The long lost twin of God's own country: Bohol in Philippines
Sharing coordinates may not be much of a deal but what if you land in a tiny island that just rose up from the sea and has everything that God's own country has? Meet Bohol, the tiny little island on the Pacific Ocean where paddy fields sway to cool backwater breeze, slanting sleepy coconut palms bend over to the waters and your meal comes with the aroma of yummy fish cooked in tamarind and is served with rice.
This festive little dot of life is a fine mix of nature and culture. With its exotic and pristine locations and virgin beaches, this is a replica of our own state. Christmas arrives here three months before December and the island, its villages and towns alike, celebrate the new year and Christmas with music louder than the rumbling seas around.
"The chief attraction of the island is its backwater cruise under the crooked palms bending over to the waters", Prof. Unnikrishnan, who happened to visit the island as a part of an official trip in the capacity of the Chairman of the Engineering Accreditation Committee in the US said. "The sheer mix of the water, cruise and the poetic songs that ring in all directions makes the place reminiscent of our Vembanad Lake or Pambayar", he added.
The pristine beaches are covered with glistening white sand which glitters with festivities by the night. But despite the music and revelry no littering happens in Philippines. This tiny island was first captured by the Spanish in the 16th century. Later America and China had successful runs at dominating the lush green oasis in the ocean. The people here are mostly Christians even though several people belonging to the tribal groups can also be seen in the interior villages and along the hilly tracts.
Bohol was shaken by the earthquake that hit her in 2013. Even though the death rate was negligible, the island lost a large stock of its heritage structures including ancient churches hurting the cultural fabric immensely. It was a common sight to see people breaking down on the streets after the incident. Tourist guides tear up even today recounting those days.
Lush plantains, mahogany, teak and yam are common here. The almost extinct 'Poopparathi' can also be found in Bohol. One can also drool over the yummy jackfruits and berries that Kerala is home to here at Bohol.
The island is also famous for its great wealth of freshwater fishes including ones that resemble our prized pearl spot. Even more interesting is their preparation of the fish. The tourist boats serve the fish curries cooked with tamarind just like they are made in Kerala.
"We eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We prepare the fish curries with lesser quantities of spices specially for the tourists. Chilled tender coconut water and grated coconut is also a favourite dish among the tourists who come here", said the locals.
The island relies on organic farming techniques and the tourists who come here relish on the real bounties of the island country. As the journey progressed a dash of rain opened the earth's caskets spreading petrichor and children could be seen frolicking in the narrow canals that dot even the interiors of the land. Children, singing gaily, could be seen washing their faces with handfuls of water flowing down from the roofs of houses.
The chief attraction of the island are the chocolate hills. These limestone structures in their perfect hemispheres turn brown in the summers and green in the winters. 1776 such mounts dot the tourist map of Philippines across a stretch of 50 square kilometers. The tallest is 400 feet high. The weather in Bohol is very similar to Kerala with a warm May and the occasional summer showers.
The villages and towns of this island have forests. An animal similar to our slender loris, locally named Tarsiers, can be found in these forests. They can be watched from close with an assigned guide but flash photography is banned. Also these large eyed, slow moving animals are not displayed in any zoos.
The 4821 square mile island of Bohol is a one-hour flight from the Filipino capital of Manila. The Cebu island, that lies next to Bohol is also a tourist attraction. So is another island named Panglao, which according to Prof. Unnikrishnan is very alike our Wellington island.
This island with its 12 lakhs population is influenced by American culture very deeply. The visitors are also majorly American. Backwater tourism is the main attraction that brings people to this island.
(Translated by Jyothisha V J)