The concept of jail tourism may not be familiar to Keralites yet, but they can experience it close to the state – at Gudalur in Tamil Nadu. A prison that is around 150 years old awaits visitors at this place in the Nilgiri hills.
Gudalur, in fact, is the gateway to the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu and can be reached via Nilambur in Kerala by taking the Nadukani ghat road. The word Gudalur translates to 'meeting place' and it is, in fact, a point where the borders of three states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – meet. At T-Junction in Gudalur, a traveller can notice the sign boards which say, turn to one direction and reach Ooty, which is also in Tamil Nadu, while the opposite road heads to Mysuru in Karnataka.
Gudalur, located between the historic princely state of Mysore and Ooty, which was the summer capital of the Madras Presidency, carries a mysterious charm.
One would realize that Gudalur is not a tiny town, while watching the landscape from the top of the Soochippara rock along the Ooty road. A ticket has to be purchased to reach the spot, which lies beyond a eucalyptus grove.
Before Soochippara, lies the Wilson plantation, which is only around 50 years old. Nilgiri is not connected with the histories of any monarchies but it belonged to the tribal people. After the British arrived in India, they chose Nilgiris to plant eucalyptus and cinchona.
However, the work on the plantations did not progress as expected and the British brought prisoners from other countries as labourers. These men included many people from China. When their sentence was completed, the Chinese people set up a village of their own in Gudalur and started living there. A board which says, 'No entry' can be seen on the way to the village.
The Tantea estate also has a connection with prisoners as well as refugees. Refugees from Sri Lanka were rehabilitated in the estate, owned by the Tamil Nadu government.
The work on the jail at Gudalur was completed in 1865. Finding that the prisons at Singapore and other places were overcrowded and needing workers at the estates in Gudalur, the British decided to build a jail here. Inmates from other prisons were soon brought here.
A common problem faced by visitors to rugged destinations is muscle cramps. An ancient remedy for the condition is the bark of the cinchona tree which was resorted to by the native people of Peru and other South American countries. But the British saw cinchona as a medicine for Malaria.
The botanists of the British times found that Nilgiris had the same climate as Peru and suggested the area for cinchona cultivation. It was at Naduvattom, where the jail is located, that the first cinchona plantation came up in India and the prisoners were brought to work there.
At the Tea Museum near the jail, an exhibit reveals that 'Illustrated London News,' the world's first illustrated weekly, had carried a pictorial feature on the plantation.
Inside the jail
The interiors of the prison, which is built close to an attractive bungalow, are similar to that of a godown. A visitor would wonder if the high-roofed cells could house an animal as big as an elephant!
At present, iron gates have been fixed to the cells and it is cool inside. The prison, with corridors on both sides, housed up to 560 inmates at one time.
On the jail premises, spots where various punishment methods were carried out can be seen. Statues in full uniform – of jail officials and inmates – have been installed at many areas. A fair warning: Once inside, the feelings may vary from wonderment to cursory depression, having been reminded of a dark chapter in colonial history.
However, while leaving the place, the visitor can boost his or her spirits by stepping into the Tea Museum nearby. Exhibits here describe the benefits of drinking tea as well as the history of tea cultivation in India.
Gudalur jail can be reached from Kerala via Nilambur. From there, take the Nadukani–Gudalur–Nadukani–Panthallur–Cherambadi–Erumadu route.
Food can be had from Indian Coffee House, Gudalur.
Home stay options are available at Erumadu on the way to Wayanad. For more details, contact 8903772573. An old estate bungalow at Devala also allows accommodation, but the tariff is steep.
Lucky travellers can also catch a sight of elephants along the way. Contact Murugan at 9894009892 for more details.
Things to note
Travel along the Nadukani ghat road only during daytime as elephants may use the path at night. Wild tuskers may stray on to the road at Cherambady too. In case night travel cannot be avoided, drive along the middle of the road – never move to the sides.
Ooty, Masinagudi, Mysuru, Gundalpet, Wayanad, Muthanga, Edakkal caves, and Sulthan Bathery.