Saturday, 27 October 2007

Cannanore, Kannur, day 7

The entrance to Kannur Fort

The pass of eleven bends turned out to be, if anything even more spectacular, and interesting even than the one that we had climbed up into the Wayanad on our way from Kozhikode.

At the top we met a tremendous gale of wind coming in from the sea, and being forced up as it climbed up and over the ghats. The trees growing at the summit were bent over in the wind, much like those along the coasts of the South West of England.

Indeed there was something almost alpine, about the views we could see, quite like the scenes one might expect to see when crossing one of Englands high moors, especially in the form of the plants and trees.

Soon however the road drops down through dense bush, formed or verdant palms, and tall trees, deeply furrowed by waterfalls and streams plunging down the slope. These slopes must be most spectacular during the monsoon, judging by the sheer size of the boulders that the streams are obvious capable of moving.

Small monkeys sat along the verge, and from time to time we passed workmen toiling away to keep the road open, in the face of landslides and monsoon water damage.

Soon we were dropping down through the bends into the coastal plain. I could not help wondering if this had been the Coteaddy Pass that Thomas Baber had fought his way up in 1812.

Colonel James Welsh had written about the part played by Thomas in 1812 with Colonel Webber in fighting up the ghats.

“by a force under Colonel Webber from Cannanore, accompanied by Mr. Baber, the Judge of Tellicherry, whose authority also extended to Wynaud. They had been opposed in the Coteaddy Pass, coming up from Cannanore, and had Captain Hunter and Lieutenant Inverarity severely wounded, with seventeen or eighteen men.”

The pass I was travelling was definitely not the Periya Pass, which I was travelling down, and I knew from discussions with local people that the Periya was a few miles to the north of the pass I was currently travelling down. However, I could not find out whats name was.

Can anybody identify what this pass is called today? Was it the Coteaddy Pass?

I believe that I have been able to pick its approximate location out on the following map.

Click on the map for a larger version.

When we got to the bottom of the pass, we were soon entering small towns and villages strung out along the sides of the road.

It soon became apparent that this area is just as fiercely contested today by the various political parties who's slogans and initials adorned virtually every available wall, and even appeared on the road itself. As it was when the Pazhassi Rajah and the Mappilas fought it out in the early 19th Century.

In one town, our driver told us that this particular area was known to be strongly Muslim, and that it was therefore potentially quite dangerous for him, and indeed any Hindu driver. In the event of an accident, it would be quite likely that he would be pulled from the car and badly beaten, if not worse.

That he was not exaggerating was confirmed by a report in the local paper only a few days later, of a bus driver to whom this had just happened.

We had arranged to meet a local journalist at Kannur Fort, so we passed through the outskirts of Thalasserry, and onto Kannur. We would be returning to Thalasserry in the evening.

Kannur would turn out to be a particularly fascinating place, and well worth a visit.

Located at a point where a large promontory projects out into the ocean, it provides a sheltered anchorage on the coast, as well as an ideal location for a fort of some kind.

Traders moving along the coast had recognised this for centuries. Most traders had however passed on to Calicut and Cochin. The best locations for trade had altered over the centuries. Cochin had been the preferred location for the Chinese fleets in the early 1400's, whilst Calicut had been the point where Muslim traders had tended to congregate.

Generally these traders came in quite small numbers, and although they could swing the balance of power, and often did, between the various local Rajah's, the effects were often short lived.

However, the arrival of the Portuguese was to change all that.

Leaving Melinde on the African coast on the 6th of August 1498, and making use of the south-west monsoon, Vasco da Gama's fleet, was being guided by a local pilot who was familar with the route. As the pilot had fortold, the first land to be sighted was Mount Deli.

This hill which is 286 metres high stands out over the otherwise low lying coast. It is also called Ezhimala. Many of the earlier voyagers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo record it when passing along this course.

Da Gama was well informed about the coast and its ports, and was making for Calicut, home of the Zamorins. They looked into the bay, and recorded that there was "a large town of thatched houses inside a bay."

It wasn't until Da Gama had fallen foul of the Arab and Indian merchants at Calicut, and had had to flee to Pantalayini Kollam, that the Portuguese first visited Kannur.

The Kolattiri Rajah was a bitter rival of the Zamorin, and they welcomed the opportunity to trade with the Portuguese, at the expense of their competitors in Calicut. The Portuguese stayed at Cannanore from the 4th of November 1498 until the 20th of November 1498 when they moved off to Angediva and eventually Portugal.

Over the following years further Portuguese fleets explored the coasts seeking out the best options for trade. Cochin, and Quilon as well as Calicut and Cannanore were tried. In November 1502 after fighting a fierce naval battle with a Moorish fleet, whilst voyaging from Cochin towards Cannanore, during which many Moorish vessels were sunk, or sent burning onto the coast around Calicut, Da Gama put into Cannanore.

He appears to have needed to lighten his ships, and to redistribute his cargoes. To do this he unloaded much of his artillery at Cannanore and buried it. He got permission from the Kolattiri to build a stockage and wall around the site.

Da Gama arranged to leave two hunfred of his men behind at Cannanore, and this appears to have led to the founding of the fort. [1]

Overtime this stockade developed into the current fort. This fort was named Fort St. Angelo by the Portuguese. The fort changed hands several times, being controlled by the Dutch, the Beebee of Arrakal,and Tipu Sultan before being captured by the British on the 16th of December 1790, following a battle to the south east of the town.

[1] From Logan's Malabar Manual

Copyright Nick Balmer November 2007

Sunday, 14 October 2007

The 40 Foot Road, Day 7.

At Mananthavady we had made enquiries of the people in our hotel to see if they could recognise the location of the following painting supposedly of the Periya Pass by Thomas Cussans.

Click on the picture for a larger view, or visit the following url for an even larger and a zoomable view.

This powerful watercolour had been drawn by Thomas Cussans,(1796 to 1870) and is one of nineteen by this Madras Artillery Officer preserved in the British Library showing Cannanore [Kannur] and the surrounding area. I had found it on the Library's fantastic Collect Britain website, which can be accessed at and its strong draughtsmanship had caught my imagination.

Collect Britain has over two thousand five hundred similar paintings and drawings dating from the East India Company period in its collection. One particular section Svadesh Videsh which can be found at is devoted entirely to images of India and Indians images.

The hotel owner and several guests had joined in an animated discussion at breakfast over the print I had shown them, and a consensus had developed on its being down one particular road. It was not however the Periya Pass Road which was the main road towards our destination Thalasserry. I couldn't really understand which road it was however, but Ramesh our by now trusted driver, thought he knew the correct one, and assured us that it was a very beautiful one, and so it turned out to be in ways which we hadn't quite expected.

Leaving Mananthavady by the bridge to the south east we were soon motoring along a country road full of people going about their daily business. As I watched out of the windscreen, a curious thought suddenly struck me. The road was behaving in just the same way as the 18th and 19th century enclosure roads in my native Rutland did as they passed across the countryside. They seemed to be the same width as well, forty feet.

As the road passed through the villages, it curved around the very oldest properties, before plunging off in a straight line directly towards the next bridge or settlement.

The road looked as if it had to have been laid out by a British surveyor, or one working in a 19th Century way.

But how to test this theory?

Calling on Ramesh to stop the car, I jumped out and started to pace across the road from the boundary to the crown. It was exactly 40 foot, just as an enclosure road would have been in England. Next step, to try a side turning to an accommodation road. This should be twenty feet wide between boundaries, and ten feet in carriageway width exactly if my theory was correct.

As always in India, within moments of our stopping a small crowd had formed of puzzled farmers, besides the nearest side turning. Walking up towards them, I could only imagine with what puzzlement they must be viewing my antics, as I paced foot by foot across the road.

Trying "hello", it was obvious that they either had no understanding of English, or they were temporarily struck dumb by my appearance. So sadly leaving them to their puzzlement, I turned and paced out the side turning directly in front of them. It was exactly 20 feet wide.

It fitted exactly.

I do hope that they were not to alarmed by my measuring up their front lane. Did they think me some property developer?

What must it have been like being that English surveyor in the 1820's?

At regular intervals along this road were small farms laid out in exactly the same way that one might to have expected to have seen at Whittlesey Mere or similarly recovered land dating from the 1770 to 1820 period in Britain.

These cottages even looked as if they were designed in a fairly regular manner, and were not unlike Regency farmer's cottages in England, with just an added touch of an Indian style. Yet they still retained a hint of a Regency cottage orné adapted for India's sun and monsoon.

As we drove further along the road it began to become steeper and and to climb, and eventually a range of mountains began to come into view towards the south west. Was this this range going to hold the peak shown in the picture? One certainly had the distinctive twin peaked notch in its crest.

By now the trees in the plantations were becoming higher with tall canopies of palm oil trees, often festooned with pepper vines or under planted with coffee bushes.

A pepper vine running up a tree

Tantilisingly the mountain peaks kept coming into sight, before once again disappearing again behind yet another ridge or belt of trees.

Eventually as we crossed a small river, the mountain came back into view, very clearly and immediately to our south.

Moments later we entered a village, [11 degs 44' 42.28" N 75 degs 55' 30.31" E] and crossed a bridge over a stream. Here the view opened out to the south over the stream clearly opening a vista to the peak. It had to be, and was clearly the mountain in the painting.

Soon another group of villagers had formed around us, but this time ably helped by Ramesh translating we were soon getting lots of advice and help from the men.

We were clearly looking at the mountain in the middle of the picture, which I learnt was called Banasura. [11 dgs 42' 02.86"N 75 degs 51' 35.87"E]

What was a bit puzzling was that some of the villagers were however also pointing south east and south back down the road and where suggesting that the village in the picture was another village to the south, whilst one man was arguing just as strongly, and very insistently that it was not here at all, but further along the road.

Something in the man's demeanour made me think that perhaps he was right. So thanking the others we climbed back into the car, with our new found guide. Soon we had driven perhaps three miles, and I was just beginning to doubt our guides knowledge, when he waved to the left up a side road to a steep little conical hill with a large building on its summit.

As we drove up the hill the road narrowed to a steep bendy track, which was not at all unlike the bends at the right hand end of the picture by Cussans in alignment.

The building at the summit turned out to be St. Joseph's Benedictine Monastery at the village of Makkiyad. It is a modern building probably only twenty or thirty years old, but occupying a very commanding site.

As we set off back down the hill I walked in front of the car, and looking up towards the twin peaked mountain, I suddenly realised that the image nearly matched. I just needed to move back a bit. As I moved backwards, my feet suddenly struck a large smooth topped boulder, and I realised that I had literally stumbled over the artists seat. He had used the boulder as a perch as he drew the scene.

My son sat on the boulder that Thomas Cussans used to draw part of the image. The larger stone behind has only been bulldozed up in the last year or so

The scene looking south from Cussans boulder

The modern view, but with the road widened out and surfaced

What Cussans had done was to merge a series of sketches together. The first sketch was probably made from a hill to the north of the road about one mile east of the first village in which we stopped. It looks due south, into the large valley shown.

He had then stopped further along near the river crossing, probably also on a hill directly north of the actual crossing, and had drawn Banasura, over the top of the intervening trees around the village, before moving on to the west to stop at Makkiyad.

Since my return research suggests that the site of St. Joseph's Monastery may have been one of the fortified posts that East India Company troops had garrisoned in the Wayanad during the struggle with Pyche Rajah, and it may be the track leading to this camp that is shown in Cussans drawing. Perhaps Cussans had stayed in the fort on the summit of this rise.

One last puzzle remained, where is the cliff in the picture?

It doesn't appear to be visible from any of the view points.

I believe it was an invention by Thomas Cussans to fill in a gap between the separate drawings on the page of his sketch book, in order to provide a unified design for the finished watercolour.

From Mayyid we descended the Pass of the Eleven Bends, as Ramesh described it to us. This is not actually the Periya Pass, which is some miles to the north, but a subsidary pass up the ghats. It is a much more pleasant route, than the main Periya Pass road or the Kozhikode to Kalpetta road, because these carry heavy trucks on their way inland. Both roads are hopelessly inadequate for the sheer volume of commerce that daily needs to cross the Ghats, and are therefore not for the faint hearted.

Our approximate route to Thalasserry is shown on the map below.

Click on the map for a larger version.