ENCLOSED BY the blue waters of Vembanad Lake and the paddy fields of Kuttanad to its west, and by the lush hills of the Western Ghats to its east, Kottayam is one of Kerala’s most beautiful districts. Its climate and landscape have combined to make the region prosperous. Kottayam town is surrounded by extensive plantations of rubber, and other valuable cash crops such as tea, coffee, cardamom and pepper. The first town in India to attain 100 per cent literacy, it is also the birthplace of Kerala’s publishing industry and home to many Malayalam newspapers and magazines. A writers’ cooperative society, the Sahitys Pravarthaka Sahakarana Ingham , which was set up here more than 50 years ago, has played a cardinal role in fostering the growth of Malayalam literature.
Kottayam also has an old Christian tradition that has been preserved by its large Syrian Christian population. It was one of the first towns to be patronized by St Thomas in the 1st century AD. Of the many fine churches and seminaries that dot the landscape, the best known are the two Syrian Orthodox churches, Valla Pallid and Cheria Pallid, both dating to the mid-16th century. The churches stand on a hillock, about 2 km (1.2 miles) north of the city centre, and have colourful frescoes adorning their walls. The Nestorian cross at Valis Pallid is said to have come from Kerala’s first church, founded by St Thomas at Kodungallur. Cheria Palli has painted panels behind its main altar, depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.
ENVIRONS: Maimanam, 8 km (5 miles) north of Kottayam, is a pilgrimage centre for Syrian Christians, who gather in their thousands each January to attend a religious convention, one of the largest in Asia. Kumarakom, a bird sanctuary on the banks of Vembanad Lake, is 12 km (7 miles) west of Kottayam. A variety of local and migratory birds can be observed from vantage points on the shore. A large temple dedicated to Shiva at Ettumanur, 12 kin (7 miles) north of Kottayarn, has beautiful murals, similar to those found at Mattancherry Palace in Kochi. The 11th-century Mahadeva Temple at Vaikom, 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Kottayam, is famous for its grand elephant pageants and traditional dance performances, which take place between November and December each year. It is also the site where Mahatma Gandhi led an important satyagraha (civil disobedience movement) to make temples accessible to untouchables.