Total Pageviews

Thursday 4 December 2014

Devala Gold Mining - Nilgiris

Devala Gold Mines ( Thanga Malai )

Perhaps the most intriguing trek i have done in Nilgiris so far and the reasons are several. From the first memories as a child, travelling through the kakur Ghat otherwise known as Vazhikkadavu Ghat ( Churam) from Gudalur - Nadugani - Vazhikadavu we could see the remains of deep gold mining tunnel patches on the opposite hills from a distance. My generation have heard enough stories while growing up in the district but my fascination towards Nilgiris and history of the district made me collect and read some of the rarest British books of 19th century. Some of them are The Nilgiris by W.Francis,  Ootacamund by Frederick Price, The Neilgherries (1923) by Robert Baikie,  The Aboriginal Tribes of the Nilgiri Hills (1870) by  William Ross King, all these book have greatly helped me visualize the stories from the Toda Lands to the Nilgiri Mountain Railways, The transformation of five briddle paths into roads and the destruction of huge forest lands into Tea and coffee cultivation which lead to another extravaganza known as the 1878 infamous Gold boom in Devala/pandalur area.

A bit of History

History dates back to 1830's where Gold Mines were found upto 10 to 50 feet in depth worked by mappila slaves for the Nilambur Tirumalpad Raja, the slopes from O valley passing Devala, Pandalur, Cherankode, Nelliyalam,Nilambur upto wayanad was Owned by the Raja. Adivasis and Mullukurumbas were enslaved for the same purpose. Around the same time Gold boom mines were explored as far as Horashola near kotagiri. Evidence of ancient gold workings have been found in different parts of the Nilgiris- Nanjanad, Parson's valley and lovedale.

By 1860 Britishers found scope for enormous mining of Gold when their geological experts reported about large scale gold deposits. Since the control of land belonged to the Raja, The English started leasing acres of land for 250 rs per year even though they disliked the idea of the Tirumalpad owning the lands and asking a percent of share along with the yearly rent. In 1874 Alpha Gold mining company with a capital of 6 lakhs was started. When gold rush began in 1879 nearly 41 Gold mining were registered in London with a capital of over 5 million Sterling including 6 Indian Companies and the Small towns of Devala and Pandalur started flourishing with a post office, police station, churches, hospitals, Buildings, lavish bungalows at commanding positions and even a horse race course laid out on the paddy fields to sustain their Mining activities.
The sleepy town was now buzzing with a European population of 300 people and more including Ladies . The price of the land Shot up and the shares of companies grew every 50 percent on the basis of reports sent by the Mining experts all before an ounce of Gold was found.

                                                        That is actually an Elephant ..   ;)

And after some delayed mining process the operator finally sent a cable to london with a positive message which read " The principle mines which began crushing showed result of 4oz to 1 ton of quartz" The share prices went wild at unimaginable heights. But that was probably the end of the infamous Gold rush because the next 19 ton resulted in just 2 dwts of gold. Immediatley shares dropped 300 percent never to recover and many of the companies went into liquidation and within the next 1 year 33 companies closed their gates. The buzzing place resembled ghost towns within a couple of years. The Nilgiri Ghazateer of 1908 observed 3 or 4 houses, the old store and race course survives. Many little hills with derelict buildings, grass grown roads, long forgotten tunnels used by wild animals and lakhs worth of rusting machinery which never erected.

Year 1910 - 1964 - 2000

After 1910 till the srilankan tamil repatraits resettled to a new citizenship act in 1948 and negotiation between two countries resulted in Shastri - Bandaranaike Pact of 1964. This pact allowed repatriation and resettlement of the stateless in India. A substantial number of them were resettled in the Pandalur-Devala region. Soon, they took up gold mining, following the example of the local adivasis. Even local planters threw their plantation knives and took the hammer chipping the boulders on the hill they owned because most of the coffee plantations were already destructed in the name of Gold mining by the Britishers.Thousand of acres of Coffee plantations were thrown out of cultivation with the gold bug in their head. Slowly tea plantations replaced coffee.

The next 50 years all the mining areas were open ground to the New Srilankan Tamils and the aadivasi kurumba people who continued to dig mines as small scale individuals following the golden line " Either you become rich quickly or live long enough to experience goldmines till death".
 Even though Tantea had maximum chunk of tea plantations there was scarcity of required labour.  1 in 4 families depended on mining as the average earning was double even if the work was highly dangerous. The process of Mining in simple terms followed like finding a spot to Dig either horizontally or vertically. The tunnel would go as deep as  60 to 80 foot deep shafts. Lit by battery powered head torches and metal tools, pickaxes and ropes. The rock are excavated and more team people does different jobs like crushing the unwanted big rock pieces  into manageable chinks, bringing back around 15 kg of reefs back to the crushing mill where the stone are crushed into sand. The sand is then taken to the river bed and pan it. After panning several time the sand is then dried under the sun and Mercury is applied to separate the gold dust and finally after extracting the mercury is finally washed off. The original Gold is then finally taken by the nearby Middle man for a decent price.

                 Kakur Ghat or Vazhikadavu Ghat (choram) seen on the opposite Mountain 

Presently for the last several years Gold mining is illegal, even today more than 2000 people are purely dependent on their daily yeilding of the Golden powder hoping to hit a jackpot one day! But the forest department has limited entry of any mining activity in an around the reserved area in order to protect the eco system.    


  1. Gold exploration I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post.