on the Web about Kadamakudy, barring a link to a blog post by an Abrachan Pudussery, who resides in Varapuzha, a town nearby. If you're the kind of traveller who would prefer to visit a place knowing what the main sights to see and places to eat are, Kadamakudy, a cluster of fourteen islets, would force you to reconsider the way you travel – because it doesn't have any of those. However, what the place does offer are unspoilt and untouched backwaters – a perfect getaway for a city-dweller.
My companion and I arrive at 'Pudussery,' a palatial modern house located in Varapuzha at 6:30 a.m. This is Abrachan Pudussery's home, where he spends 15 days of the month. The other 15 are spent in Bangalore, where he works. A photography and nature enthusiast, Pudussery conducts free bicycle tours for tourists who reach out to him via his blog and shows them around Kadamakudy, about 5 kilometers away from here. His passion for the place is evident in the way he knowledgeably speaks about the islands.
To make the most of our time before it becomes too unbearably hot and humid, we decide to ditch the bicycles. In the cab we had hired for the morning (to get to Kadamakudy), I ask the fifty-something Abrachan Pudussery to explain the meaning behind his rather unusual name. The story goes that he was born to his parents after they had five daughters. Hoping they'd have a boy, his parents had vowed to dedicate the child, if it was a son, to the service of God. So they decided to name him Abrachan, combining his grandfather's name 'Abraham' and 'achan,' a Malayalam word which can mean father and/or priest. Life, however, had other plans for Pudussery, who is now a consultant with the corporate sector. Evangelism has claimed him though, just not of the gospel kind, but of the need to protect Kadamakudy's pristine environs.
We soon leave the town behind, and begin our drive on a road that leads us to Valia Kadamakudy. This is an island where you will find a handful of makeshift shacks, and Chinese fishing nets set up along its banks. We park the car under a tree at the landing of a small bridge where two roads meet.
Walking along the banks, we soak in the sights and sounds: birds chirping, ducks quacking and water rippling. If you’re into bird watching, Kadamakudy has a lot to offer, says Pudussery. On a good day, you can see species such as the Lesser Whistling-Duck, the Asian Openbill, the Little Cormorant, the Yellow Bitter, the Gray Heron, and the White-rumped Munia, he says. In front of us, across the backwaters, is a large landmass thick with vegetation. This is joined to other, seemingly smaller islands, including the banks of the one where’re standing on, by slim causeways. We venture onto a causeway and realise halfway that it would be impossible for us to go any further. We return to the point we started from. By now, an old man, donning a lungi, emerges from one of the shacks. He throws curious glances our way as he seats himself on a stool and begins to read a newspaper.
As we continue our stroll, a sense of calm descends on us. I can't help but wonder if it's the surroundings that are responsible for making me feel this way, or the belief that they should, that makes me feel this way.
Either way, it feels good to stand still, stop and smell the proverbial roses. I check my watch: it's been a mere hour since we arrived. Even time seems to move slowly here.
But would I want to live here, disconnected from the world? Absolutely not! And that's the greatness of such places. They give you an opportunity to live two kinds of lives: slow and fast, as and when you want, in one lifetime. You certainly can have it all, you'd think. Or can you?
We're walking toward our car, after having strayed a kilometre or two away from it. I spot a construction site en route. Large grey bricks are being stacked beside a concrete mixer truck. Pudussery, sensing my curiosity, explains: "This is a site for a large super-speciality hospital. It doesn’t have a name yet, but Kapil Dev is promoting it."
We’re now in the car, driving back to Pudussery’s house.
"Apart from this hospital, the islands of Kadamakudy will soon get connected to the main city by bridges, and this will result in an onslaught of construction activity in the name of development," he says. There have been protests against it. But people who own land in Kadamakudy and around are happy as property prices would soon soar, he says. "Two years from now, this environmentally vulnerable region, which is the habitat of around 75 species of birds, will, perhaps, cease to exist as we knew it," he rues.
I am not as big a nature lover as Pudussery is, but the thought of not having somewhere like this to retreat to, does make me sad; for him and myself. However, I also feel my sadness is not without a tinge of selfishness.
As someone who has greatly benefitted from urbanisation, in terms of quality of life and economic opportunity, it would be rather unfair of me to think others shouldn't avail themselves of the same. I'm acutely aware of the fact that the aspirations of those who live there cannot be sacrificed for my enjoyment. But what about these places, the undiscovered and forgotten ones, that offer us an opportunity to pause?
If every place turns into a city, where will the city-dwellers go to catch their breath? Does every place need to be a city? Can there be a balance? These questions haunted me on our drive back home. I'm sure there are no definite answers to these questions, but raising them is perhaps a beginning.
Getting there: If you're going from Central Kochi, it takes around 50 minutes via the NH47C, provided you leave by 5:30 a.m. to beat the traffic. The best time to explore the place is between 6:30 a.m. (or before) and 9:30 a.m. It gets rather hot after that. While cycling is the best way to see the place, using a car, alongside exploring it on foot, is just as enjoyable. If you're a non-vegetarian, there is a small hole-in-the-wall seafood joint you can check out.
(Photos by Pradipti Jayaram)