Friday, October 31, 2008

Heron’s Pool: A town, a house, a book and a ship

The town. Mundakayam is just starting to come on the tourism map of Kerala. It is a flourishing town on National Highway 220, almost halfway between two popular tourist spots – Kumarakom and Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Many places of great interest to travelers are easily accessible from Mundakayam. The natural beauty of the areas surrounding the town can be gauged by the fact that over a hundred movies have been shot there. It is also the entry point to Kerala’s High Ranges and the plantations.

Mundakayam is prosperous place and the people have a distinctive way of life. But !50 years back it was a thick forest inhabited by hill tribes. In 1843 Pastor Henry Baker ventured into the area where no white man had ever set foot before.

He found a number of herons nesting around a quiet pool and named the place Heron’s Pool. Translated to Malayalam, the local language, it became Mundikayam>Mundakayam (Mundi=heron, kayam=pool).

Many other sahibs followed Baker to seek their fortune in planting – tea, rubber, coffee, spices. The most famous among them was the Irishman J.J. Murphy.

The house. The quaint bungalow was the residence of the well-known planter and industrialist, late Jose Kallivayalil (my maternal uncle). Many important personages including political bosses, top officials, British nobility, and other nationalities had enjoyed Kallivayalil’s legendary hospitality there. Now his son Chacko and his charming wife Sheila have converted the place into a home stay with the name Heron’s Pool.

What is amazing about the 70+ year-old building is the amount of teak and rosewood with intricate work used on the walls, flooring, trellis, and furniture. The eight feet long dining table is made from a single piece of teak! The food there has been traditionally good.

Given below is a photo of the front veranda:

Photo by me. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

The bungalow has a lovely cobbled nadumuttam (inner courtyard) with a large guava tree in the center. On one side is a veranda which can be used as a stage for cultural events.

The house is nestled in a plantation that has several types of cash crops. It is on NH 220, about 3 kilometers east of Mundakayam Town. Next to it is the Mundakayam Club established by J.J. Murphy in 1912. You can visit the website

The book. ‘Above the Heron’s Pool’ (ISBN 0 907799515) by Heather Lovatt & Peter de Jong is an interesting book which deals with the history of the High Ranges. Heather had lived in the area for many years. She has also written a reference book on the subject, titled ‘A Short History of The Peermade/Vandiperiyar District’ (CMS Press, Kottayam. 1979).

The ship. SS Heronspool was freighter of Ropner Shipping Company. In a valiant night engagement with the German submarine U48 off the Irish Coast she was torpedoed on 12th October 1939.


Also see Irish father of Indian cardamom, rubber and pepper planting


Ashvin said...

Mr. Tharakan, a typo on the heron's pool website page that opens with this link (plantation). Sorry can't help it - over years of trying to be a hotelier, one's eyes automatically go to such not so important things in life.

By the way, does the website have just that one page ? I couldn't navigate further ?

Nebu said...

Mundakayam is literally a place where milk flows; only thing is that it is latex or rubber paal as we call it locally. Incidentally Mundakayam happens to have the single largest plot in India under rubber plantation. The 5000 acres Travancore Rubber & Tea estate and the 2500 acres former Malayalam Plantations, now Parisons, Boyce and Peuvanthanam divisions are separated only by the N.H.220 (Kottayam – Kumily road). ‘The house’ in this blog sits at the point where these two estates separate.
I am fortunate to have been born and brought up here, with both my parents belonging to the same place.
‘Happy kitten’ – an avid follower of ‘Song of the waves’ passed through Mundakayam recently and has posted couple of photographs from the area in her blog – ‘Nostalgia in Pictures’.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thanks, Ashvin.
The website seems to have only one page. Even the email id did not work when I tried to send my post on Heron's Pool to my cousin. I must contact him about these.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nebu, it is nice to see someone being so proud of his place of birth. Of course, you have enough reasons to feel so.

Anonymous said...

Hi Abraham,

It was nice to go through your blog.Would appreciate if you could post some pictures of good old Mundakayam.


George Joseph said...

This is great to find another reference about the Book, Above the herons Pool.

A great book, which tells about the history of the plantation district of Kerala.

I was very much impressed to see the book History of Peermade and Vandiperiyar district while working on collecting information about Peermade to be published while studying BCA at Marian College.

I got a type copy of the Book from Rajan Sir, Elapara.

Later I was glad to get a copy of the book " Above the herons pool " from Rosy, hats off to Basca.

I have published the data about Peermade, i could collct in my website,

A summery was published by the Public Relations department of Kerala too.

Today, the beauty of the place is getting spoiled, with the works of
commercial resorts, who buy 10 cents of land and build a 20 cent resort.

I made a visit recently and found the situation to be very pathatic.

I am planing to make a documentary about the place soon probably by November, 2010

Cheers for your work and your reference of Above the Herons Pool

Thank you
George Joseph