Kottayam Kumily Road which forms the strategic link between the high ranges of Central Kerala and Tamilnadu completed 150 years recently. Extending over 109 kilometers, KK road is part of the Kollam Theni Highway. Built during the reign of Rani Lakshmi Bhai in 1863, this road was completed in different phases. The first phase extending from Kottayam to Mundakkayam took 4 years to get completed. In the next 4 years, the road was extended to Kumily via Kuttikanam, Peerumedu and Vandiperiyar. The road was built using the latest available technology of those times. Elephant trails were used as markers while building the first stretch of road from Mundakkayam to the Highranges. labourers for crushing the stones were brought from the neighbouring places.
British engineers who used to undertake horse back trails to the jungles for pleasure trips and hunting also found this pathway useful. Thousands of labourers toiled day and night to complete the first phase of the KK road and the rugged terrain and hostile working conditions left many labourers sick. Many fell victims to the deadly disease of Malaria while a few others died in work site accidents while crushing boulders. Hundreds of dead were buried near the cattle market in Pambady as per historical data. The place where the engineers camped in cloth tents later came to be known as Koodarakunnu ( literally meaning tent hill).
The East of Mundakkayam was thickly forested that had no access from outside . The British saw great scope in the plantation and trading of spices like cloves, cardamom and tea in the high ranges with the opening up of the road. A bridge was built at Mundakkayam. Jungle paths and boulders were cleared to pave the way and as per records there were days when over 2000 persons were engaged in road construction. Soon bullock carts started plying from Kottayam to Mundakkayam through this stretch ferrying goods like coconut and paddy. In the ensuing stage, the road was extended from Kuttikanam to Chappath, Elappara and Kattapana, which became the first settlements in high ranges. The products from the main spice trading centres of the last century including Ponkunnam, Ranni, Konni, Manimala and Chirakadavu started reaching Cochin through the waterways via Kottayam.
Ponkunnam was infested with poisonous snakes, wild shrubs and poisonous thorny bushes which posed great challenge for the workers. To motivate the labourers to complete this difficult task, the British officers used to give a gold coin at the end of the day for those who had successfully completed their tasks. Hence the name Ponkunnam. ( Ponnu means gold and kunnu hillock )
Bus services were started before the tarring of the road was completed, which makes it 70 years since bus transportation began in KK road. The first buses were 8 seaters which were propelled by coal and Swaraj, Kailas and Balakumar were some of the transport companies that plied in this route for the first time in KK road to Peerumedu. Later the service was extended till Periyar and in the third stage, the bus route was extended to Kumily. When the road was completed , it was inaugurated by none other than the king His Majesty Sree Chithira Thirunal who travelled through the newly laid KK road.
150 years after , the prominence of this strategic road has only increased and KK Road still continues to be a nerve centre of the spice trade connecting the spice pockets to the trading posts like Cochin and will have a bigger role to play in the emerging Kerala.
Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala has set up a role model yet again when it became the first state in the country, where the tribal farmers would directly export organic pepper to Germany. As per the innovative scheme, patronized by the state government, the three tribal communities at Vanchivayil village nestled deep in the Thekkady forests will export their first consignment of over four tones of organic pepper on April 12.
It was only after relentless persuasion of over eighteen months that the tribals could be coaxed to become exporters. The tribals get the full returns for their effort as this system operates sans middlemen.
Periyar Foundation, an apex body of 76 eco-development committees, the Forests Department and the state government has jointly organized the pilot project.
There were a lot of formalities involved in getting the organic certification ready from Lacon International, a company based in Germany apart from the Spices Board of India. At the outset, the German firm operated by the farmers’ society of ”Ecoland Herbs and Spices”, would be the main buyer to procure organic pepper. The best part is that the tribals would be getting over 33 per cent more than what they used to get before for their products as no middlemen are involved in the deal.
Cochin, January 31
Adding another chapter to the vast spice resource of Kerala, scientists have discovered a rare wild pepper plants with pungent fruit and lemon-scented leaves. This unique variety of pepper was discovered from the Agasthyamala regions in the Western Ghats by the team of scientists from the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute.
It was told that this rare pepper variety resembles same as normal pepper plant, but the lemony smell and pungency makes it unique. This kind of plant is very rare and also limited in number, and needs to be conserved. Scientist K.B Rameshkumar and P.J Mathews who discovered this new pepper variety also informed one of the essential features of this wild vine which holds a high level of oil content in them which the normal pepper plants doesn’t posses.
To make sure the plant has really some unique qualities from normal pepper plant these scientists performed test of the first generation seedlings and even the second generation seedling which both showed the lemony character in them. During the study of almost 64 morphological characters of the plant, none of the characters were found in the other pepper species which clearly highlighted the uniqueness of this plant. These finding are presented in the ongoing 20th Kerala science congress as reported by the New Indian Express daily.
The new variety of pepper with that lemon effect has added a new variant in the vast list of spices Kerala treasures in its heavenly abode.
Kozhikode: Khalasis have been the traditional boat builders based in Malabar region for over 5000 years. They form an important link in the rich maritime history of Kerala, which dates back to the colonial period or beyond. The Portuguese traded spices through sea routes in these massive, hand -made country boats called dhows, locally known as ‘uru’. Beypore forms the hub of dhow making and these exceptional boats have attracted international acclaim and attention since time immemorial. The rich tradition has stood the test of time and has continued well into the 21st century.
Beypore town is dotted with umpteen shops that sell model of ships and huge iron anchors lying on either side of the road, which are tell tale signs of this flourishing industry. There are many tall thatched sheds dotting the banks of the River Chaliyar, which feeds the Malabar region before reaching the Arabian Sea. It is in these sheds that these magnificent masterpieces take shape. Ever since Vasco da Gama landed in 1498 in Kappad beach, the Malabar Coast registered its name in the maritime map.
Eight kilometers from Kozhikode (Calicut), Beypore could pass off as just another suburb at first glance; however at a closer look, the rich history of this town would start to unfurl. According to Captain Iwata, founder member of the Association of Sumerian ships in Japan, Sumerian ships might have been built in Beypore. There are evidences to prove that Beypore had direct trade links with Mesopotamia and was a prominent link on the maritime silk route.
Soon, Captain Iwata set out to prove this rich maritime history that existed between Mesopotamia and other countries. He came to Beypore to construct a ship that could retrace the fabled silk route. The design was based on the ancient designs, registered in a cuneiform Sumerian tablet that was stored at the Louvre museum. The 3000-tonner ship made fully in wood was a technical feat indeed. The massive wooden planks were held in place by coir ropes and wooden nails. Special glue made from the traditional formula of fruit and tree resins was used to reinforce the structure. The anchor was carved out of granite. The ship was named Ki-en-gi, which in Sumerian means ‘the land of the master of reeds’. Though this news hogged the limelight all over the world, it was just another ship that rolled out of the keels for the khalasis and Beypore.
The master craftsmen of khalasis use certain Sanskrit shlokas as their guide to ship building; nothing has been documented on paper for posterity. Even today, the formula of dhow making remains a closely guarded secret that is handed over from generations to generation. Today, only four master craftsmen are left behind, with Bavamoopan leading the pack. Khalasis can salvage anything with just the traditional pulleys and ropes. The mettle of this traditional art was proved once again during a train accident when a few bogies of Island express plunged into the Ashtamudi Lake near Quilon. Neither modern machinery nor techniques could pull up the coaches from the waterbed and it was this amazing crew under the stewardship of Bavamoopan pulled out the compartments using just their traditional skills employing pulleys and ropes, much to the disbelief of the onlookers. Hats off to the matchless khalasis who have made every keralite proud!