“ Can you see that light, madam ? It has seven bulbs.” Balu points across the vast expanse of waters to a long horizontal contraption with outstretched rods. ”That’s a Cheena vala,” he says, referring to the Malayalam word for the Chinese fishing net believed to be brought into Kerala by the 14th century Chinese mariner, Zheng He.

I am at the Ashtamudi Lake , near Kollam sailing around the islands .Balu is from the local resort and is accompanying me on my morning cruise.He speaks fluent Tamil and Hindi and says he picked it up from the tourists .

The entire water scape is littered with these shore operated stationary nets. Long metallic and wooden rods jut out into the waters ,held in place by ropes. We sail a bit closer to take a look. The structures are more than 10 metres high .The rods stretch out as the birds perch on them and nets are outstretched on them.

Balu explains the process and says that fishing usually starts in the night. A net can be operated by a team of about five fishermen. They normally lower the net and submerge it at a certain depth. The lights suspended from these rods are placed on the surface of the waters and are used to attract the fish and crustaceans. The electric cable stretches out from the fishermen’s homes from the bank to the contraption .

“You can find more than 1000 of them ,” he says referring to the Chinese fishing nets . Popular in Kochi, , they are used by the local fishermen here to catch mainly prawns and crabs. Balu tells me that on a lucky night, the catch can be anything around 4-10 kgs.

We move on passing islands and islanders as Balu points out to “seacrows” .These cormorants were perched on the rods that were immersed in water. “This is Karimeen fishing,” he says referring to the pearl spot fish which is a delicacy in the backwaters.According to him the fishermen promote breeding and even cultivate “fish sanctuary.”He shows me the fish which is probably the size of the palm .

“The fishermen , even women catch by hand,” explains Balu , “We call it Vellavali.”I ask him about the rods and he explains that they are stems replanted on the waters . The fish he says feed on the leaves of plants that are littered below the surface .Stems are placed above the water and the nets are cast around them to catch them in the night. I listen fascinated as Balu tells me that lanterns are used by the fisher folk and karimeen auctions happen early in the morning .

It is Sunday and the backwaters are silent. It is a five day week for the fishing community. As we sail back, Balu sums up ,” There are different kinds of specialists for various varieties of fish and each technique is different from the other, even the nets ..” Its amazing, I thought how we take such simple things for granted.

The Inside Story is a fortnightly column published in the Metro Plus, The Hindu every Monday. Its not my story, but the story of the destination . I decided to reproduce some of my published columns and start a new series.


  1. bendtherulz 12 February, 2009 at 16:37 Reply

    Good story Lakshmi even I was not aware of all the inside news about the fishing net….- on a trip to Kochi, we had also bought our “Catch of the day” -however it was in evening and then we feasted on same the same night !!!

    I am glad to be back on your blog and reading all your post.

    Tk care ~~

  2. eunice 14 February, 2009 at 20:48 Reply

    Hi Lakshmi! Missing in action recently! Since before Chinese New Year I was busy, then during CNY I went to Malaysia twice for more than a week!

    Wow you are always so consistent in blogging! Keep it up!

  3. Lakshmi 15 February, 2009 at 09:26 Reply

    Wendy -this is a short note..most inside stories are short , just to give the behind the scenes effect ..will do a fishing story probably later

    Stephanie -Thanks ..its nice to do a different take sometime

    Deepak – same here..my only regret is that i couldnt see them in action as fishing doesnt happen on weekends usually

    Ajeya – Yes..and i want to go to Kochi now

    Gopal – Thanks..water is one of my favourites 🙂

    Vishesh – 🙂

    BTR – Good to see you back..yes, we find a story everytime we delve a bit deeper…I want to go to Kochi now

    HW – Yes, will be dropping by ..thanks

    Mridula – Thanks..we realize there is a story in every nook and corner ..we learn so much from them

    Catherine – thanks…im glad you liked them

    Dharma – Kerala is fascinating…I love going there

    Bedse Caves – Thanks for dropping in at backpacker ..Im glad you liked the post

    Indrani – Thanks..we learn so much from every trip

    Bindu – Thanks..I agree with you

    I am – Hey, same here..good to see you..will be dropping in there

    SK – It must have been Kochi 🙂

    Harekrishnaji – thanks..lol 🙂

    Eunice – thanks …good to see you back ..happy new year..a bit belated though

    Fida – Thanks and wish u the same..glad you liked it and u are back from your break 🙂

  4. GMG 15 February, 2009 at 16:10 Reply

    Hi Lakshmi! Wonderful blues: those skies and seas are awesome!! You know how I feel for that colour…

    Now, everybody was busy with Valentine’s Day, nobody paid attention to Rajasthan? Great mistake… ;))
    Have a great Sunday!!

  5. Shantanu 15 February, 2009 at 17:49 Reply

    Yes, this is very fascinating. I had researched this during my trysts with Kerala food. Apparently, the Chinese fishing nets are a remnant from the days when the Chinese Armada visited the port of Calicut.

  6. Lakshmi 16 February, 2009 at 09:16 Reply

    Capt – Thanks for dropping in at my blog and for those words..Im glad you liked them..look forward to seeing you more often

    Soul Searcher – Welcome to backpacker..It is indeed Gods own country and my pics were just a reflection of the same

    Gil – Im glad you like the blues..stopping over at Rajasthan shortly

    Shantanu – Thats very interesting..thanks for sharing this

    Ceedy – Oh yes..he did and was quite proud to do so 🙂

  7. Jeevan 17 February, 2009 at 17:34 Reply

    Good idea, so that we can catch those missed! It is very interesting, and I have never known about this fishing technique and this mechanism. The first pic, get me no idea what’s those are sitting on the rod unless zoom on! Nice one, keep going buddy 🙂

  8. Final_Transit 22 February, 2009 at 20:56 Reply

    Hi Lakshmi,
    I missed these when I went to Kerala the last time. But their mechanism is very simple and smart. I also like the other approach of planting stems upside down. These methods are innovative and quite green 🙂

  9. Aswin 27 February, 2009 at 08:26 Reply

    I saw the same when I was at Kochi last. Wondered why they were going for these excessively complex-looking nets (which, thanks to u, I know to be “Cheena-vaalaa”s ).

    Great pics. What camera do you use?

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