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.