The early morning sun casts a golden hue over the verdant hills and the lush green farms of the enchantingly beautiful village of Vattavada in Munnar. Still draped in misty blanket, Vattavada wakes up to the routine sights of agricultural families toiling in their lands, loading the fresh produce onto the donkey driven carts to be moved out of the farms.
Meanwhile, the quaint tea stalls in the nearby 'city' are busy serving piping hot tea to the people who wait for the jeeps, to transport sacks full of freshly harvested beans and carrots and bunches of ripe strawberries.
Vattavada, an agricultural village of impeccable natural beauty, is known for growing strawberries and winter vegetables like cabbage, carrots, and garlic. The jeep journey from Munnar to Vattavada via Mattupetty, Kundala dam, Eco point, Top station, yellow station and Pambadum Shola national park, is truly spectacular. The majestic grandis trees line the road that meander through the Pambadum shola national park.
One part of Vattavada offers scintillating scenic views, with its agricultural lands and the settlements of the people. The other part, the Koviloor junction, is a small town where the hotels and shops function. It must be the unique geographical location of Vattavada which grants a Tamil slang to the language of the people here. Beautiful strawberry fields welcome you to the small city of Oorkad where a school, primary health centre, a veterinary hospital and church are located.
Huge aloe vera plants that are grown alongside the grandis or eucalyptus trees are truly stunning. The people of the locality say that one should enjoy the sunrise in all its glorious beauty at the spot where the path turns to Vattavada.
Colourful houses and vegetables
The region in and around Vattavada varies in height from 4700 ft to 8800 ft above the sea level. This serene agricultural village lies on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The road from Munnar ends at the Vattavada panchayat and from the border begins the forest. Most of the residents of this village are of Tamil origin. Hence, the influences of the neighbouring state could be perceived in the cultural lives of the villagers.
The scintillating 360 degree view of the valleys and the sprawling agricultural lands could be enjoyed from the view point between Oorkad and Koviloor. Patches of agricultural lands in green and yellow hues and the fields in earthy tones, being readied for sowing, forms a mesmerizing palette of colours. The view of the rows of houses in myriad hues, standing on the slopes of the hills, is amazing.
The temple in the Koviloor junction is a major landmark here. There are lots of narrow pathways which run to the left and right sides of the Vattavada village rest house. Houses line the sides of these intertwining pathways which gives the perfect vibe of the village life. People often cook on makeshift stoves in front of their quaint houses, so that their tiny kitchens won’t be filled with smoke.
There is a community laundry area near the panchayat office, where water from the river is stored in tanks and supplied through pipes, in the morning, for the people to wash their clothes. People of the locality say that Vattavada hasn't received decent rainfall until the last week of July this year and it has severely affected the daily activities of the villagers.
Strawberries, butterbeans, and carrots
The beautiful strawberry fields paint Vattavada red and hundreds of tourists throng these areas just to enjoy the sweet smell of the ripe strawberries. However, the shortage of rains has affected the strawberry cultivation this year. Homemade strawberry and tamarillo (tree tomatoes) jams, prepared without adding any colourants or additives, are sold at many places here. Tourists who visit Vattavada make sure that they buy a few jars of these tasty jams.
The strawberry vines are spread in the soil that has some moisture content. During the season, round, shiny and crimson strawberries would peep through bunches of leaves. Besides the perfect weather of Vattavada, all these vines need is some water mixed with cow dung as manure and moderate rains.
The lush green cabbage fields on the sides of the meandering roads are another attraction. The water that flows from atop the hills is stored in a huge concrete water tank on the road side. This is then supplied to the agricultural lands and orchards below through pipes and water channels.
At Vattavada, you could treat yourself to fresh carrots and fruits that are plucked from the lush gardens, right in front of your eyes. Three different varieties of bean, including the much popular butter beans are grown in Vattavada. Butter beans are a staple in Tamil Nadu and most of it is sold in the neighbourhood markets itself.
High quality garlic, too, is cultivated in between the carrot and bean saplings. The extremely fragrant and flavoursome garlic grown at places like Marayur, Kanthallur, and Vattavada have earned great reputation even in the international markets. Even though this garlic is smaller than the varieties that are grown elsewhere, they are known for their distinct flavour and medicinal properties. The government has initiated the formal procedures to earn the prestigious geographical indication tag for the Vattavada garlic.
The Vattavada panchayat which covers an area of 68 square kilometres includes major agricultural centers like Vattavada, Koviloor, Pazhathottam, Chilanthiyar and Kottakamboor. One by fourth of the village area is covered in pristine forest. However, visitors aren’t allowed inside these woods where many tribal colonies and settlements exist. Besides, there would be strict checking and restrictions for the tourists in this area. Pazhathottam (orchard) is just 6 kilometres away from Vattavada. However, contrary to the name of the place, there aren't any fruit orchards in the Pazhathottam area. Winter vegetables take up most of the agricultural lands here. There are beautiful grandis gardens on one side of the road. Pazhathottam is at a higher altitude than Vattavada and Koviloor regions, and mostly has flat surface.
Vattavada is one of the rare agricultural villages in Kerala which hasn't fallen into the unavoidable whirlpool of modernity. It stays true to its enchanting bucolic settings and unique culture based on farming. The Keralites who migrated to these areas after the Tamilians, too were farmers. However, in the last decade, lots of Keralites have settled in this area, purchasing acres of lands and cultivating it, and also opening resorts. Around half a century ago, paddy, wheat and millet were the main produces here. Later, when large numbers of Eucalyptus trees were planted in the marshy lands of Tamil Nadu, to absorb water, the farmers here too followed suit. However, paddy and wheat cultivation soon became impossible as the water content in the soil became less. So, the farmers switched to cultivating vegetables like carrots and cabbage. Now, beetroots and cauliflower too are grown here in particular seasons.
There is another view point before you reach Chilantiyar from where you can enjoy the breath taking views of the vegetable and fruit orchards and the elaborate grandis gardens. The gardens on slopes, the verdant hills and the pine and Eucalyptus forests are all amazing sights which offer surreal experiences of pristine nature. Chilanthiyar is a small junction where a statue of Gandhiji, a temple and small kiosks make it look as perfect as the fictional village of Malgudi immortalized by the legendary writer RK Narayanan.
The incredibly beautiful Periyacholai waterfall is just 3-4 kilometres away from the Chilanthiyar junction. There is a concreted pathway just halfway through the woods and beyond it lie the rugged forest path. Visitors can reach the waterfalls only in jeep which run trips. You could see the serene charm of the wilderness on one side and the majestic Anamudi ranges of the Western ghats that overlooks the fields and settlements, on the other side.
The Periyacholai originates as a small springhead on top of a huge rock before it meanders through the rocky hills and cascades into a beautiful waterfall. The water that rains on entire Vattavada flows to the aquifer near the springhead and gets stored here. The water from the Periyacholai flows through the pristine forests to enrich the lands in Tamil Nadu as well.
Though the traditional methods of agriculture have undergone vital changes, the farmers here have made sure that the beautiful countryside of Vattavada remains an agricultural haven. This calm village has promised its allegiance to the nature which offers its bounties in abundance. The mesmerizing charm and splendour of Vattavada reminds the humanity that it is important to protect and safeguard the nature as a gratitude for its impeccable gifts to the mankind.
How to reach
Vattavada is about 45 km away from Munnar. A few private buses and KSTRC buses run services to Vattavada in the morning. However, there aren't any buses from Munnar to Vattavada from afternoon onwards. Jeeps, meanwhile, run regular services from Munnar.
The tourists travelling to Vattavada in private vehicles should register at the check post in the Pambadumshola national park. However, it is better to avoid travelling through this route after sun set. There are hotels and resorts in Vattavada for accommodation. The tourists can hire jeeps from Koviloor to see around Vattavada and visit the Periyacholai waterfall.