Kumarakom is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is a noted bird sanctuary where many species of migratory birds visit. The Vembanad Lake, the largest backwater in Kerala, is habitat for many marine and freshwater fish species and it teems with ‘Karimeen’ (Pearl Spotted Fish), shrimp (chemmeen in the local language) and prawns. The bird sanctuary extends over 14 acres (57,000 m²), and came into existence following preservation efforts from the government. It is a major tourist attraction.
Agriculture, fishing and tourism are the major economic activities. The place has expanses of mangrove forests, paddy fields and coconut groves. This rich agricultural environment is mainly irrigated using interspersed waterways and canals of the Meenachil river. Kumarakom’s perfectly balanced tropical climate is conducive to cultivation.
There are several activities for visitors, depending on how much time, money and local language skills they have.
The Bird Sanctuary can be visited by canoes, which can be arranged with local fishermen at the entrance to the sanctuary. A two-hour rowing canoe trip may cost about INR 200-250, and is best undertaken in the evening or early morning to avoid the afternoon sun.
House boats or speed boats can cover longer distances but cost more to hire.
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is set in Ayemenem or Aymanam village, which adjoins Kumarakom. The explosive success of this novel has given some added touristic impetus to this area. The Taj Garden Retreat hotel complex is centered around a building that is called “History House” in the novel; it was built by British missionary Alfred George Baker, whom the locals called “Kari Saipu” (possibly an elided form of “Baker Sahib”), as in the novel. Four generations of Bakers lived in the house until 1962, speaking Malayalam, and even wearing the mundu. The Baker Memorial School, Kottayam, was started by a daughter of this family in 1925. The Baker family’s house is in ruins in the novel, as it was in reality before was developed into a hotel and has been restored by the Taj group. The Ayemenem house, where Arundhati Roy spent part of her childhood (like the twins in the story), can also be visited in the village, which can be reached by boat along the Meenachil river that figures prominently in the story.
Vembanad Lake (Vembanad Kayal or Vembanad Kol) is India’s longest lake, and is the largest lake in the state of Kerala. It is also one of the largest lakes in India
The Vembanad wetland system covers an area of over 1512 km². The lake is bordered by Alappuzha, Kottayam, and Ernakulam districts. It lies at sea level, and is separated from the Arabian Sea by a narrow barrier island. Canals link the lake to other coastal lakes to the north and south. Several rivers flow into the lake, including the Achenkovil, Manimala, Meenachil, Muvattupuzha, Pamba and Periyar. The lake surrounds the islands of Pathiramanal, Perumbalam and Pallippuram. The Vembanad Lake is approximately 14 kilometres wide at its widest point.
A unique characteristic of the lake is the location of the Thannermukkom salt water barrier. The Thannermukkom salt water barrier was constructed as a part of the Kuttanad Development Scheme to prevent tidal action and intrusion of salt water into the Kuttanad low-lands. It is the largest mud regulator in India. This barrier essentially divides the lake into two parts – one with brackish water perenially and the other half with fresh water fed by the rivers draining in to the lake. This barrier has helped the farmers in Kuttanad – where farming is done below sea level. It has however also created ecological problems, primarily, the rampant propagation of the Water Hyacinth in fresh water.
One can access Kumarakom by many means:
* By air: via Cochin International Airport and the Trivandrum International Airport
* By rail: via Kottayam (16 kilometres)
* By boat: From Muhamma (near Alappuzha) to Kumarakom Jetty.
* By road: Buses and taxis are easily available at all times of the day from Kottayam.