Travel

Tea tales from Vagamon

BREATHTAKING: The scenic drive through Pambanar, on the way to Vagamon. Photo: A. Shrikumar  

I close my eyes and listen intently. After a brief spell of silence, I hear the whistle of the wind and the distant laughter of a wild stream. Somewhere inside the lantana hedges, the cicadas and crickets call out to each other in heat. The buzzing of a bumble bee comes as a finishing note and I wake up to stare into a vast sheet of mist.

I am in Vagamon – “It’s pretty and untouched,” a friend recommended. After a treacherous drive through the steeply winding but picturesque route of Pambanar and a short conversation with nature later, I couldn’t agree more. Waiting for the mist to clear, I chat up 80-year-old Kuttan Chettan, at a local tea shop. “The inhabitation of Vagamon started during times of the Sahibs (Britishers). Chunks of the rain forests were cleared to make way for tea plantations. Then, villages and roads grew with business,” he says in a smattering of Tamil and Malayalam.

Nestled in the higher tea plantations of the Western Ghats, bordering Idukki and Kottayam districts of Kerala, Vagamon was once an abandoned village but now slowly developing into a travel destination. It is always on the list of discerning travellers seeking tranquillity. It is said people fled Vagamon in the early 80s and there are different versions to the story. Some say the town prone to lightning and thunder made people flee while others cite the tea workers’ uprising as a reason. There are, however, boards put up by the Kerala Tourism Department warning of sudden lightning.

As the mist clears in fluffy white patches I marvel at what appears like a live painting. An unending expanse of varying shades of green, broken only by narrow winding paths of brown – the muddy roads. Occasionally, groups of moss-laden sloping roofs peep out of the tea bushes, indicating the existence of tiny hamlets. Except for an occasional auto-rickshaw or a Government bus or a mundu-clad man or woman, the tea estates and the tall red-wattle trees with their scanty fuzzy foliage seem to be set in undisturbed stillness, frozen in time. That’s Vagamon -- a dreamland replete with rolling meadows, pine valleys and quaint villages.

Surrounded by three hills – Kurushimala, Murugan and Thangalpara – indicative of the three faiths of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, Vagamon is shared by members of various communities. The localities are a mix of Malayalis and Tamils who have settled in the area for generations. Apart from a well-maintained pine forest that’s perched on a cliff and opens to a deep gorge described as ‘suicide point’, Vagamon is dotted with small groups of grassy hillocks called ‘Mottakunnu’. The verdant meadows feature in many Malayalam films. TheTourism Department plans to introduce para-gliding and bungee jumping in the shallow valleys of the mottakunnu from next month.

I head next for the Palozhugumpara waterfalls. The road hits a dead-end and there with a majestic roar, crystal white waters tumble down a steep rocky cliff. True to its name, Palozhugumpara looks like a massive shower of milk from a distance. At a lower level, the falls turns into a stream where tourists are allowed to take a plunge.

Other attractions at Vagamon are the Orchadarium and Floriculture Project and the Hi-tech Dairy Farm set up by the Kerala Forest Development Corporation and Ministry of Animal Husbandry. The Orchadarium is an initiative to reintroduce the native species of orchids to the Western Ghats and houses hundreds of varieties of exotic orchids grown in a greenhouse apart from a sprawling rose garden, an artificial reservoir and a small shop that sells organic products.

Visitors to the Dairy Farm are also taken on a trip around the campus and its facilities for increasing milk production.

How to Reach: Vagamon is about 45 kms from Kumily and 65 Kms from Kottayam and can be reached via Kuttikanam or Pambanar. Kochi is the nearest Airport.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 6:37:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/tea-tales-from-vagamon/article7689098.ece

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