In Search of the Haunted Bungalow at Bonacaud, Trivandrum - Kerala

George Max

New Member
Bonacaud or Bonaccord (as used by British) - Spread over 2500 acres of valleys, hills forest and waterfalls, was once a magnificent tea estate started by British more than 135 years back, right below the Agasthya mountain ranges in Trivandrum, on the majestic western ghats. It is a far cry from the glory days prior to 1991 when troubles started in the estate, thanks to a large part by the neo-economic policies by the Govt. From then onwards, the estate has been on a downward slide and the current picture presents a contrasting scenario – of the forest & nature reclaiming the cleared land , providing the emerald landscape and the life of the remaining settled workers (mostly from Tamilnadu who had settled long back) who hope for a better tomorrow. Few people know about the existence of this spot and perhaps, that might be the reason why the place still remains virgin and natural beauty intact. The estate is currently being held by a North Indian group.

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Lates 80s and early 90s - An old Road Transport Corp. (RTC) bus which had the board ‘Bonacaud’ passed through our school bus-stop every morning during school days. It was always packed to brim and the bus had unique sounding horn. The place remained mystic over years, until a heavy rainy morning in June 2010, when we drove into the place. There, it lay ahead of us, covered in mist, rain, forest, ruined plantations, dilapidated structures, abandoned homes and few people. As we made the first stop near the factory, the RTC bus came in. The bus had 2 passengers, far cry from the packed scenes many years back. I asked myself whether this was the Bonacaud I had in mind and soon my question was answered as we talked to few people around and one person in particular gave us a run through the history. And that laid the foundation for the numerous trips over 2 years, learning & discovering..

Bonacaud is nearly 40km from Trivandrum, taking a deviation from the Ponmudi road at Theviyode Jn. From the Ponmudi main road, it is only 13 Kms, but the road is narrow and winding, offering beautiful views of the Agasthya mountain ranges. There is a ‘Jersey Farm’ – a dairy run by the Government which is just at the end of the road before the start of the long winding road. You got to declare yourselves at the Forest Checkpost before entering the hill road. Unlike the Ponmudi road which is pretty good, the Bonacaud road is relatively battered and possibility of wild life (elephants, leopard etc.) sighting is high too. The State Road Transport Corporation runs few bus trips at 2 hours gap from Nedumangad (Presently, an RTC bus goes to Bonacaud from Trivandrum Central depot at 5.30Am). On the road up, there is a watch tower from where once can have a clear view (on mist free days) of the Peppara Dam and its catchment area which is to the right and as you turn your vision to left, you can see the green mountain ranges and the factory and buildings dotting the Bonacaud estate and the winding roads snaking further up to the Top Station (again, if its free from mist).

Peppara dam view

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1st view of Bonacaud settlement
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The Bonafalls, a spectacular large waterfall is nearly 6km from the Bonacaud tea factory. Vehicles can be taken only 2kms to a Forest Checkpoint and Bungalow and the remaining 4 kms are to be trekked through a heavy forest path. The permit for the trek has to be taken from the first Forest checkpost before reaching the estate. However, the permission for the Bonafalls trek has been cancelled for over 2 years now as the elephants in the area are reported to be highly violent against humans. Starting from the watchtower mentioned earlier, the sound of the waterfall is audible till you reach the factory.However, the pristine beauty one was driving through for so long turns into beauty of ruins you near the estate area. Acres of ruined tea shrubs, covered by undergrowth and huge barren trees dot the final run into the estate. Broken walls, semi-collapsed ‘layams’ or dwelling units for plantation workers, a single tea-shop etc. welcomes you. The constant rain and mist makes the place evergreen with the mosses everywhere – on the walls, on the tarmac, on the trees.. A public TV stand which is broken sans the TV stands as a monument to the once lively evenings when the workers would be gathering to watch TV.

an underlying darkness stood out more than the brighter side of creeping greenery..may be, there was no one to walk down the bridge and open the door

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A single ‘hotel’/ provisional store caters to the need of the remaining workers. The owner is a simple man whom I had befriended during last visit. He recognized me after some effort and I asked him if there are visitors to the area. He told that during favorable climatic conditions, some groups would come to trek to Pandipath (further up the Top Station), but they never bother to stop over the estate area or talk to the people there. During first visit we had explored around the factory and immediate estate areas which were riddled with ruined settlements, partially broken homes and lives, staring eyes, friendly eyes and people who were happy that we were willing to listen to their stories – stories of a glorious past. The factory was closed and there had been no activity for more than 5 years. But currently, there are some activities, thanks to the Government intervention and some change in management. Tea were being plucked at some sections and the whirring sound of machines were heard. A good sign..

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At close quarter, the place may lie in tatters, but the real beauty lies in the distant past, which is shrouded in mystery just like the cover of mist. As a novice in my first ‘trip’, I was struck by the beauty of the ruins. On the second ‘trip’, we were privy to some of the past lore. That was when the ‘trip’ turned into a ‘journey’. The journey started taking us through history, culture, life, co-existence of humans & animals, where humans are often in subordinate role..It was on the concluding part of one such journey that the hotel owner told us about a Bungalow, which the settlers believed was haunted. As he spoke about the past, he raised and pointed his finger to a huge pine tree higher up in the mountain – “behind the tree is the Bungalow” – he said. Mist was descending down covering our vision of the pine tree. On the return trip, we discussed the possibility of making a trip to the Bungalow..Opinion was divided – It was risky to go up the mountain on a narrow path (easily motorable by an SUV) since elephants, leopard were a possibility, refusal by some of the locals when we had asked them if they would guide us to Bungalow etc etc.. But still, something was pulling us, pulling us to explore further up the estate area and find out the Bungalow. We planned many times, but the trip didn’t materialize..Then, one Friday morning in September 2011:

A conversation between four nuts – (07:00 Am) “Where to?” – “no idea”, “somewhere?” – “nowhere”, “nowhere?” – “hmmmm..maybe somewhere”, “where?” – “pack up, we are heading somewhere and maybe we can decide on the way” (07:02 Am)

“oh no, not again” (07:04 Am) – lamented my better-half as once again, the four nuts were ‘in search of solitude’ (how come 4 can have solitude together is an interesting area of research which we are attempting to explore more), trying to catch-up with the carefree spirit of +2 days after 15 years. The “where to’ was answered as we decided to drive to Bonacaud in search of the Bungalow.

Soon, the drive to Bonacaud was on and we had the customary stop at the hotel near the factory. We asked the hotel owner if he could guide us to the Bungalow. He was hesitant and laid out reasons, but we told him that we would make up for his business for a day and after long cajoling he agreed to guide us. The sky was turning turning dark from the mountain side with the mist accompanying it, sun was still shining down in the valley on the other side, making the grey skies atop the mountain more sinister. We asked about the condition of the road and was told that the soil roads were redone recently, but still bumpy and rocky. The trip so far had made us damn hungry and the food packets were cleaned off accompanied by the black tea and omelette ordered from the shop.

The trip ahead took us through some spectacular drives, through the middle of enormous loneliness of the tea plantation, settlements (partially abandoned) in between and the sight of the catchment area of Peppara Dam at some curves. We felt as if it was a different world, often the roads lined with mystic red flowers falling down from particular type of huge tree. Only sound was that of the car ad the chirping crickets and the occasional wind. The lights were magical, one moment we were under spotlight, next moment, the mountain behind us was in spotlight. In next corner, we faced the dark grey sky which opened up pretty soon. The next few kilometers was under the violent pounding of rain and we were wondering of anyone would be up there in such a place. At the next corner, we were surprised to find a crèche, we stopped there in awe thinking of how one could be placing a crèche at this point and suddenly, two ladies and kid came out to the balcony looking at us. That image still refuse to leave our mind – 3 souls in the midst of all this loneliness..
The drive continued and the pace was very slow, often in first gear over the rocks and muddy water. For a moment, we thought – what would happen if the vehicle got range for mobiles, not even a single person around, and the forest cover over the estate getting more thick. Rain cleared off and we drove on as the path got narrow into single lane, there were few ruined homes/ structures. These were supposed to be there from British period and the location was such that it provided a stunning view of the valley down below, the factory area and dam. Yet it didn’t look like the huge Bungalow we were told of.

The drive continued and the sky turned grey again slowly..Finally, we sighted the Officers Bungalow which was ruined and we were told by the guide that the we were nearing the real Bungalow. Happy that we were on the right track, we continued the trip and suddenly we spotted an elephant dung. Gulp!!! Then we said to ourselves that it might be an elephant brought to pull the fallen trees (what a wish..) We decided to push further up and continued. But, with each passing corner, the dung was getting fresher and fresher. Then, the realization sunk in that the path was single lane only, mist was setting in too fast and torrential rain was hovering around. The guikde told that conditions were not favorable to advance – elephants were hard to be detected in such bleak climate and this could make them more dangerous. Better sense prevailed and we decided to call off the ‘search’. The next step was to find some space to turn around the car. At one curve, there was enough space to reverse in steps and that was when, rain opened up its fury again.
The rain didn’t relent as we drove back to the factory area and finally reached the guide’s shop. He made us strong tea to ward off the biting cold. As we looked up the mountain, the visibility was so much reduced by the mist and we started our return trip. Rain was still pounding the jungle road and didn’t let up even after we reached back home.

oh boy..we got company
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Two more attempts we made in November 2011 and March 2012 to find out the Bungalow, but again, both trips had to be called off due to inclement weather and signs of wild-life around.

August 2011 – Once again the desire to find out the Bungalow reared its head and without much delay, we were driving to Bonacaud again. “oh noooo..not again” - the shop owner shook his head again as soon as he saw us. Once again, after softening him up, he agreed to guide us. The climate was more favorable this time..though overcast, conditions for rain were less and the wind was less. Once again, we drove through the same route and as soon as we reached the curve where we had reversed the car during the 1st trip, the guide asked us to park the car there and said it would be better if we trek by foot. Ok – we said and set off on the trek through narrow paths between the plantations, which was being eaten up by the creeping forest. The trek was long since there was no clear path and the guide too had problem in the sense of direction. It was bit frightening as well as we were surrounded by tall trees and dried up tea stems. Only bright light was the appearance of sky once a while and the fact that the original tea plantation was visible further up.
At a clearing, the guide asked us to wait and he set off to trace out the pine-tree..the wait continued and we got bit restless imagining what if some animals decided to pay us a visit. After 20 minutes, the guide returned and we were relieved. He told us that he traced out the path and we followed him through a mini-forest and suddenly, the area cleared out to present us with the sight of the seemed to be the only structure which we had seen so far which remained intact despite being started to eaten up by the jungle. The structure was huge and from behind the bungalow, we could see the beautiful vistas ahead, offering dramatic view of the world in front of it. The Bungalow was flanked by 2 structures, supposed to be a servant quarters and guards home. Both the structures looked dilapidated.

The Bungalow - GB 25, built in 1951

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The sky cleared out more as we explored the adjoining structures and after taking many snaps, we finally proceeded to the Bungalow. There was a special feel, which was unexplainable. The gate was joined together by stones and the guide opened it for us. Walking by the side, we could see that the surroundings were cleared recently. The guide told that it could have been done by the estate owner who had visited the estate recently after long period. The front side had a huge area which once was a beautiful lawn. The Bungalow itself was situated in an elevated which offered excellent view of all sides and a clear vision to the factory area down below. The top station was farther 3km from where the Bungalow was situated and from the lawn, one could see the mist clad mountain which was further up from the Top Station. The description of the Bungalow might run into many pages and I’m stopping it here.

The doors and windows seems vandalized and the doors were closed with some wooden frames. We got inside the Bungalow jumping through an open window and at the same moment, got flashes of a royal British home. It was a triumphant feel as we walked inside the bungalow, room by room. The electrical works inside was also ripped off. We went to the rooms one by one and finally reached the main room which was just behind the lawn. Sitting at the bay window in the room, we tried to imagine how life would have been in its prime-time. The rooms stood as silent witness to many seasons and changes in history. The bay window gave 270° view of the outside world..If it was one wall less, then it would have been 360°. ‘If only..’, ‘Why did..’, ‘Why didn’t..’, ‘How could..’ seems to be the few selected words that comes up to mind of had tried to understand ‘why & how’ things reached the present stage. We may never get the full answer, but when a part seems to be answered, new curiosity creeps causing a wild and restless drive..

One of the view from the bay-window (to the real forest)

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The climate changed suddenly and we could feel the cool breeze turning into howling wind. The sky changed its color and rain started pounding. We spend hours listening to the tales being told by the guide.. Occasionally, we looked out of the window to the section of the estate where the real forest started. As we watched the narrowing trail lines through the plantation disappear into the forest, we remembered the words of our guide – “I saw my dad clearing forest to make way for plantation and we worked on it during the glorious years and now, I’m watching the forest take back its rightful share”. He told us whatever was driven up the mountain have started making a comeback..Asked if anyone had ventured behind the last visible point of the narrow trail recently, his answer was negative. Asked ‘why’ no one ventured into the mystic woods, he said “we were driven back as people started intruding too much into natural forces and look where our life is now..”

It was evening when the rain had cleared off and it was time for us to say bye-bye to this magnificent bungalow. Haunted or not-haunted, we are going to return again to explore more. Like the ‘Eagles crooned in ‘Hotel California’ -

“You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!"

The place would remain a photographers paradise for the variety it provides

The team

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Thanks for this write up. Brings back a lot of memories. I was a regular visitor to this estate during the late 80's winding up the mountain on my motorbike looking out for elephants. Currently I live in United Kingdom. The very lawn you have pictured here was a typical English garden and a well kept bungalow. Sitting on this very place we sipped whisky watching the evening sky and the valley below with the tea estate manager. The last of the British managers left in 1972. In a way I am happy that nature is reclaiming it. I hope in the future who ever runs this place does so respecting the environment and space for the wild life. The place is a precious gem and should be guarded accordingly.