Munnar has a past: Old Munnar. It is a suitable place for people who are looking for something different in Munnar. Top Station and Vattavada, which is not so far away, present a different visual experience.
Top Station is the place to where the British pulled a long iron rope from the Kurangani Hill: the gateway to Old Munnar, the place where they built the ropeway after traversing forests, hills and blankets of mist. Six kilometres below Top Station is Middle Station, from where the Kurangani Hill is six kilometres away. They conquered Munnar by crossing 12 kilometres.
It is said that it was the similarity of Munnar to Scotland and Northern England that attracted the British. Munnar has the slopes and the chill similar to those in Scottish Highlands. It is also a place known for spices.
The British took this place, which belonged to the maharaja of Poonjar, on lease and started cultivating tea. Soon, Munnar got a ropeway and a railway station.
But, in one flash flood many years ago, everything was washed away. The iron ropes tied to the Kurangani Hill were thrown away by nature itself. The steam trains that whistled their way to Munnar were washed away. It was a flood that never came again. Only the remains of the golden days are still there in Top Station. The big pillars that anchored the ropeway are still there. Even now, the sky route above the forest on iron ropes, down to Middle Station, can be visualised. Top Station is 26 kilometres away from Munnar town, after Mattupetty and Kundala dams. Though not wide, there is a good road to Top Station.
The view from Top Station gives an idea about the vastness of earth, and, if the feet slip, the insignificance of life! The viewing point is hundred metres away. To make people aware that a part of Top Station is in Tamil Nadu, there is a board with a photo of Jayalalithaa nearby. Entry to the viewing point is not free of charge; admission costs 15 rupees. There is a board that states it is a private property approved by the Tamil Nadu government.
Sights of Vattavada
Beyond Pambadum Shola National Park is Vattavada. It is 20 kilometres from Top Station. Vattavada is the name given to the region that encompasses Koviloor, Vattavada, Kottakomballoor, Chilanthiyar, Pazhathottam, Kadavari, Adivasikkudy, Swamiyarala, Kudalarkudy, Parisalkadavu and Mulapallam. The first settlers of Vattavada were the 15 families from Tamil Nadu who sought shelter there about 400 years ago during Tipu Sultan’s military assault.
They sought permission from the raja of Poonjar, cleared the forest and started cultivation. The raja formed a government for the people of this region on caste basis under mannadiyar, manthriyar, maniyakarar and periyadhanam.
They were responsible for collecting land tax due to the raja and maintaining law and order. Even now, there is no police station in Vattavada. If there is any problem, the village gathering will try to solve it. Only those problems that do not end there reach the police station in Munnar.
Land of terrace farms
Koviloor is the starting point of Vattavada. In the middle of steep hills are terrace farms. Potato, beans and garlic are the main produce. Tamilians and Malayalis own farms there. However, most of the descendents of the people who escaped Tipu centuries ago still do not own land. Even now they are farm labourers.
The beauty of Vattavada cannot be captured in words. There are terrace farms everywhere. Even now, these people do not travel beyond Munnar very much. So they are curious about everything, even a vehicle, that comes from outside. Everything is new to them. The surrounding hills block the polluted wind from blowing across the land that knows only the harsh forest and the good countryside.
Now people from the lowland have started going there to clear the forest and plant grandis. Also, tourist resorts have come up in Vattavada. If your desire is to see a place that is rich in rustic goodness, then start soon!
Food and accommodation
Since it is a tourist destination, food is easily available. There are many small tea shops along the way. It is advisable to visit the websites of private resorts for booking. Many packages are available, including pickup from Kochi airport and railway station.
For those who want to climb hills and stay in the forest at night, it is a good place. Trekking packages in Munnar are in three categories: bird watching, nature trail and adventure trekking. There are many trekking points from Meesappulimala, the highest hill in the region, to Kolukkumala, the highest tea plantation. On average, a jungle package costs 3,000 rupees per person. A team of helpers and an expert guide will accompany travellers with water and food, including fruits and chocolate. Hotels will make the arrangements on demand.
Points to note
Vattavada and Top Station are areas that are not included by travel agencies in Munnar tour packages. Most packages will end at Kundala Dam. Plan in advance to go to Vattavada. One can also hire a taxi from Munnar and tour this place. There is a bus service up to Koviloor. The journey is dangerous during rainy season because there could be landslides.
The stretch from Top Station to Vattavada is a forest. Food and water must be stored before travelling in this area. On the way, there will be people selling forest honey. But, check its quality before buying because most often they will be selling liquid jaggery.