This picturesque district is located about 75km from Cochin. Kottayam is an ancient town with a lot of beautiful churches. It is a transit point for visitors to the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary in Thekkady, Peermedu, Munnar, Idukki, Kumarakom and the temple city of Madurai. The name comes from two words, ‘kota’ meaning fort and ‘akam’ meaning inside. The remnants of palaces and forts are still seen here. Kottayam is blessed with backwaters, rubber plantations, hills and rivers. It is also the seat of the state’s publishing and newspaper industry.
The religious harmony of the district can be sensed from the presence of 50 temples, 70 churches and several mosques including a 1,000-year-old one. The Cheriapally (small church) built in 1579 A.D. with exceptionally marvelous paintings over the altar; Valiapally (big church) built in 1550 A.D is famous for its 8th century Persian cross with Pahalavi inscription on it. The Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple built by Thekkumur Raja, is fittingly described as the archetype of traditional Kerala architecture.
The present district was part of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore. Kottayam as it is now came into form in 1949. Kottayam has been under many kings and kingdoms. It belonged to the Kulasekhara Empire from 1090 to 1102 A.D. The Vembanad lake derives its name from Vempolinad, the name of the area at the time. The Kingdom of Vempolinad split itself into the Kingdom of Thekkumkur and Vadakkumkur by about 1100 A.D. Later they were annexed by MarthandaVarma of Travancore between 1749 and1754.
The Portuguese and the Dutch had trade relations with Thekkumkur and Vadakkumkur. They traded in spices. During Hyder Ali’s and Tipu Sultan’s attack, a number of rulers and royals left Malabar. Marthanda Varma Dharma Raja gave asylum to them. The area is also famous for other political battles and uprisings.
It was here that the famous Vaikom Satyagraha took place in 1924 -25. It was a struggle against untouchability. In Travancore, the Scheduled Castes, Tribes and other backward classes were not allowed entry into temples and temple roads. Vaikom was the venue of the symbolic satyagraha. Even national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, C. Rajagopalachari and E.V. Ramaswami Naicker associated with the struggle.
A short 10-km-long ride brings you to Kumarakom, a backwater cluster of villages. Right near the Vembanad Lake stands the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. You can find herons, parrots, egrets, teal, larks, fly catchers and other birds. Some migratory birds, too, are seen. Siberian cranes come from far away places to breed here annually.
The Poonjar Palace in Meenachil has a good royal collection of antiques and exquisite furniture which include a palanquin, a thoni carved out of a single piece of wood for ayurvedic massages, huge chandeliers, palm leaf engravings, jewel boxes, lamps, sculptures, grain measures, statues and weapons. You can find an amazing replica of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple near the palace. The walls have sculptures explaining war stories from the Puranas (the legends of ancient India ). The most striking feature is the Chuttuvilakku (row of lamps) carved out on the stonewalls of the Sastha Temple nearby.
Kottayam is easily accessible from Trivandrum, Cochin and Thiruvalla. There is a railhead at Kottayam town and at Changanaserry. The nearest airport is at Cochin, 80km away.
Rivers of Kottayam
The most important rivers here are the Meenachil River, the Muvattupuzha River and the Manimala River. The 78-km-long Meenachil flows through Meenachil, Vaikom and Kottayam taluks. It has a catchment area of 1272 sq.km.
The river traces its source in the Western Ghats in Idukki. At Erattupetta, Poonjar River joins it and flows westwards. The Chittar river joins it later down. At Kottayam it branches into several streams before emptying into the Vembanad Lake.
The Muvattupuzha River originates from Idukki and flows through Vaikom and joins the Vembanad Lake. The Manimala River flows through Kanjirappally and Changanassery taluks.
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