The modern road from Sultan Bathery [Sultan's Battery] to Pulpally climbs away from the town out into open woodland made up of mature teak trees. The underground is grazed by cattle and goats. The whole effect is most beautiful.
This scene must have been quite different when Thomas and his men were marching this way in 1805. The area was settled by Chetties from Mysore who had arrived in the area in the years following Tippoo Sultan's rule. They appear to have been able to force the local inhabitants to work the land in small plantations on their behalf. This had been done by lending the tribes people money against future crops and then foreclosing on the land when the crops failed to deliver.
The Chetties had come to control the pepper and cardoman trade to the coast.
The situation for farmers in this part of the Wayanad is not so very different today. Many farmers have recently become desparate, having taken out loans in the recent boom in prices, only to be deeply in debt following the collapse in Vanilla prices.
The major change from 1805, is that the population is many times greater than it was in 1805. During World War II many thousands of settlers were brought in to cultivate the area intensively, in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of famine.
As we climbed higher and higher the land turned into dozens of small farms and plantations, each with a bungalow, surrounded by Banana and Palm oil trees.
I found myself wondering what the scene must have been like for Thomas and his men, as they travelled these same ridges in the dark, all the while in constant expectation of falling into an ambush.
I marched at nine o’clock at night; and such was the secrecy in which we set off that our guides even did not know my intention until the moment we took our departure. Previous to this I had deemed it expedient to make a feint to divert the attention of the rebels (who I thought it probable might have their spies in camp) by detaching 70 of my kolkars, under the Sheristadar, under the pretext of going in pursuit of Palora Jamen who was reported to be in the Komanpany Mala in the South-eastern direction, while they had secret instructions after marching half-way to this mountain to strike off eastward to the Kallir Mountain and there lie in ambush near to paths to cut off the retreat of any fugitives who would, in most probability, go off in that direction in the event of our party coming up with the rebels.
Such was the nature of the country that although we kept marching the whole night we did not reach the Kangara river until seven the following morning. Here we divided ourselves into two parties, and proceeding along the banks, observed a vast number of huts, all of them bearing every appearance of recent habitation: we continue marching until nine o’clock, when the detachment being fatigued, a halt was proposed. We accordingly halted, and having taken some refreshment, we again started, with the determination of tracing every jungly path: so fully persuaded was I, as well from the earnestness of our guides as the consideration that this was a part of Mysore that our troops had at no time penetrated or perhaps even thought of doing, that the rebels must be concealed in some parts of these jungles. After proceeding about a mile and a half through very high grass and thick teak forests into the Mysore country, Charen Subedar of Captain Watson’s armed police, who was leading the advanced party suddenly halted and beckoning to me, told me he heard voices. I immediately ran to the spot, and having advanced a few steps, I saw distinctly to the left about ten persons, unsuspecting of danger, on the banks of the Mavila Toda, or Nulla to our left
Fortunately we were well guided by Mr Johnny, who quickly brought us to the head of a small path leading to the site of the Rajah's death.
The path led down hill to a point where the Mavila Toda meets the Kangara River. It is an extremely pleasant site right up against the Karnataka, Mysore boundary. It is easy to see why the Rajah had built his camp here, for he was hidden well away, and could with ease move into Mysore should he wish to flee approaching columns.
What I had not expected, was to find that so many people regularly visit the site. For it was quite obvious from the well trodden path, that the Pazhassi Rajah is still highly regarded today.
The monument is supposed to represent the spot where the Rajah fell. It would appear from Thomas Baber's account that he approached the camp from the opposite bank to the one with the monument on it.
so fully persuaded was I, as well from the earnestness of our guides as the consideration that this was a part of Mysore that our troops had at no time penetrated or perhaps even thought of doing, that the rebels must be concealed in some parts of these jungles. After proceeding about a mile and a half through very high grass and thick teak forests into the Mysore country
There is a very marked contrast today between the Mysore bank which is dry, parched and open woodland and scrub, and the Wayanad bank which is green and covered with bamboo and dense bushes.
Hoping to work Thomas Baber's approach route out, I strode towards the steep bank down to the river, followed closely by my son. At that moment there was a sudden rustle, and my son shouted "snake!", as it slithered over the top of the bank. I just had a chance to see it disappear into the stream. It was quite the biggest snake, I have ever seen, although, probably not particularly large by local standards.
Do people live on in animal spirits?
I have a funny feeling this was the Rajah, no doubt completely daft, but I cannot shake the feeling.
My Indian companions were most alarmed at my continuing into the stream and wading across, but having come that far, I wasn't going to stop, so equipped with a stout stick I found my way across.
If Thomas had come along the Mysore bank it was probably only the briefest of views that his men had had into the huts on the other bank.
From following image taken from Google Earth it is possible to see that the spot where the Rajah was killed falls near the point where a small tributory runs in from the east, into the Mavila Toda. The Mavila Toda runs due north into what Thomas Baber called the Kangara River. Today it is called the Kabini River.
The dry Mysore bank shows quite clearly to the east of the photo.
The Mysore Bank.
Returning to the monument, I was surprised to find Mr Johnny deeply immersed in the print out I had brought of my draft book. He was obviously enjoying it deeply.
As he looked up he explained that he had been fascinated by the story for many years, and as a local journalist and writer had wanted to make a film based around the events of November 1805.
We agreed that it would be a great idea if only we could find a way forward.
Copyright Nick Balmer May 2007