Malabar Manual Vol 1 Chapter 1. The DISTRICT
Section G.—Passes, Roads and Railway
The climate, the physical character of the country, and, in most places, the nature of the road materials are all unfavourable to road-making in Malabar. Indeed, in ancient times and within the memory of people still living, bullock carts and made roads did not exist. The chief traffic of the country was, and in great measure still is, carried on, as already alluded to in the section on rivers, etc., by water and not by land.
In ancient times, the country was split up into rival principalities and roads were not a necessity. A force on the march went in single file and unencumbered by artillery, and it was only after the Mysoroan invasions under Haidar Ali and Tippu Sultan that the necessity for roads capable of carrying heavy guns began to be felt. The following extracts from the records show how the matter stood shortly after the British acquisition of the province.
Minute by Colonel Dow on the state of roads in 1796.—“The general disorder that has hitherto prevailed in the Mappilla districts is greatly imputable to want of roads, which enabled them to trespass with security. The Mappillas hold all regular government in aversion, and never appear to have boon thoroughly subjugated by Tippu. This habitual dislike to subordination is not to be removed by methods of severity, which are likely to excite resistance. A large body of troops should be stationed at their quarters, and their lurking-places should be kept open by constructing roads. At present no vestige exists of wheel-carriages having over been in use in Malabar, and the roads are generally narrow, which are rarely better than foot-paths running at random through paddy-lands without any regard to the convenience of travelling.
“The necessity for spacious and broad roads was not probably felt until the Muhammadan conquest. Tippu projected and in a great part finished an extensive chain of roads that connected all the principal places in Malabar and pervaded the wildest parts of the country. The grand termination of those intercommunications was Seringapatam and as the route necessarily led over the ghats, neither labour nor expense was spared in rendering it practicable for artillery. This was the most politic and enlightened of any enterprise undertaken by that prince, and he appears to have been sensible that the construction of the public roads was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of his authority and to enable him to effect the forcible conversion he so long meditated.
“Many works of utility have been abandoned since the province came into the hands of the Company. Works of great extent and magnitude should be proceeded with by degrees. The roads, whether projected or finished by Tippu, should be first ascertained and completed thoroughly before any new works are undertaken. His routes are in general well-chosen and lead through almost every part of the province. The work might be performed by the Cherumars of the country. Having completed Tippu’s roads, the Company should take up such roads as escaped the supervision of that prince.
“After completion, the roads should be maintained in good order by the labour of the community. Bullocks carrying merchandise might be tolled so as to provide a fund to meet contingent charges, etc.”
Colonel Dow stated further: “Since the country came into the possession of the Company, the roads have been gradually encroached on, and in many parts entirely shut up, by the inhabitants. The country is rendered scarcely accessible to the troops and the movement of artillery impracticable.”
The task of securing good roads to all parts of the province was taken in hand, and, as a first step, the following information as to Tippu’s roads was obtained from the Zamorin’s minister, and from actual inspection by an officer of Engineers.
“Account of Tippu’s Gun-roads by Shamnauth.
“1. From Calicut to the present cantonment Polwye by Purrinalettu, Cheakur, Tamracheri.
“2. Prom Malapuram to Tamracheri.
“3. .Front Malapuram to Pudapani and from thence to the ghat.
“4. From Calicut to Ferokia, Carate Hobli, Elamaruthoo, Chatamungul, Purrinalettu, Tamracheri.
“5. From Ferokia through Shernad Taluk, by Chalapoora Hobli, Pooloor, Tirurangadi, Venkatakotta, Poolanalettu, Erakerlu, Kemaro, Waleakoonmuttu, Tirucheraparamba, Cowlpara, Mungarey river, Pattambi, Walayar river, Coimbatore.
“6. From Palghat to Dindigul, Tallamangala, Wundelarrullatie, Nellimootiel, Wellikumbil, Margienaympalim, Peelachi, Worunmalakatu, Kannenerukuvaturu, Palni, Virupakshu, Dindigal.
“7. From Venkatakkotta, Purumbil, Walluanatakunny (Velateru), Palaketeri, Angadipuram, Mulcakurchi, Karialutu, Vellatur, Rapelallawuloora, Peynat, Koondepulla river, Mannar, Attapara, Tengraumttooroo, Wellimamutu, Coimbatore.
“The northern division is in like manner pervaded by roads, the particulars of which may be easily obtained. It is sufficient at present to take notice that they lead from mount Deli both by the seashore and through the interior parts of Chirakal, Cotiote, etc., generally having for their direction the passes of Pudiacherrim and Tamracheri.”
Letter from Captain-Lieutenant Johnson, of Engineers, on the subject of the gun-roads in the province, dated 1st December 1796.—
“The roads practicable for guns are as follows : one from the south side of the Beypore river to Tanur, Ponnani, Balliancota, and keeping about one mile to the westward of Chavakkad, proceeds along the island of Chetwai to Cranganore, where it stops. This, road is throughout good, but has five rivers to cross, four of which, require boats ; but as the road lies near towns close to each of these rivers, boats are easily, procured when wanted.
“The next begins at Tanur, from whence it proceeds through Pudiangadi, Tirunavayi, Omalur, Tirttala, Cowlpara, Lakkidikotta to Palghat, and from thence to Coimbatore to the eastward, as also through Chittur, Tattamangalam to Kolangod. The first part of the road requires hardly any repairs as far as Tirunavayi, where, near the Ponnani river, road is so much encroached on whenever it leads through batty fields, that in such places it can hardly be called a foot-path ; not only this, but the more effectually to prevent cultivated spots from being marched through, hedges, banks and ditches are made to cross the roads, or trees felled which require time and trouble to clear away.
“These appear to be the first obstacles to be removed and prevented. The latter part of this road, as it mostly runs over high jungly, hilly grounds, only requires here and there repairing, which being once done, the inhabitants of the country might be induced to keep it so, as it is one of the first marks of attention very readily shown to many of the natives of rank to clear and repair, and even clean, the road over which they have to pass.
“There is also another gun-road loading from Pattikad Chokee to Trichur, Ullur, Pudcad, through Ramesvaram gate to Amolum eastward of Cochin, which is kept in repair by the Cochin Rajah, whose guns are moved over it frequently.
“Of roads formerly intended as gun-roads there are many leading in every direction, the principal of which are one leading from Ferokabad to Trevengarry, and by passing near Venkatakotta, to Angadipuram, from whence it leads through Cherpalcheri to Mannar Town. The first part of this road, so far as Venkatakotta, is mostly over uncultivated rocky heights, abounding in forage, but affording little wood and water, which would only require a little repairing at the ascents and descents here and there, after which, going toward Angadipuram, there are batty fields and nalas that require more work to make them fit for guns, but the expense, even there, cannot be great, as such places bear a very small proportion to the tract of country over which this road loads, which is generally high and even, but also abounds in wood and water, which are to be found in abundance everywhere but on the sea-coast.
“The next is a road from Ferokia to Konduvetti, and from thence to Errowinagarry, Nilambur, and by the Karkur pass to the top of the Gazalhatti pass. The first part of this road boars evident marks of having been made for guns at a great labour, and appears more to require clearing of small trees, etc., than making ; it also abounds in wood, water and forage throughout, but is destroyed whenever it crosses batty fields.
This road strikes to southward from Errowinagarry to Whurumpuram, the first half of which I have not seen ; but, supposing it resembles the latter, will require very little expense to make it practicable for guns. There are also many of this kind of roads—such as one from Mannar to Cowpiel, from Cherpalcheri to Lakkidikotta, from Venkatakotta to Tirunavayi- -all of which require more to be cleared and repaired than made. Very little more can be said concerning them.”
Though, the matter thus received early attention, but little was done this direction for over fifty years, and it is only within the last thirty years that the opening up of the country by good roads has been vigorously pushed on. The main lines of road eastward and the coast-line absorbed all the money that could be devoted to them, and the following roads, which enabled the produce of Malabar to be exchanged for that of the eastern districts, were maintained in fair order during the first period of fifty years.
(1) The Perambadi ghat road, leading from Tellicherry and Cannanore through Coorg, to Seringapatam and Mysore, by which sandalwood and pepper and grain, and chillies and pulses, and latterly, coffee were brought to the coast, and return loads, chiefly of salt, were taken back. The route has been partly altered and the gradients on this line have been greatly improved of recent years. The ghat portion of it lies in Coorg territory.
(2) The Pariahghat road, from Tellicherry and Cannanore through North Wynad to Mysore, conveying much the same traffic as the road last-mentioned between the same places. This road has been very greatly improved in recent years. It was originally required, as an alternative route for the passage of troops from the coast to Mysore, which, going this way, avoided passing through, the Coorg Raja’s country. The ghat has been retraced in recent years, and all the old steep gradients cut down or circumvented.
(3) The Kuttiyadi ghat road, leading from the head of the navigable waters of the Kotta river into North Wynad, which at first was made, and afterwards maintained, chiefly for military purposes, in connection with the Palassi Raja’s rebellion. This ghat road remains in much the same state as formerly. A new and easy trace up the mountains has been laid out, hut it has not been widened sufficiently for carts. The traffic which exists is still carried on by means of pack-bullocks and by coolies.
(4) The Tamracherighat road — one of Tippu’s military roads — leading from Calicut through South Wynad to Mysore, was the line judiciously selected by Colonel the Honourable Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Duke of Wellington) as commander of the forces for the operations against the rebellious Palassi Raja. It had the advantage of splitting up the country of that chieftain in Wynad and of enabling the military commanders to operate, according to circumstances, against any position where the rebels seemed inclined to make a stand.
For this purpose stockades1 or small forts were made at easy distances apart throughout its length. The labour of moving guns on this road must have been most severe, as the original trace ran straight up the almost precipitous face of the mountain. In recent years a well-graded ghat road, seven and three-quarter miles in length and rising nearly three thousand feet, has taken the place of the old short direct track.
NOTEs: 1. Lakkidikotta means literally stick or timber fort, and this is how the place at the head of the ghat obtained its name. END OF NOTEs.
For the first three miles from the top of the ghat the road has literally been blasted out of the solid rock, which at that place crops out precipitously on the face of the mountain. The view, from the upper zigzag, of mountains and forests, and of the plains of Malabar with the sea in the distance, is superb.
(5) The Sissapara ghat road was made from the head of the navigable waters of the Beypore river, through the head of the Silent Valley, also called Vallaghat, up to the summits of the Kundah mountains on the Nilgiri plateau, for the purpose of enabling visitors from Bombay and the west coast generally to reach the Nilgiri Sanitarium. Except, from the river to the foot of the hills it was, and still, is, only passable for baggage animals, but it has, ever since the opening of the railway, been discarded as a. route to the Nilgiris.
(6) The Palghat gap afforded an easy means of communication between east and west, and a good road has always been maintained between Ponnani on the coast and Coimbatore and Palani inland. This road passes through Palghat, where it bifurcates, one branch going to Coimbatore, the other to Palani. From Tirtala, too, a branch struck off north-westwards to the coast road and afforded the usual route adopted by travellers to or from Calicut.
(7) Finally, the coast road, from Calicut to the extreme north of the district, united all the above lines at the points where they touched the sea-coast, and afforded a ready means of bringing detachments of troops from the military brigade stationed at Cannanore to any point where their services were required. These were the main lines of communication kept up till within the last forty years, but a good deal used to be done besides to keep up country-paths, running in all directions over the country, but utilised only by men and animals. Those country-paths were maintained by the occupiers of lands through which they passed.
In the last forty years great strides have been made towards opening up the district, and there is now scarcely any considerable portion of it to which wheeled traffic has not been extended. The roads, exclusive of those within the limits of municipalities, now number one hundred and seventeen and the total length maintained is one thousand, four hundred and forty-three miles. The details will be found in Appendix VIT. The south-west branch of the Madras railway was opened in the following sections on the following dates :
And with the opening on 12th May 1802 of the section beyond Podanur, the west coast was put into direct railway communication with the presidency town. The total length of line within the district is ninety-nine miles, and the following are the railway stations:-
Before the extension of the line to Calicut it was felt that it was a mistake for the railway to stop at Beypore, which is only an insignificant fishing village, and that the line should have been brought into Calicut, the headquarters of the district, only seven miles distant from the terminus. On 9th February 1880, after much previous discussion, a public meeting was held at Calicut, and resolutions were passed and a memorial drawn up, praying that the line might he brought into Calicut. The prayer of the memorialists was favourably received and the line to Calicut opened on 2nd January 1888. On the same date a feeder line was opened between Olavakkot and Palghat.
There are but few works of any engineering consequence on the line of railway in Malabar, but the following may be mentioned :
The following heights above mean sea-level give a very fair idea of the gradients on the line :
The traffic on the line in goods showed no tendency to expand, nor was it likely to be the case till a more suitable terminal station was obtained ; but some concessions to third-class passengers resulted in a considerable increase in the passenger traffic. A statement showing the variations in the goods and the passenger traffic subsequent to the extension of the line to Calicut is appended.
Statement showing the monthly average number of passengers and tonnes of goods passed in and out of Calicut Railway Station