If you’re someone who doesn’t mind getting a little muddy while on a free-spirited journey that takes you closer to nature, then Urumbikkara could just be the place for you. Urumbikkara lies at the meeting place of Kottayam and Idukki, in a small village called Enthayar. It is a place where an enchanting assortment of nature’s bounty, like brooks, foggy mountains, rains and wild streams co-exist.
And needless to say, this feature easily makes it a favourite tourist hotspot. But the going gets tougher and tougher as one gets closer to this delightful place; this stairway to heaven is on a rocky road, so it’s best advised to take a guide along with you who is familiar with the place.
It takes around 12 km from Mundakayam, in Kottayam district, to get to Enthayar. From this point, one can avail a jeep and proceed towards Urumbikkara. This jeep ride is all the more fun for the more adventurous, as it covers stretches of rough terrain. The actual off-road experience begins where the paved road ends. The ride is far from a smooth one; it will be wobbly and full of jolts, however, once you reach the top, what welcomes you is the mesmerising view of the Enthayar-Koottickal valley.
Although Urumbikkara happens to be just on the other side of Wagamon, the topography is completely different here; it looks like a mystical land right out of an artist’s imagination. A little further, you will find the lush Pappanji waterfall. Get down the vehicle, reach up to the gurgling water and splash a little of it on yourself.
And just when you think it will be great to have a hot cup of tea, you would have landed in front of the only teashop in Urumbikkara. There are acres of tea plantations in Urumbikkara. You’ll spot a lonely, archaic tea factory that was built during the British colonial times that has remnants of a bygone era painted all over it. Further on, you will see a huge bungalow built in colonial-style architecture. A little fun fact to be added here is that Urumbikkara is known by the name of Murphy, a foreigner, however, history tells us that he has nothing much to do with the legend of Urumbikkara.
There lived around 300 labourer families in Urumbikkara when the country was under British colonization. A man named Raman was the one that took care of all their needs like, schools, hospitals and other essential services. During those days, protocol dictated that the permit of a British officer was needed for the export of tea leaves. A British officer named McPherson was sent to conduct the inspection. Raman had especially got the bungalow built for Officer McPherson. That’s the story behind the ‘sayippu’ (foreigner) bungalow.
The forest roads lie narrow and deep. The jeep puffs and pants its way up the hill. All around us is the warm fragrance of the tropical fruit Malabar plum or black plum. We stopped the jeep at a place where the road was flanked by grasslands on either side; two large rocks lay ahead. A final climb to the top of either of them would present us with a perfect 360-degree viewpoint - a rare moment of absolute wonderment that was completely worth the shaky ride.
The first destination for us here was the small temple on the hilltop. The temple has worships and rituals performed in it only during the first day of every Malayalam month. It remains shut the rest of the time. Further from the temple lies a broad rock formation that’s the chosen place for many tourists to put up their tents for the night or simply relax after the long trek.
There’s a beautiful pond up here called Madammakulam which is difficult to find without a guide’s help. An amusing story behind this water body is that the wife of Officer Murphy took a bath there, and from then on, it goes by her name. However, Madamma translates to ‘foreigner lady’, so her name remains practically unknown!
Urumbikkara is that magical place where the sights never end; there’s always something more to find, to see. If you don’t plan to stay there for the night, then it’s advisable to start the journey downhill before dusk. If the drizzles and the chilly fog try to befriend you after dark, the journey becomes difficult while descending the hill.
Urumbikkara is 73 km away from the town of Kottayam. You can get to Kottayam via road from Kochi airport or by rail.