Amidst The Green : Kerala’s Estate Bungalows

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Bungalows that uphold our rich agricultural heritage and have stood the test of time.

Text: George Abraham Pottamkulam  Photos: Stayhomz

The shores of Kerala have always spread its red carpet to seafarers from faraway lands. The advent of the colonial British, chiefly the adventurous and enthusiastic planters, marked a sweeping transformation in the life and topography of the high ranges of Kerala. The rich harvest and the amiable climate of the land were the main factors that tempted many of them to settle down. The Estate Bungalows, they built amidst the plantations are mostly the exact replicas of the Victorian countryside ranch homes with colonial architecture. The Kerala architecture remarkable for design, with its complicated but elegant and magnificent dimensions of carpentry, used the Thachushasthra (the science of house-building). It must have attracted the curious Saippu (the Malayalee slang for Sahib), for some used the native carpentry to enhance and beautify their residences with woodwork. To this day, even after nearly two centuries, these bungalows retain their charm and elegance, not to forget the grandeur.

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Ashley Bungalow Tea Estate

The Ashley Bungalow was built in 1875 by Henry Baker and his associates. The building stands commanding a magnificent view facing south, onlooking the valley which flows down gently to the plains below. Ashley Estate is one of the earliest clearings on the hills of Central Travancore in Peermade. The bungalow has steps with scalloped ledges which is a curious mixture of local styles and English architecture. The garden is landscaped with a green lawn fringed on the southern side with trees. The westerly wind sweeps across the drawing room, set majestically with large doors with spans of glass running the full southern side. Seated there on the plush sofas you will feel like a King, and would leisurely love to sip a cup of tea from the estate. The second highest peak on the Western Ghats called Amrithamedu, shoots up from the boundaries of this estate. From the drawing room on the western side, there is a little passage that ends just before a single room, tucked in a corner. A large bedroom adjacent to the passage on the western side is also unique with tar and black oxide laid on its floor. It is furnished with massive cots and furniture made in abstract Victorian and mid-Victorian styles. All four bedrooms have fireplaces and large bathrooms. This spacious home, with lofty ceilings made of wood and tiled floors, is still kept in its old grandeur by its present owners, A V George and Company.

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Kalaketty Estate Bungalow Rubber Estate

The beautiful two-storied country house was built in 1930 on property granted to Mr. K.V. Joseph by M.E.Watts, Dewan of Travancore. The building is situated amidst a lush green 150-acre estate of mixed plantations of rubber, coffee, cocoa, and others. The steeply pitched, tile-roofed, double storied house has front balconies and tiny verandahs which run the full front of the south-east facing bungalow. It is a typical blend of early Syrian Christian architecture with the traditional Malayali style of numerous cross ventilated doors and windows. On the first floor, a small part of the hall is set as a library from where one can step into the balcony offering a magnificent panoramic view of the fields below. The single large bedroom with heavily timbered doors and windows has red oxide polished floors and are spacious and richly furnished. The walls plastered with limestone stucco added with egg white are neatly finished and kept impeccably white to this day without losing the mirror like shine. The photographs which adorn the walls of the house clearly define a rich lineage that runs down to three generations. A curious variety among the photographs is that of Mr. Watt -an English man who represented rulers who handed over the title deed of the estate to the Pottamkulam family.

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Downton Heritage Cardamom Estate

The Bungalow is situated on a clearing surrounded by cardamom plantation on one side and a natural forest on the other side which has varied flora and fauna. Here the plantation crops of the Downton Estate and the greens of nature coexist in perfect harmony. The Estate, which has an original title deed dated 1912, was granted to a band of local planters by the rulers of Travancore. J. R. Vincent, the prominent rubber planter in Mundakayam Valley, bought the initial clearing of over six hundred acres in 1926, and named it the Downton Estate, Downton being a village near Southampton England was where the Vincents used to go cycling during their childhood. He built a colonial style ranch home, the Downton  Bungalow in 1930. The Downton Estate was brought by the K.I. Varkey Karimpanal in 1947 from his brother A D Vincent. One part of 80 acres is presently owned by the Kayalakkakom family. The cottage style construction features both masonry and woodwork. Though the original slate roof has been replaced, the sheet roof was a common sight in the British Era. It’s a fine example of practical, function based architecture. Much of the original furniture has been replaced, it still retains the charm of cottage living.

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Glenrock Estate Bungalow Coffee Estate

Built as the summer home of Her Highness Sethu Lakshmi Bai, the erstwhile Regent Maharani of the Travancore Royal Family, the Regent House named Indira Mandiram (mansion of lord Indira) in 1926, is a private residence situated at Kuttikanam in Idukki district. Locally known as Ammachi Kottaram, the mansion is a curious mix of Kerala and Colonial style of architecture. The bungalow sits in a verdant estate of coffee, tea and cardamom. The exterior granite walls of the home have been witness to many historic events in the time of British India. The arched doorways lead to spacious rooms with high ceilings. Large windows and skylights bring in ample light and air. Some parts of the house retain the traditional flooring and the detailed woodwork. The verandahs of this once royal residence, overlook scenic views of the Western Ghats.  This stately home was bought by was bought by prominent entrepreneur, Mr K. V. Thomas Pottamkulam, in 1950 and converted to Hotel International, considered as a fine halt for travelers from lowland Travancore to Periyar. It changed hands in 1958 to the present owner, Michael A Kallivayalil. The house retains its granite foundation and many original features, despite renovations over the years.

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