The historic midnight rollout of Goods and Services Tax has put the over-a-century-old sales tax office-cum-check-post at Bodimettu, bordering Tamil Nadu, at a crossroads.
Once a beehive of activity, the office was built in 1905 during the reign of Sree Moolam Tirunal, the then ruler of erstwhile Travancore. It was later renovated during the reign of Sree Chithira Tirunal.
One of the few buildings constructed by the rulers of Travancore still in use in the high ranges of Idukki, the building has stood the ravages of time, save for a minor modification on its roof with tiles making making way for asbestos sheets and a new door. The insignia of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom, conch, decorates the entrance to the building.
A memorial stone in old Tamil alphabet near the office indicates the border with the Madras Presidency.
The building served as a facility to collect chunkam (tax) and it was also known as Customs House as a portion of the hill produce collected as chunkam was kept there.
It also helped in checking the smuggling of spices, especially cardamom and pepper, to Madras Presidency via the main ghat road at Bodimettu.
The importance of the high ranges as a centre of cardamom and pepper during the royal reign is evident from the existence of a hill route to the then Muziris port.
Coins unearthed during isolated excavations in the high ranges point to commercial engagements with Arabian countries.
That hill produce were vital to the exchequer during the reign of the royal family was evidenced by the major role played by the Custom House.
Bodimettu was also a major point for smuggling cardamom when there was a wide disparity in sales tax between Kerala and Tamil Nadu till a few years back.