These are memories from seven years ago, of a trip to Silent Valley in Kerala. Hope to visit the place once more.
” I suffer from wanderlust and there are ever so many places on my list that I really want to visit before I die. Some of them have just not happened even after almost finalizing the itinerary. Some trips just happened out of the blue without any prior notice or planning.
Finally, this last December , I was able to fulfill one of those dreams. I visited the Silent Valley with two of my other friends.
Madhavi and I travelled to Kannur from Delhi and from there proceeded to Palghat by an overnight bus, where Vijaya was supposed to join us. Ravi, another young friend working in Hyderabad, couldn’t make it at the last moment as an unexpected hartal over the Telengana issue made it impossible for him to reach the station to catch his rain. The poor chap was so very disappointed.
Anyways, we reached the Palaghat station at about three in the morning. Vijaya’s train was scheduled to arrive at 5.30, but it was running late. We sat on the steel chairs near the counter , just inside the entrance of the station. They weren’t comfortable as we kept slipping off and our eyelids were heavy with sleep. There weren’t too many people around at that hour. So Madhavi and I decided to sit more comfortably on the ground, leaning against the pillar. We dozed off. It was quite embarassing to wake up and find a long line of people who had queued up beside us in the meanwhile.
Vijaya’s train finally arrived . It was more than four hours late. As we didn’t want to waste any more time we hired a taxi and reached Mukkali in about two and a half hours’ time. Mukkali is the base camp of the National Park. We had done prior telephonic booking, followed up by e-mail, for our stay there. The Inspection Bungalow does not have too many rooms, but they are nice and clean and spacious. All three of us got accommodated in one room. The rent was quite reasonable.
The Britishers had come looking for these trees for building sleepers on Railway tracks.
There are no other hotels around . We had lunch at a small dhaba like place near where we were staying. An old couple served us hot rice , sambar, curds and pappad. It was a simple meal but very satisfying.
That evening we trekked a bit in the buffer zone area. The National Park has a core area of 89.5 sq.kms and is one of the best representative evergreen forests existing in the world.
There has been very little human interference in its history and hence is splendourously glorious in its rich biodiversity. I’m speaking of the core jungle area, of course. Visitors just get to see the fringes.
The place gets its name from the total absence of cicadas which otherwise inhabit the tropical evergreen forests .
While walking along the rough path through the forests that evening, we spied huge elephant droppings. They were dry, so the pachyderms must have walked that way many days ago. We did see a mother and its baby from a distance on the mountain slope across. It is a very strange , inexpressible feeling to come across an animal in its natural habitat. One feels so much the intruder.
The next morning we went on a jeep safari through through the forests, stopping at intervals when our guide spotted some animal amongst the trees or on top of it. The lion-tailed macaque is an endangered species that is seen in these forests and we were lucky to spot a couple of them on our way. These monkeys survive on the fruits leaves and buds of a particular tree. Without those trees they would be destroyed. There are a large variety of such relationships thriving in these virgin forests.
No wonder then that when the Kerala Electricity Board initiated a hydro-electric project to be built across the River Kunti , Silent valley became the focus of a huge environmental movement that continued for many years. Eventually in 1984, it was Smt. Indira Gandhi who stalled the project. Unforunately she was killed the same year and it was during the time of Rajiv Gandhi that Silent Valley was declared as a National Park . The Silent valley Movement was perhaps the first story of success in the history of environmental protection in our country and our visit happened to coincide with the silver jubilee year of it being declared as a protected forest.
It is difficult to describe the richness of such a forest . After winding through the roads, which had been built by the Kerala Electricity Board when the hydro project was just mooted, we reached a watch tower. From atop the tower , as far as the eyes could see, there were mountains and ridges thick with trees.
The canopy was beginning to change colour here and there; red and greenish yellow and pink.
One kept wishing for those compound eyes which insects had , which could look in many directions at the same time. In a couple of months time, the entire forests would be a blaze of red, we were told.
After getting out from the jeep, we trekked about one and half kms into the core area.
That was as far inside as visitors are allowed to go which was a huge disappointment , although one should have expected that. So unless you are a forest ranger or a guard or a photographer or researcher with a special permit, all those beautiful orchids and flora and fauna which thrive in all their glory in the deep jungle become accessible to you only in the books and photographs and postcards one can buy at the office at the base camp. Still, we considered ourselves lucky that we could make the trip.
We had a late lunch after getting back. Rested and refreshed we strolled down along the road in the evening , stopping by to chat with a family and requesting them for a few luscious looking deep pink “Chambakka” fruits which stared at us invitingly from a tree in their small courtyard. There are a few families living in the buffer are, most of them from the tribal community. They help the forest department to preserve the forests, preventing forest fires and poaching.
At dusk , dark rainclouds gathered and soon there was a steady downpour. We sat near the entrance of the Inspection Bungalow , watching the rain and chatting with the Wildlife Warden who came by after a while. A very amiable person he was and quite in love with the forests, although he admitted that when he joined the forest service , it was just a matter of having some job. But the forests begin to grow on you after a while, he said. He regretted the fact that there was far too, little manpower and too little budget allocated for protection of the forests in comparison to what was being spent on policing , say a city like Trivandrum.
Just behind the Inspection Bungalow, the Bhavani River flows by. This is an Eastward flowing River which joins the River Cauvery, whereas the River Kunti flows Westward to join the Bharatapuzha. We climbed down the steps in the early morning, the next day.
The rains of the previous evening had increased the flow and the waters flowed gushing by.
Sitting there listening to the sound of running water was so soothing and soporific. We could have continued sitting there for hours. But we had to get back.
The bus ride from Mukkali to Mannarkad had us swerving from one angle to another as we had to travel standing and the roads kept winding around the slope. From Mannarkad to Palaghat it was comparatively much more comfortable. We broke up at Palghat station. This time Madhavi went on to Ernakulam to visit her relatives and Vijaya and I returned to Kannur.
I’m going to Silent Valley again, if possible during the monsoons. That is a promise I’ve made to myself. Let’s see. Meanwhile, do have a look at some of the photos I clicked.. Believe me, they cannot capture what its really like . The images of the green, green forests stored in my mind are going to haunt me , particularly in the coming months, when here in North India , the Loo winds will bring the dust and heat. To twist and old song “ Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something bad” to be deserving to live in this cement jungle. But then again, I must have done something good to deserve going back to the rains and greenery of my home state , don’t you think so?