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Saturday, 6 January 2018

A surprise visit to an ancient jail in the tea gardens in Ooty

  A jail in the tea gardens!That was exactly our reaction when we happened to see the rusted sign board while we drove down from Ooty.The people around us actually did not find the sign board worth noticing,since we were the only four who walked down to the jail building after taking directions from the Tan Tea outlet on the main road.After all ,a jail is the last thing anyone would expect in such a picturesque surrounding.

We walked past beautiful huts of the workers of the Tan Tea Estate to reach this asbestos roofed building.From a distance ,the jail building looked more like a well maintained warehouse to me.

A lone watchman hurriedly opened the doors of the jail to us. He readily explained the interiors of the jail in what we assumed to be Tamil.We were obviously the only visitors to the jail that morning.This is not very surprising ,as this place finds no mention in the places to visit around Ooty.

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The jail has two huge halls running parallel with cells lined up to one side. The asbestos roof has openings at places to allow sunlight.Towards the rear end of the jail ,there also exists a small room used by the British as an execution room  (as the watchman told us). The main hall of the jail is surrounded by dispensaries and office rooms.Part of the jail building has been converted to a tea museum.We went inside to take a look ,but there was nothing much to see except for models of the tea making procedure.
A jail immediately brings many questions in our mind.But what I was wondering is why should a jail be built in such a remote place.This one of course had  a very different story.

       In the 19th century  the British were starting tea plantations on this region of the Nilgiris which is called Naduvattam.Along with tea they found the climate of this place suitable for cinchona plantation and planned to grow this medicinal tree here.At the beginning they had started the process with help of the locals ,but seeing a slow progress they applied for more labours to the British government who sent  566 convicts from the Second Opium War and also  from the British Straits Settlements( Singapore,Malacca and Penang) to work here as labours .

The Naduvattam jail was thus constructed to accommodate the convicts somewhere around 1865.Another reason for bringing the convicts here was the rare possibility of escape of the convicts from the hills.With the Madras jail running short of space,this was a relief to the British. After completing their sentence,the convicts  were left free here ,who married local Tamil women and settled as dairymen and tea garden workers.It goes without saying that they never returned to their country.The place nearby ,where they settled is called the Chinese village till today.

This was a very insignificant place,but had a very dynamic past.Quite in contrary to the solitary look it bears today.The rooms around the jail building were locked,except the office building,where the watchman himself issued us tickets. He could only explain very little of the intriguing past of the place.There were many stone and metallic objects of those times lying around,with none to explain their use in the past.And then the execution room,though morbid ,yet it is  always fascinating to many.So did the convicts try to escape the jail at times.There was a lot to listen to ,but practically no one to tell.

This was my fourth visit to Ooty ,but I had missed this place in all my earlier visits.Probably because we had concentrated more on the very popular tourist destinations  here.
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The main building

The picture of the structure below was a canteen for the Britishers,as told to us ,but we felt that alternatively this place might have been a place to store the collected tea leaves,as their was an weighing machine right outside it.


                                                 The office rooms,in the premises

There were many things lying around old and rusted ,which we could not comprehend.Had there been a guide ,many of these objects would be explained.


                                                     The corridors and the cells

                                            An opening in the roof to allow sunlight

An old rusted latch,on the jail door 

The execution room

The Naduvattam Jail Lies to the right of the road while we drive down from Ooty.The best landmark being a Tan Tea outlet on the main road.There are two main roads to Ooty ,one being the route which goes across Masinagudi and the other via Gudalur.The ancient jail is located on the route which passes via Gudalur.This place is located after the Pykara lake and is about an hours drive from Ooty(approximately30 kms.)

1 comment:

  1. Ani nteresting concept to note- thanks for sharing!