Father Johns, a Capuchin monk is staying all alone in this hideaway village 6500 ft above sea level raising garlic, broccoli and potatoes while doing his doctoral thesis on the Book of Job. On asking what brought him to this remote place called Kovilur, 50kms away from Munnar with hardly any one to talk to, his answer was insightful. “One should live close to nature and that is the best way to reflect on life and renew ourselves. Places like this offer the ideal settings”.
Vattavada Panchayat is the remotest Panchayat of Kerala comprising of 3 villages, the most populous ones being Kovilur and Kottakambur. To reach this part of Idukki District one has to cross pockets of Tamiladu territory butting in to the geography of Kerala. Located on the fringes of Pampadum Shola forests the area is ideal for grandes (grandes grandiola) cultivation, a fast growing softwood tree used for making paper pulp. Pampadumshola is India’s youngest and smallest National Park with an area of just 12 sq kms where it has some of the world’s rarest butterflies. Ten km away you have the Kurinji Sanctuary where millions of Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes Kunthiana) bloom once in twelve years. The whole region will turn in to blue mountains during the time.
The road to Kovilur from Munnar passes through some of the most beautiful scenes in the region- the rolling grasslands of the Indo-Swiss Farm at Mattupetty, soothing green of vast tea estates, the Kundla reservoir and the gently undulating misty hills. Koviloor is on the Kerlala side of the Sahyadris while Kodaikanal is on the other. A new road connecting Kochi to Kodai via Kovilur, Klavara is fast getting ready which will save about 70kms from the present arduous and circuitous route via Pooppara, Bodimet and Theni. If Munnar is Kerala’s most popular hill station on account of its salubrious climate, Kovilur with its magnificent charm and rarefied atmosphere remains unexploited. Lack of holiday facilities keeps the tourists at bay. Though there are one or two small private resorts on the way there are hardly any hotels or restaurants beyond the Top Station. The tea estates and the colonial air slowly disappear and you are left to commune with nature. The peaceful environment and the tranquillity that it provides make it the perfect serenity spot to rejuvenate and revive the most jaded of travellers.
We got a modest accommodation in a Catholic School run by Carmelite fathers of the Aluva province. Fr. Vinceachen, a CMI priest with a mission, heads the School which is set up with the noble intention of educating the less privileged and those isolated from the mainstream of civilization. The dominant student population of the school is from Scheduled Tribes and Castes. The people of these hubs are illiterate and strongly superstitious in their beliefs and enlightenment through education is the only escape route. There are some voluntary Non-Governmental agencies working among the tribals imparting vocational training for equipping themselves.
We befriended a few locals and hence had the privilege of visiting some beautiful locations usually unknown to outsiders. There are many spots ideal for a day picnicking beside a crystal clear mountain stream or for wild life watching. It was harvest time and the vast carpets of red chillies spread out in the sun for drying was a rare sight. The vegetables of Kovilur especially carrot, garlic, beans, cabbage and cauliflower command higher prices because of their premium quality. Most of the farmers are bonded to traditional merchants who lend money to them for cultivation.
Kovilur and the surrounding areas offer a perfect summer hideout that can ring in foreign exchange if the tourism planners care to. Munnar was also once a sleepy little hamlet, until the Scottish planters discovered it and later the British developed it into one of southern India’s most popular hill stations. Kovilur too has all the potentials to be developed as the ‘Switzerland of India’.
(First published as middle in The New Indian Express and later in Destination Kerala February 2010)