29 September Friday

Listen to the ankle bells of jungle streams

M G RamakrishnanUpdated: Tuesday Dec 12, 2017

Mist-laden mountain ranges, silver cascades, gushing streams with whispering wavelets; natural habitats of rare animals and birds; thick evergreen forests. For those curious about the bounties and mysteries of Nature, this is pure heaven! Nudging the banks of the Periyar river, this blessed tarrain lies to the northeast of Ernakulam District. All along the way are charming countrysides with waves and waves | of greenery: Kuttampuzha, Thattekkad, Idamalayar, Bhoothathankettu,  Chelamala...

Soolamala is South India's highest peak after Anamudi. From Soolamudi, 27 crystalline streams dance their way down hardy rockfaces. Idamalayar, Pooyamkutiyar, Koodallar and the Vindimedu waterfalls. Kuttampuzha is a group of streams flowing together. Earlier, it was known as "Koottampuzha' (collection of streams). The main jungle streams are Urulanthannithodu.
Veenavoorkudithodu,Kootamparathodu, Korangattithodu, Kuttyamchathodu, Kallelimeduthodu. Mlavanathodu, Manikandamchalthodu, Vellaramkunnuthodu, Injathottialukkalthodu, Vadattuparathodu, Knacherithodu, Kampipalamthodu, Kakkasserithodu, Chakkimeduthodu and Mappancherithodu, Appakapadi and Palamalakadavuthodu.

The region is a beloved homestead of innumerable birds and animals. History lurks around every stone, every blade of grass here. Recently, the remains of a number
of ancient monuments have been found in the forests of Kuttampuzha, Idamalayar, Vadattupara, Poika and Chelamala. Mystery lies hidden in the ruins of temples and temple ponds, rubbish-filled wells and inscriptions on granite stones. Historians and researchers are yet to delve into the mystique of the stone carvings and wall murals at the Knatcheri temple. Excavation of this area can very well throw up evidences of an extinct civilization. Human inhabitation once again began here barely 50 years ago.

The group of ancient hermitages that stand facing one another on top of the hills is an amazing sight. Their antiquity has still not been established. Nearly 20 hermitages can be seen, one next to the other at Kuttampuzha; and seven more at Thollunada.

There was a marble-paved pond with a fountain-like spring at its centre. The pond once had shady trees all around it. It used to be full even during summer. When water sources in other areas dried out, wild animals frequented the place for drinking the pond water. These animals often fell victims to the native game hunters. But when the dam of the Periyar Valley Irrigation Project was built at Bhoothathankettu, this area was submerged in water. When the dam gates are kept open, the location of the old well can still be seen. Similarly, the spring at Kakkasseri is also a fascinating sight. Groups of thirsty elephants coming down to drink the spring water is a source of endless amusement.

Numerous vivid green islets lay scattered in the river from Kuttampuzha to Anakkayam ... like some itsy bitsy gardens floating on water. Over 300 species of birdlife - from hornbills and whistling thrush to Ripley owl and sunbirds - welcome the visitor with their own brand of melody.

At Anakkayam, the Idamalayar and Pooyamkutty rivers meet. When passing through Anakkayam by boat, you will see an amusing sight: scores of mischievous monkeys, swinging from the riverside jungle creepers, as if trying to regale you with their antics.

The Kuttampuzha river joins the Periyar at Koottikkal. To the northeast of Koottikkal is a series of misty folds of hills shrouded in a sheath of blue. The Forest Department operates a boat service so that tourists can alight here and watch wild elephants and birds in their natural habitat. The fascinating sight of the morning sun that climbs the sky is something you carry home and never forget in your life. And, if you mistake the vision for a ball of fire rising between two dewladen hills, nobody will ever blame you!

Another place of interest in the region is Tholunada, on the Aluva-Munnar Highway. Some foundation stones of the Tholunada bridge, built by the Britishers and later destroyed in the Flood of 99, are still seen scattered here and there.

Interestingly, the pillars of the bridge were built by having one piece of stone cut into another. No cement or mortar was used.

Another curious thing. Tholunada has a 'double decker' river - one river under the other. When the river above is full, the current underneath is not visible. But when the water level gets lower, you can see another river flowing down.

Located between Kuttampuzha and Munnar is another major tourist centre: Anakkulam. A natural lake and a below through a 50foot-long natural tunnel. The location offers the possibility for a Chinese-model hydroelectric project.

Inside the forest near Tholunada is a small lake bordered by a profusion of rare medicinal plants. Water flowing down the roots of these plants gets collected at this lake, known locally as Oushadhathadakam. Drinking the lake Water is said to help the travel-weary visitors regain their lost energy and enthusiasm.

Now to Kunjikutty

Amidst a large expanse of dense green forests is Kunjikutty, Set at the junction Of Kunjiyar and Karinthiri rivers. Kunjikutty is simply fantastic. A placid lake enclosed by emerald greenery; a jungle stream that flows slowly out of the lake; sprawling banks of powder-soft sand. Groups of wild elephants and other animals ambling down to the water to quench their thirst and play with one another. These and many other attractions make Kunjikutty truely a place not to be missed.

Languid river enhance the beauty of the area. Chances are that the name Anakkulam came to stick because wild elephants freely roam about the place. Crossing the
ruined Vendampankuthu bridge and passing by the Nallathanni and Lakshmi estates, one can access Munnar.

Linking Aluva, Kothamangalam, Thattekkad, Kuttampuzha, Pindimedu, Tholunada, Kunjikutty, Anakkulam and . Nallathanni, the Britishers had built a 66-foot highway to reach what is today known as the Kanan Devan Tea Estates in Munnar.

From Athirapally, one of the major tourist centres in South India, the distance to Idamalayar is only 18 km. The existing road, built by the Forest Department, is now motorable only by jeep. If this road is adequately widened, travellers from Athirapally can reach Idamalayar quickly 2 and easily.

Vadattupara is 5 km from Idamalayar. If a bridge is built at Anakkayam (located where the Idamalayar and Pooyamkutty rivers join together), Kuttampuzha comes within easy reach. The Anakkayam bridge is in the proposed NedumbasseriMunnar Sector. One can reach Coimbatore by travelling north for 49 km from Idamalayar through forest roads. If a road linking Coimbatore, Idamalayar and Kothamangalam is built, the heavy traffic on National Highway 49 will ease considerably. This will also pave the way for the rapid development of Central Tranvancore.

Even in spite of insufficient infrastructure, quite a lot of foreign and domestic tourists come to Kuttampuzha and the nearby areas. By all standards, the entire region deserves to be accorded the status of an international tourist Centre.

Close to the Idamalayar dam is a strangely huge teak tree. 7.5 metres in circumference this is claimed to be the largest tree in the world

Driving from Kuttampuzha, through the banks of Pooyamkutty river and its tributeries (Karinthiri, Kunjiyar and Nallathanni) and proceeding across Pindimedu, Tholunada, Kunjikutty, Kunjiyar, Anakkulam, Perumbamkuthu, Nallathanni and Kallar, you can reach the well-known hill stations of Munnar and Kodaikanal, and the temple towns of Madurai and Palani.

One of the major tourist spots between Kuttampuzha and Munnar is the Pindimedu waterfalls.

The spectacular Pindimedu waterfall roars down an awesome drop of 300 feet. When the water is washed away, you will be amazed by the natural carvings deeply etched on the exposed | rockfaces. These carvings are nothing but the handiwork of falling water which has been chiselling away the rocks and bouldars with extraordinary force over a period of centuries.

There is evidence that, sometime during the British rule, Pindimedu was engaged in some kind of commercial activity. Remains of buildings constructed on levelled grounds, mudbricks and strong fixing bolts used for foundations have been found here. The writer has collected from the site some bricks branded "Madura' which are believed to have been made at Farook. There are also ruins of some living quarters destroyed long ago. Old natives of the locality claim that there was a match factory here; others say it was a papermaking operation.

Whatever might have been the activity, it stands to reason that even in those distant days, electricity must have been produced from the waterfall. On the way to Pindimedu is a village called Kuthirakuthi. In 1899, the land was devastated by Kerala's worst-known flood, popularly known as the "Flood of 99'. It is said that a British sahib, riding horseback near the area, was washed away in the flood water. This incident must have given rise to the name "Kuthirakuthi'. It is clear that the manufacturing unit was destroyed in the Flood of 99.