I was supposed to wake up early, supposed to have an early breakfast and supposed to take an early bus. But none of these things happened. I woke up late, skipped the breakfast and missed probably first and second bus. It was not supposed to start like that.
Some months back I and my friend Shihab discussed about visiting Silent Valley NP. This one is the closest NP to my home, school, collage; but I never been to these forests.
Unfortunately when only three days left for the D-Day, Shihab fell down from steps and expressed doubts about visiting the park. On that particular morning when I called him from Mannarkkad bus stand, he was not in a position to walk. Nothing else was planned for the day, so I decide to continue my journey and boarded an Anakatty bus to Mukkali.
Let me spend the time to reach Mukkali to give you an overview about this national park.
Silent Valley NP, part of Nilgiri Hills and located in iconic Western Ghats, is one of the last stretch of land in Kerala not disturbed by any human activities. This small, ever green forest has a core zone and an associated buffer zone.
According to legend, Draupadi - wife of Pandavas disguised herself as Sairandhri during their years in exile and served as queen Sudeshna's assistant - visited this place and reached the banks of river flowing through the forest. Drupadi and Pandavas were amazed by the view of a tiger and an elephant drinking water together both at dawn and dusk from river. After viewing these harmonious relations they decided to halt here.
First English expedition to these forests was during the time of Company in 1857 by a botanist called Robert Wight. They named this area Silent Valley because of the absence of Cicadas. During my visit I heard their sound; according to the driver and guide they exist on the sides of forest roads only - not inside.
Silent Valley was declared as Reserve Forest in 1914. However, timber available from these areas were so tempting that the lengthy hands subjected the land to forestry operations from 1927 – 76 (49 long years).
Administrators had other ideas also in the mind. In 1928, a location on Kunthipuzha River at Sirandhri was identified as an ideal place for hydro electric project. Later in 1958, project was revived and government conducted a study and survey of this area for a 120MW project at a cost of 17 crores. This decision resulted in one of the fierce movement for saving environment in Indian History (in 70s, aka ‘Save Silent Valley). In 1983 then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, decided to abandon the project and Silent Valley became a National Park (formerly inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985); latter in 1986 this area was included in the core zone of Nilgiri Bioreserve.
The main arguments rose for the conservation forest was its uniqueness and her iconic (as well as endangered) Lion Tailed Macaque.
In 2001 Kerala State Electricity Board and Kerala government woke up and removed dust from Silent Valley files. This time they proposed another dam – just 3.5 km away from original position and 500m outside the park boundaries. This announcement was followed by another round of protests. Finally this eco-friendly (according to government) plan was moved to freezer. One positive fallout from this fiasco was the proposal to create a buffer zone. This buffer zone later increased the overall area to 236.74 Sq.Km.
Main rivers draining this park are Kunthipuzha (later joins with Bharatapuzha) – one of the last rivers in Kerala which has a clean catchment area and Bhavani (flows to eastern and cross borders).
In Silent Valley you can see birds like – “Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Nilgiri Wood pigeon, White-bellied Treepie, Grey-headed Bulbul, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Rufous Babbler, Wynaad Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Nilgiri pipit...Ceylon Frogmouth and Great Indian Hornbill” – Wikipedia.
... Red winged crested cuckoo, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Pale harrier...Black-and-orange Flycatcher... most abundant bird was the Black bulbul – Wikipedia.
Mammals include Lion-tailed Macaque, Niligiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Nilgiri Tahr, Peshwa’s Bat (Myotis peshwa), Hairy-winged Bat etc – Wikipedia.
From Mukkali Forest office to Sairandhri forests
After going through several hairpins in Mannarkkad – Anakatty road, I finally reached Mukkaly. Forest office is located within a walkable distance.
There wasn’t any one waiting for a vehicle to go inside. Only a group form Bangalore was standing outside - but they already visited the park. Forest Department provide two type of facilities for tourists visiting the park – Jeep (Mahindra) and mini bus. Jeep can carry a maximum of 6 people - excluding driver and guide; minibus can carry 20+. If I am going alone, I have to pay around 1100. Hence I waited for someone to come. Two more people came and they were ready to take me in, but they may continue waiting for another two for rest of their friends.
I waited for another half an hour. No one came. Finally I decided to go alone. Forest officials requested me to wait for some more time. I want to see the forest with sun’s bright and soft early rays. Suddenly, a couple from Kottayam came and I went along with them.
We started our journey in an old Mahindra Jeep through the mud roads. Jeeps are good for that surface, but our jeep was not at an ideal vehicle for viewing forest. First of all it’s completely closed with a non transparent cover. Back seats are aligned perpendicular to driver’s seat instead of arranging it parallel.
We stopped first to sign in a forest check post and then to see animals/birds/lion tiled Macaques etc. At one place there was a small waterfall, we stopped there for drink some water and take rest.
After travelling some 23kms we reached Silent Valley’s core zone; another one and half km to reach the viewing post. From this multi-storey high viewing post one can see Kunthipuzha River Valley and many other forest ranges.
Strict rules are in place for core zone. Tourist can go only one and half km and then a trek to Kunthipuzha. One can see paper, coffee etc in the beginning of buffer zone but nothing in core zone. Only research scientists – with relevant records and advance permissions – can wander through the core zone.
I was interested in the one km trek to Kunthipuzha River. What’s the point of going to forest, if you can’t trek? But the couples were reluctant to go. I decide to go alone, but then the guide told that travellers can’t go alone. As per the rules he is required to accompany me. I informed the couple that, I would like to go for trekking and see the river. This will of course add another half to one hour waiting time to their schedule (but this is part of the package). In the end I agreed with the guide and dropped the plan.
I still regret that decision. I could have press the matter and go to river. I don’t know why I agreed with them. May be I don’t want to go against so many opinions at that time, maybe I don’t want somebody else to wait because of me. However, now when I am looking back I think that was indeed a wrong decision. I don’t know when I will visit Silent Valley again. Kunthipuzha, when I will see your origins?