The word ‘Idukki’ means a narrow gorge. The district of Idukki falls in the western ghats, which is famous for its biodiversity in the rich flora and fauna that it preserves. Idukki is nothing but a marvel to anyone who visits these high ranges for one could overwhelm in the ecstasy of travelling through these hillside roads with a view of mist and clouds gliding around them.
One of the farmers we met told us this one conspiracy theory – The Government disapproves of any new ventures of resource extraction from these hills, whether it be trees, or rock, or even water. We have everything we need here provided by nature itself but we can’t use it unless we become a huge corporate company. Almost one hundred per cent of us living in this high ranges are farmers and all we have in order to make our living is from the agriculture we have in these lands. There is no policies or programs to aid us in times of a need. The prices for our yields only keep on falling down. The coming generations find no hope in continuing to live here and has to go down to the cities in search of work. The ones striving hard to continue their lives here in the only land they got too are forced to give their farms and move away. Many environment conservation and commissioning reports are only but helping the government to fasten this process.
And why all this has to happen? That’s the big conspiracy. In order to maintain the equilibrium in our planet’s ecosystem, the urban world has to preserve some naturally growing land as the suppliers of oxygen and the keepers of our ozone. Some highly classified world organization in the West finds the Western Ghats in the Indian peninsula a worthy candidate for this purpose and bribes the world governments to keep it their way.
This can be some illogical shady theory for all of us, but the point here is that a 70-year-old uneducated person at his 70s from the high ranges of Idukki tells us this what he believes to be true. For him, that is the reason their areas never get developed and their lives never get better.
Idukki is certainly very different than much of the rest of the state. It is the second largest district in Kerala in terms of area but also the least populated district of the state at the same time. The reason is that almost half of the district is forest areas. Travelling up to the high ranges of Idukki means one has to take a route that is through the forest. Whether it be uphill from adimali, neryamangalam, or moolamattam, it is only after a couple of hours journey through the forest one would reach to the high range. And at these roads, one could often see regular pitstops of elephant herds where they drink water and cross the roads.
But what Idukki is most famous for is none of these. One of the biggest arch dams in the whole of Asia was built here decades ago. Looking straight onto the small town of Idukki, this massive concrete wall joining the hills Kuruvan and Kuruvathi majestically stand to hold millions of gallons of water behind it throughout the year. The Idukki dam along with two other smaller dams, Cheruthoni and Hulamavu dams, together creates the artificial lake/reservoir that is about 60km2 and powers the Moolamattom Electric generator. This hydroelectric project is what powers almost 90% electricity in the state.
To see the actual brilliance of the built of this dam, one shall simply go up to the Calvary mount, which is now a popular tourist attraction of Idukki. Looking down from the top of this mount, seldom can you see almost anything for the blinding fog that glides over these mountains. One would feel like they have reached the clouds when they stand atop of this mount. But when the sky is clear of these misty clouds, you could look down to see the majestic reservoir behind the dam. Nature itself serves as the infrastructure to this manmade marvel. The hills around it act as natural barriers for the reservoir to hold this huge capacity of water within them. The water body seems like a giant snake sleeping at peace in the valley.
For the people of Idukki, there are no small towns here. They call each and every small junction a ‘city’. You ask someone a route to somewhere, they will tell you a described route that passes through several cities. Thoprankudi city, pathinaramkandam city, upputhodu city… all are but cities in these people’s vocabulary.
If one travels furthermore inwards to the district, what awaits them one of the top tourist destinations in the country itself. The tea and coffee estates of the misty mountains of Munnar, and the Thekkady wildlife sanctuary. This year (2018) is also one special year here in Munnar. This is the year at which the Neelakurinji blossoms. Neelakurinji is a flower that blossoms only once in twelve years. This cycled blossoming of the flower has been an amusement for a number of travellers for decades.
At some places in Idukki, we may suddenly find ourselves surrounded by these hills that looks just like huge tall walls. Such is the steepness of many of these mountains. Looking out from the car window, our eyes may not reach the sky for these tall hills might obstruct the line of sight just like that. All we could see between the passing of fog would be these steep huge rock mountains all the way till the sky.
And once we drive up to these hills and then, it will be one among the most beautiful place one has ever been in life. These sight of the patches of fog gliding through these misty mountains will make one feel like they have reached the point where these mountains touch the sky.
The people living here mostly depend on farming. The younger generation who have been educated enough to find new jobs have left these hills to other developed cities of the state. After agriculture, the next major industry here is the tourism sector. The Moonnar Thekkady areas have already become one among the top tourist destinations in the country.
Most of these farmers here are migrants of the late half of the previous century. At this period, many of the middle-class population in Travancore had to migrate to the high ranges of Idukki or to the north Malabar districts in search of cheap agricultural lands. Hence a majority population here in Idukki also is such families who have their roots in old Travancore province. The generation of people who dared to make this quest of clearing their way through the forests of Idukki and converting it to the land that is it today still remembers the pain and hardships they had to suffer during this venture. Fifty or sixty years later today, their children have all the facilities they could never imagine of having back in their days.
These farmers are subjected to face many challenges today. The heavy rain, various diseases to their crops, other natural disasters like landslides, all of these are just one side of their day to day problems. On the other side, their problems include not getting enough price for their products, adverse government policies, exploitation by the middlemen and so on.
And this exactly is our project here – to bring transparency and traceability in the sector and aid in promoting brands that are co-owned by the farmers.