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ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

Where history lies buried

PIUS Dolmens, rock art and a granite maidan, says SOMA BASU

PHOTOS: SOMA BASU

TOMBS TELL A TALE The dolmens at Pius

If last week’s RLT destination Kanthalloor sounded unusual and obscure, this week’s destination Pius sounded even stranger. My colleagues seriously thought I was mixing up places and spellings and suggested I include the ‘o’ a nd go through the dictionary instead of wasting time on travel maps.But I felt it was worth making the trip, given the place’s off-the-beaten-track image. As I neared Pius, located approximately 45 km north of Munnar, I realised it was not really a road “less known or travelled” for the people on the other side of the Tamil Nadu border in Idukki District. For Pius is famous for its ancient cave-like rock structures, said to be more than 10,000 years old. History has always fascinated me, and, therefore, I was game for a little bit of rock climbing to unravel the story that dates back to Stone Age.

I stopped a couple of times on the road that wound its way through the Western Ghats to ask for directions. The adventure began almost at the foothills. After ascending for about 10 km on the hill leading to Pius, I discovered that the tarred road abruptly ended and it was impossible to drive on the muddy, narrow track for the rest of the journey. So I abandoned my car and began to walk. Despite the sharp sun, the road uphill was not very steep and the upward trek was pleasant.

Discovering the dolmens

Eventually, I discovered I was on top of a huge, flat bed of rock that resembled a granite maidan. In the distance, the mountains formed a dark silhouette. I walked on till I spotted a stone chamber. My excitement grew at the thought of coming face to face with history. The chamber, which was damaged, comprised two stone walls capped by a third one. To the left was a small, freshly whitewashed temple near which was seated a group of people. They suggested that I explore beyond the rock bed as, a little further, I would come across over 500 dolmen caves, belonging to the Megalithic Age. Believed to be built by Neolithic tribesmen, these dolmenoid cists are called ‘muniyaras’ by the locals. A little beyond the first structure, I came across a second cluster of similar big rocks with a flattened top.

I had to pick my way carefully as the path was overgrown with thorny shrubs. The entire area (you could call it a dolmen field) extended across a radius of 4 km. Scattered all over were damaged stone caves. Made of four stones and covered by a fifth one called the cap stone, these dolmenoids were burial chambers in ancient times. The region has several types of dolmens. Quite a few are built above the ground and are 70-90 cm high. A second type is 40-170 cm high. Fragments of burial urns can also be found near the dolmens. Some dolmenoids contain multiple burial chambers. Others comprise a quadrangle scooped out from the laterite, lined on the sides with granite slabs. These are also capped with stones.

I learnt later that the 70-90 cm high dolmens were used to bury people of high social status, while the urns were used to bury the common people.


The dolmens with raised roofs perhaps served even as dwelling places, though no explanation is provided as to why people lived in these burial sites. Overawed, I walked past dozens of these structures.

The dolmen field is located between Pius and Kovilkadavu. The plateau overlooks the Pambar river.

On one side stands an old Siva temple and the dolmens that date back to the Stone Age. To the left, stand several dolmens that have been identified as belonging to the Iron Age, going by the use of neatly-dressed granite slabs. Some of them have a perfectly circular hole, 28 cm in diameter, inside the underground chamber.

On the South-western slope of the plateau are some ancient rock paintings, which have almost faded with time. There are around 10 of them here.

However, historians have recorded more than 90 visual motifs on a huge rock shelter on the eastern side at an elevation of 1,500 metres. This spot is called Attala and the rock is known as “Ezhuthu Guha”, literally meaning Cave of Writing. Except for a few human and animal figures, most of the designs are abstract.

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