Exploring history through an escape road built by the British

If we go back in time, we can see how it will all lead to newer avenues of knowledge. The Munnar-Kodaikanal Escape Road, which was closed over three decades ago, also has a lot of historical stories to tell. The journey of history to Escape Road begins in 1864. The British Army was looking for a suitable place to set up a military cantonment for the officers to stay. Colonel Douglas Hamilton, an Army officer at the time, saw the Berijam area in the Palani Hills.

He reported that this was the most suitable area for the establishment of a military cantonment. Many wealthy families came to live in this place called Kodaikanal. The main attraction of the place was the Berijam Lake and the cool climate.

There was also a military outpost named after Douglas Hamilton. The name was Fort Hamilton. Though there was a 'fort' in the name, ironically it was a small hut! An artificial lake was built in the area in 1867. Veer Levine, the then Madurai Collector, donated the money he received from his retirement to build the lake. The dam and reservoir were constructed with that money.

History of road collisions
The Kundala Road linking Munnar and Top Station was built in 1902 under the leadership of Kannan Devan Company. Along with this, a monorail was built for the passing of small freight trains transporting tea and other items. The Low Ghat Road from Bathalagund in Tamil Nadu to Kodaikanal was built around 1915. In 1925, a second phase road was built from Lake Berijam to Top Station. It would take more than 12 hours to reach Kochi through this narrow road full of mud. The distance from Berijam Lake to Kochi is about 257 km. The road passes through Vantarav Peak at a height of 8375 feet and has a maximum elevation of 8140 feet. It is one of the highest roads in India. This road used to be inaccessible during heavy rains.

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At the outbreak of World War II, the Axis powers, including Japan, Germany, and Italy, had the upper hand. Madras, a stronghold of the British, used to get sporadic bomb attacks from Japan. As a result, many families fled to the mountainous regions. Many of them also reached Kodaikanal. The strategy was to evade the attack by covering the Western Ghats, which lies between the east coast and the west coast. The British planned to escape to Top Station via Berijam Lake and from there via Munnar to Kochi by ship. As part of this, the British government decided to improve the roads. This is how the road from Kodaikanal to the top station got its name as Escape Road.

The British Civil Engineering Department upgraded the road during wartime. The escape road soon got altered to accommodate only small motor cars to travel. But there were no setbacks as feared in the war. The road was later used to transport goods to Madras.

Listen to the history of the road along with trekking
Those who come for trekking in the Pampadumchola National Park by the forest department will have the good fortune to walk a short distance along the Escape Road. It could travel up to 990. During the legal battles fought by Kerala and Tamil Nadu for roads in the 1990s, travel on this route was completely banned. Trekkers can cover a distance of 3 km through this route. While appreciating the wilderness of the forest, you might come across several creatures and birds. In Kodaikanal, you can travel to Foundation Road without any obstacles. From there to go to Berijam Lake, you need the Kodaikanal DFO's permission.

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The road from Berijam Lake to Pampadumchola Park is entirely reforested. We can take a short walk along this road in the trekking package of Pampadumchola National Park. You can spot old milestones on the way. Wild elephants, wild buffaloes, and leopards can be seen enroute. The Nilgiri Martin, which is a rare variety of wild squirrel can be located in the Pampadumchola National Park. The trekking conducted by the forest department charges Rs 300 per person. Trekking can usually be completed in 4 to 5 hours.

Spectacular road trips to take if you are in Kerala
Wayanad to Madikeri
: If you love to set out on a journey through the scenic landscapes from literary capital, the route of Wayanad to Madikeri is one of the best routes to explore. Madikeri is a hub offering coffee plantations, scenic highways, and hence is a nature’s paradise. Beautifully encompassed with serene greenery in the surroundings, the sloping roads make the route a biker’s paradise.

Kochi to Munnar: From the plains to the hill stations. Taking you through the city, then on to the country roads before taking you on a winding road can be a dizzying experience. It’s a picturesque drive with a lot of fascinating plantations, paddy, forest, waterfalls, and more. The trip from Kochi to Munnar will take 4-5 hours.

Wayanad to Nilambur: This will take you through tea plantations, forests, and teak. The road is also lovely with winding tracks and as you approach Nilambur it widens into larger tracks with an amazing finish. Easily one of the best tracks in Kerala.

Athirapally to Valparai: If you want to witness Kerala in all its glorious natural beauty, drive along the hills of one of the state’s most popular forest ranges – Athirapally. This two-and-a-half-hour drive leads to one of the most scenic tea plantations in the Western Ghats of Kerala. Interestingly, the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve is also situated en route.

Kottayam to Wagamon: If you are in the mood for a quick get-away from the hustle and bustle of towns, then this route is what many would term to be heaven-on-earth. The time taken to travel between Kottayam and Vagamon is approximately one and a half hours and is one of the best road trips in Kerala. Surrounded by tea plantations, this path is truly a biker’s paradise. To those who love four-wheel drives, here is a tip: Turn off the air-conditioner and breathe in the fresh air. Cherish the cool breeze as well. It is worth it!

Alappuzha to Changanasherry: The road from Alappuzha to Changanasherry is adorned with beautiful greenery. The well-maintained road bifurcates paddy fields and other plantations. Being less crowded, you can breathe in the fresh air and dip yourself into the calm surroundings. Stop at Kuttanadu, renowned as the rice bowl of Kerala, and have a look at the wide paddy fields.

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