The road less travelled to Marayur

Marayoor is a very small taluka town about 40km N of Munnar on the Munnar – Udumalpet road. It’s claim to fame is as a major prehistoric site where dolmens and cave paintings have been discovered. Marayoor is also known for its delicious jaggery, English vegetables such as carrots which are not traditional south Indian veggies, Kerala apples – it is the only apple growing region of Kerala, precious sandalwood and the surrounding Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary.

DOLMEN COUNTRY - MARAYOOR


A multitude of tourists visit Munnar but few venture beyond the standard lakes, waterfalls and tea museum circuit.

In my opinion, the road going from Munnar to Udumalpet has the most spectacular scenery. This road first traverses the Rajamalai entry point of the Eravikulam National Park with Anaimudi, the highest mountain of peninsular India looming large at 2695m. Then come Nyamakad and Gundamalay, Thalayar and Vaghuvarai with steep hillside carpets of tea, verdant shola forests, high mountains, deep valleys and gushing waterfalls.

Brilliant Spathodea Trees on the road to Marayoor


Jacarandas on the road to Marayur


Gulmohar trees on the road to Maraiyur


Colourful tourist bus from Tamil Nadu matches the flowering trees!

Add to this the ancient dolmens, the sandalwood reserve and the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and you have the perfect recipe for a lovely holiday. Going further past the Tamil Nadu border is the Amaravathy forest and reservoir. From Udumalpet, it is a short drive to the pilgrimage town of Palani, one of the six abodes – Aarupadai Veedu – of Lord Murugan.

It is an experience to walk through the narrow pathways between the tea bushes, at most places it is so steep one would need to have the agility of a Nilgiri tahr do so. The tea workers obviously do, one of them kindly showed me their simple method of resting a hip against a sturdy tea bush.

Steep tea slopes


Tea sorting on the road to Marayur

An experience of another kind awaits upon entering the many shola forests en route. The southern montane evergreen a.k.a. shola forests are a veritable nature’s paradise, dripping with lichens, ferns, orchids and so much more … such as leeches, those ghastly blood thirsty creatures. A bit of tobacco mixed with salt and a little coconut oil does wonders to repel these horrors. Alternately try kerosene if you don’t mind rubbing that on your skin. Nilgiri Langurs and Giant Malabar Squirrels can be heard if not seen, in the shola tree tops.

Leech infested shola forest


Malabar Giant Squirrel Nilgiri Langur
in shola forest”]
Cobra lily [arisaema sp.] in shola forest.

The sandalwood reserve starts shortly before Marayur. Unfortunately it is all fenced off due to a serious problem of poaching. A solitary specimen tree stands on the open roadside for visitors to smell the fragrance of its scraped heart wood. Sandalwood flowers have no fragrance.

Fenced off Sandalwood Forest at Maraiyur

Odourless Sandalwood Flowers

A side road at Kovilkadavu village leads to the government school at St Pious Nagar. A wonder awaits on the vast rock face behind the nondescript school building. The mountain and the valley below is dotted with dolmens, called Muniara or Muniyara locally. These consist of 3 stone slab walls less than a metre high in a square design, with a capstone on top. Many of the slabs have been carted away for use as building material by the locals, nonetheless many dolmens remain. Some of the dolmens we saw were like small caves. Some had lush vincas growing out of them thanks to seepage from the school toilets!

Dolmens behind the school building

Prehistoric Muniara Dolmen Behind School Building

Prehistoric Muniara Dolmen with Capstone

Walk further away from the school, along the rock face, let your imagination flow free, and it is overwhelming. The Muniara dolmens are supposed to be burial chambers though some say they were dwelling quarters. It is a bit difficult to believe that anyone except a midget could live in such tiny dwellings, unless our prehistoric ancestors were dwarfs. In dry weather, it is an easy walk along the rock face though it can get uncomfortably warm here despite the altitude, and a wide brimmed hat makes the walk ever so much enjoyable. It must be dangerously slippery during the rains. We could see more dolmens and caves in the river valley below. A small road goes along that valley to the fertile fields of Kanthaloor.

Dolmens on rock face at Marayoor


Muniyara Dolmen of Marayoor


Easy to walk on rock face at Marayoor


Dolmen Quartet in the undergrowth in the valley below


One More Muniara Dolmen


That same Dolmen seen in perspective in the valley below


Dolmens scattered all over the valley


The photo shows dolmens all over the valley. One can only imagine how many there must have been originally. Regrettably, there is no sign of any effort by the concerned local authorities or the Archaeological Survey of India to maintain and preserve this prehistoric heritage. If we had wanted to, we could have carted off a capstone or a slab and no one would have cared less. The saving grace being that most tourists are not particularly enamoured of these finds and after a quick initial look, will move on to further destinations. We could have spent the whole day here, the rock face is endless, the scenery simply stunning and the experience overwhelming …

Even more dolmens and prehistoric cave paintings can be seen within the Chinnar sanctuary. Local tribal guides can be engaged for a reasonable fee to take you there from the Alampetty checkpost a bit beyond Marayur.

Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary - also has dolmens and prehistoric cave paintings


Colourful laburnum and gulmohar forest at Chinnar


Prehistoric caves at Chinnar sanctuary


Forest Check Post at Alampetty - Guides can be engaged here for treks to dolmen and cave sites and to the waterfalls

The guides will also take you down to the pretty horseshoe shaped Thoovanam waterfalls, also visible from the scenic road going through the sanctuary. The Chinnar sanctuary is known for its Star Tortoises and Grizzled Giant Squirrels. Neither appeared for us, we had to be content with some grey langurs who posed for photos and a peacock and snake who did not. Elephants can be seen in the mornings near the water. Ideally, to see the wildlife and the dolmens, one should plan on staying here at least a couple of days as there is so much to enjoy in this serene and beautiful under-rated region.

Thoovanam Waterfalls - Not in full flow at the height of summer


Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary


Grey Langur in Chinnar forest


Thoovanam falls and prehistoric caves in the Chinnar WLS

Accommodation is available at Marayoor ranging from 3 star to lodges.

Getting there: Coimbatore and Cochin are convenient airports.
By road, the route from Coimbatore is via Udumalpet. From Cochin it is via Munnar. Buses ply between Munnar and Udumalpet. Buses from Coimbatore to Palani also halt at Udumalpet. Most visitors to Kerala come to Munnar so this could be an extension for a day trip or overnight stay.

More about prehistoric megalithic dolmens
http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/dolmen.htm

Muniyara – the dolmens at Marayoor, Idukki, Places of Interest, India, Kerala Videos

http://www.keralatourism.org/video-clips/muniyara,-idukki-57.php

14 Comments

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Gita,

    Thanks for sharing unexplored ” Marayur”.

    The post is well narrated supported with beautiful picture. First time saw such a colourful Bus. :-)

    The Dolmen looks like man made.

    Keep traveling , keep sharing.

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Your writing reminded me of my own visits to Munnar in the past years, always started the tour from Kottayam through good and bad roads. Once arrived there we stayed in a hotel and then traveled around by foot and by van. The most memorable sights were the Nilgiri Tahrs at the Eravikulam Sanctuary, and we did see and photograph a number of these rare and wild goats, and toured through the Kanan Devan tea plantation. The climate was perfect, nice and cool, comparing to the steamy temperatures we experienced in Palghat and Kottayam. We also saw the (Nilgiri) langurs and one giant Malabar squirrel on our last visit. Unfortunately, no one mentioned about the Marayur area or the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Perhaps, next time!

    Your photographs are so life like, brilliant and capturing the sheer beauty of plants, flowers and animals. Yes, I too was a victim of ‘leech attacks’ while trekking through the forests in Periyar Tiger reserve. Our guide used the burning end of the cigarette to remove them from the skin and applied cigarette ash to seal the blood flow. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful experience.

    JJ

  • Gita AM says:

    Thanks Virag and Jerry.

    Jerry, we just pulled the leeches off the first time we were attacked, big mistake because the scars remain for quite a while. I would be apprehensive of a burning cigarette though!

  • Pictures are so nice…

  • manish khamesra says:

    Brilliant post Gita.

    What is so unique about Ur posts is that all the flowers have their names also written in the captions? It shows the effort you put in. Thanks for sharing.

    Reading about Dolmen do let me confuse a bit. How come this pre-christian structure found in India / Korea as well ? Does the world used to share same religious practices at that time. If yes, why we have no hint of these burial grounds in our ancient religious lterature as well. What was that religion that was so wide spread. Dolmens do present an interesting questions/mystery to be solved.

    BTW, I think you wrote Nilgiri Langur at the caption of the squirrel. Please correct it.

    Its an undoubtedly beautiful posts. Thanks for sharing and keep on writing.

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Manish.

      Yes I love wild flora but I know that people may get bored of seeing so many separate flower pics so I combined them for these posts.

      Dolmens and prehistoric structures are found worldwide. It is an interesting question that you have posed for which I do not have any knowledge, however a lot of primordial practices worldwide are common such as worship of the mother Goddess which is common to most cultures.

      I cant see the caption on either the Nilgiri langur or the giant squirrel! Must have botched it somewhere.

  • Thanks for pointing out the names of flowers. I am most thrilled by the dolmens. I should try visiting some.

  • Gita AM says:

    Thank you Arvind. Do visit the Maraiyur region, you will not be disappointed.

  • sarang says:

    Thank you for the post. Awesome job. Very detailed and very descriptive with pictures….Thank you again.

  • n.d bhaskaran says:

    IN JUNE 2012 I PAID A VISIT TO MUNNAR. HAD I SEEN YOUR ARTICLE EARLIER, I WOULD HAVE SEEN THE DOLMEN COUNTRY ALSO. ANY HOW I WILL VISIT AGAIN FOR DOLMEN SPECIAL. THANK U FOR THE INPUT…
    BASKARAN
    CHENNAI

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