Kerala is known the world over as God’s Own Country for its culture, people and abundance of natural beauty. A visitor’s true intake of the geographic beauty of the land is best obtained by taking a drive through the land. Road tourism is still at its dormant stage in Kerala, although the prospects are unbounded. The proposed Hill Highway connecting Nandarapadavu in Kasargod to Parassala in Trivandrum, winding through the hilly portions of the State, stretching to a length of 1332.16 kilometers, is one important project taken in the right direction tourism wise, which would also enable fast development of the generally backward hilly regions of the state.
Due to its unique topography, most of the development within the state has been happening near the eastern shoreline, which has the two National Highways and the railway lines passing through it. But for the hill terrains, the only means of transport available is roads, which on the most part, are in a pathetic condition. NATPAC (National Transportation Planning and Research Centre) had submitted a report on the project to the Government, stressing on the necessity and the hidden potential of materialising the proposal of developing a Hill Highway.
A road system connecting the hilly localities of Malabar was a demand put forward more than half a century ago. In 1970, the Public Works Department formed a division targeted at the development of a Hill Highway across the state. The major boost came when the State Government gave State Highway status to the roads listed out for the Hill Highway project in 1997 and NATPAC was entrusted with the job of studying and sorting out a road map linking the hill towns. The study was completed in two parts, between Kasargod and Palakkad and between Palakkad and Trivandrum. The Kasargod – Palakkad section received approval from the Government in 2005 and the Palakkad – Trivandrum section received it in 2009.
The total length of the proposed stretch totals 1332.16 kilometers. The Hill Highway touches thirteen of the fourteen districts, the exception being the district of Alappuzha. The road system generally passes through the western most portions of the state, through the thickly vegetated hills of the Western Ghats. However, four portions have been identified as 'missing links', where the vegetation is simply too dense and fragile to provide accessibility. At such points, the highway takes a detour through the eastern valleys before winding back to reach the hills. The 'missing links' mostly occur in Wayanad and Idukki districts. The regions which have been alienated from the highway would be connected through 206.75 km of feeder roads.
The proposed Hill Highway needs the least number of displacements and building of new roads. The project proposes to upgrade the existing hill roads and connect them to make for a long continuous stretch. If the Hill Highway becomes a reality, it would go a long way in helping farmers take their products to the market faster and receive better prices. The road would have a standard two lane width of between 18 and 24 meters. Work is already on at various parts of the state in relation to the implementation of the project. The Hill Highway, which would be numbered as State Highway 59, would be the longest highway in the state.
But the real potential of the highway lies in the tourism sector. The Hill Highway would pass through some of the most scenic spots in the state and a well maintained road connecting these separate spots would do wonders for the industry. Road tourism is a major branch in the tourism sector in many developed countries. The division had remained stagnant in Kerala due to the lack of good roads connecting the right spots. That drawback could be erased through the materialization of the Hill Highway which would allow visitors to literally take a ride to enjoy the natural beauty of the state, which has earned it a spot among the fifty destinations to visit in a life time.
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