Chellarkovil, a beautiful plantation hamlet in the Western Ghats of Kerala
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he sees.” John Muir
Chellarkovil, a small village located around 15 kilometers from the Periyar National Park on the road to Munnar. The greenery, the waterfalls, the mountains, the plantations, the people, everything has a story to tell. One of the most distinct characteristics of Chellarkovil is its vast flora and fauna authentic to the Western Ghats, concentrated towards this part of the Ghats. Geographically Chellarkovil is located at the height of 1500 meters above the sea level. However, the weather still stays cool in this part of the mountain ranges.
Lately, tourism has been a significant source of income for the people of Chellarkovil. A lot of resorts have come up here, as part of tourism. This place has a beautiful and endless view of the plains of Tamil Nadu as it is located on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. Chellarkovil offers a mesmerizing view, by evening you can see the beautiful horizon along the plains of Cumbam and Theni in the haze of the sunset. The Chellarkovil waterfalls otherwise known as Aruvikuzhi waterfalls, the Meghamalai hills on the opposite side, the Mangladevi temple which opens only once in a year are all exciting things that you can see and experience in Chellarkovil. When you stand on top of the Aruvikuzhi waterfall, you get a fantastic view of the plains in a different angle altogether. This waterfall is relatively smaller and flows down into Tamil Nadu and provides a lot of water for irrigation in the plains. The abundant vegetation, flora, fauna, birds butterflies and all of those intricate and beautiful things that you see in nature are very much visible in Chellarkovil, as it is more of an untouched area.
Chellarkovil was traditionally considered to be a forest area. The high range planters who came here from the plains still depict Chellarkovil as a forest area. Most of the people who live in the upper ranges especially in Chellarkovil are the people who have come from the plains and have settled here in the mountain ranges. The high range planters faced a lot of difficulties in the initial days when the whole place was covered with forest and wild animals. Clearing off one part of the forest for agriculture was a herculean task then, but the planters bravely fought all the difficulties to settle here. It was a time of real hardship, and all of those have become old stories now. Mr. Mathai of Chellarkovil who is a 91-year-old veteran still narrate the stories of Chelarkovil in a charming manner. About the days when he arrived Chellarkovil, the land he occupied, the agriculture he did, the elephants in Chellarkovil and many more stories. All these exciting stories make this place even more beautiful. Later the government gave this land to him, and he started doing agriculture extensively, mostly yam, paddy, tapioca and other vegetables. All of these were mostly cultivated for the consumption of high range planters themselves, and they were not grown for sale in the market. The farmers found it difficult to keep themselves away from the wild beings of the forest mostly elephants, leopards, and bears. They used to beat old tent pegs to make a heavy noise, light campfires and stay in tree houses to keep themselves safe and away from the wild beings.
After an era of hardship and when things got better, more people from the plains came over to the high ranges. People slowly extended their farmlands and started to plant cash crops for a better livelihood. The first one they tried was sugarcane. Large vast fields were planted with sugarcane. The sugarcane was squeezed out and made into jaggery using traditional methodologies, where they have an ox walking around the mill to convert the sugar cane juice into thick jaggery, and all of this was transported in bullock carts to prominent parts of Kottayam, Changanassery, and Alleppey. In those days Kottayam was a major township for the people in the high ranges. The Kottayam-Kumily road was later developed into a larger road and bus service was started which gave way to more and more people to migrate from the plains to the high ranges. The land value in the plains of Kottayam was increasing and so many of them started migrating to high ranges. As part of the development, more and more grains were tried, and other cash crops experimented. Coffee and paddy were extensively cultivated in most of the high ranges. Religious institutions like churches and schools were introduced by many for the development of the community. As years passed and the price of coffee diminished which was not good news for the farmers in the high ranges, they decided to move on to other crops, and thus pepper and cardamom came into the farming scenario. People started to cultivate cardamom in small scale to know about the cultivation process, the mechanisms and the requirements of cardamom as a plant. Pepper which was known as black gold had a relatively high price in the global market, and hence people thought of cultivating pepper. Later on, with a large-scale sale of pepper, the lifestyle of the farmers of the high ranges started to improve drastically. Along with these cash crops, livestock was also a significant activity in which people were engaged. Cattle and goats were quite common in every household that catered to the food requirement of the children and the inmates of the house.
Later as years passed by a dangerous virus attacked the pepper plants on a large scale which led to a devastating economic situation. Then the issue was resolved when the government intervened and removed all of the existing plants and provided new hybrid species of pepper plants to the farmers. But that was not a great solution in many towns. The pepper plant would take at least seven years to grow into a healthy pepper plant and start to give out fruit. This was relatively a long period for a regular farmer, and that would affect his income and livelihood. People started thinking of new options that would help to revive them back to a stable economic condition. That was when cardamom came in as a savior and stole the limelight. People considered cardamom as a new way of reviving their financial problems. The potential that was identified in cardamom was that it required a concise time compared to pepper to grow into a complete plant and bear the crop. Cardamom took around eighteen months to develop into a whole plant to start the harvest. And the yield could be harvested three to four times a year. Cardamom was then a wild plant and was mostly found in the forest. It was a native variety of cardamom that everyone started to plant.
Later as years passed by there came a situation where cardamom prices overtook the pepper prices. Cardamom was found to be a very lucrative model of farming for the farmers in high ranges. That was when a hybrid variety of cardamom called ‘Njallani’ was developed and introduced into the highlands. The beauty of ‘Njallani’ was that it was a very hybrid variety of cardamom and the harvest could be done 7-8 times a years. As part of this revolutionary change the cardamom hill reserves of the Western Ghats became one of the most prominent places of the world where good quality of cardamom was produced.
In a nutshell, Chellarkovil is a story of changing human conditions, the arrival of the planters, the plantations, and different crops, different methodologies of plantations, etc. that happened during a course of an era at the same time keep a large area of the forest untouched. That’s what Chellarkovil is all about.
To experience a bit of that exciting story, you can come and explore the rest for yourself. If you are a nature lover, Chellarkovil is something you shouldn’t miss. We have a few cottages and rooms available at Beaumont plantation retreat at Chellarkovil. Anytime please do feel free to call at 9400946800 for your stay. Hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Follow us on social media, Facebook and Instagram for interesting updates from Chellarkovil.