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Munnar of the golden yesterdays

Jul 18 2019, by Admin

The very name ‘Munnnar’ means three rivers. Being the congregation of three rivers, Nallathanni River that starts from Nallathanni estate, Kanni River that starts from Kannimala and Kuttiyar from silent valley Aruvikkadu hill ranges which joins and flows as Muthirapuzha River, Munnar remains a geographical wonder among the different topographies seen in Kerala. As a unique portrait painted on god’s own canvas spluttered with nature’s colours, Munnar has conquered the hearts of travellers and tourists all across the world.

The Munnar that we see today was carved out of the brainy interventions of the white, the self-sacrifice of the tribes and the sweat of Malayalees and Tamil. To watch the baby steps of Munnar, we have to time travel several years back when a white man came to hunt in the deep dark woods where wild animals reigned and tribes thrived. The hunter who transformed himself to the gardener and later the ruler of the place was John Daniel Munroe. Colonel Munroe was a military officer of Travancore princely state who was residing in Peerumedu and was later a resident at Elamala where he served as a magistrate for about 8 years. The boundaries of Travancore and Madras presidencies were created by Munroe. In the report that he had written in 1877, he named the area as Travancore High range .What actually attracted Munroe other than the rich forests was the fertile soil here. When Munroe reached here in 1877, there was only a scanty population of 2500 people here including the whites, Telugu Chettiyars, Naiks and Muthuvas. The region was under Poonjar dynasty then. Manavikraman who had crossed the Sahyadri hills with handful of money from the Pandya dynasty of Madurai had bought this empire and named it the Poonjar dynasty. The intelligent Munroe easily grasped that this area was damp and rainy and hence most suitable to cultivate coffee and tea. He went and met the then ruler of the Poonjar dynasty. The real transformation of Munnar starts from there. The king of Poonjar, Keralavarma gave Munnar land on lease to Munroe at a price 3000 rupees per year. The given area had the hill ranges of Anamala, Peerumedu and Marayur as boundaries. Several conditions were included in the treaty like the forest areas and areas near the hill ranges had to be excluded from the lease. Thus by following the conditions laid down, a prominent British empire was built on top of the mountains. Henry Gribble Turner and William Turner were brothers who worked as officers in Madras Civil service .The brothers who came for vacation hunting in the Munnar high ranges in 1878 met with the white. They pooled in 5 lakhs and framed North Travancore land planning and agricultural society. Other than the land that was undertaken, Munroe also gave an extra 277 square mile of land to the society in 1879.With the acquired land; turners began a society in Devikulam after their vacation. Then started the great migration wave of laborers from Tamil Nadu.

Even before Munroe had reached here, the first European to visit Munnar was Lord Wellington on his visit to Kannan Devan hills. 1790 was the year when Tippu Sultan haunted the whole of British in India. In order to defeat the army of Tippu, Colonel Wellesley went to Kumali with an army following the commands from British general Midose. Their plan was to camp there as they thought that this was the only path through which Tippu could escape. But Tippu’s troop who came to know about Wellesley’s army escaped as they soon as they reached the Cumbum valley.On climbing the cardamom hills and moving to the north, they reached Bodhinaikannoor. From there he took the hectic route opted by cattle to reach Sooryanelli. They reached a beautiful plain the next day and saw a beautiful pond filled with clear water in the middle and many Nilgiri Tahrs to hunt down. This damp and cool place is today’s Devikulam. He sent some soldiers to receive the postal from Bodhinaikkanoor and rested there. Later he decided to build a fort for the East India Company. He called upon other soldiers and went to the beautiful valley called Devimala where he started the foundations of the fort. Within days, they received a postal to reach Coimbatore as soon as possible and thereby he left the fort half built. If we go to Devikulam, It is still possible to see the vestiges of that fort built by a ruler who even defeated Nepolean. The troop next camped at Munnar hills. They travelled through way which elephants used to cross. Yet he couldn’t find the brilliant sulthan. Though many officials have contributed to its history, it was Colonel Ward and Colonel Connor who came here for the great trigonometrical survey in 1817, who really brought the attention of the British on to Munnar.

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