Watch | A day in the life of palmyrah tappers
It is three in the morning and the silence is broken by the whisper of a gentle breeze that sets the palmyrah fronds rustling. The darkness is broken by the flash of torchlights. The palm tappers have begun their day.
Clothed in just loincloths, with knives in hand to slice off the tip of the inflorescence axis, and a kuduvai(vessel used to gather the sap) fastened to their waist they begin climbing up the trees with headlamps lighting their way. On the crown of the tree hang pots collecting the slowly oozing sap. Lured by the nectar are wasps and snakes that make these trees their home. It is indeed a dangerous occupation. And for those getting initiated in the art of climbing these trees, the petioles (grooves on the trunk) can draw blood.
As the blush of dawn cloaks the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar, the tappers, with brimming , walk back to makeshift sheds where jaggery is made. The coastline that makes a concave loop from Ramanathapuram to Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, is seemingly barren. But the vast swathes of rust-coloured earth is perfect for palmyrahs. kuduvais
India has some 10 crore palmyrah trees, of which Tamil Nadu has five crore: the palmyrah is in fact the State tree here. And of these five crore trees, about 1.5 crore grow in these vast, unbroken stretches in Ramanathapuram. All parts of the tree are useful — products like palm baskets are made from fronds and exported, and for centuries, the trees have made good fences