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Red Fort


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inside Silent Valley

If you have been nurturing a dream for decades of seeing Silent Valley, when it actually unfolds before you in reality. it just might be a bit hard to believe! Its beauty could just leave you quiet...in the depths of silence. Silent Valley, spanning along the districts of Malapuram and Palakkad of Kerala, is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas on the planet and the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP) is one of the few remaining tropical, evergreen, rainforests of the country supporting an amazing variety of life forms, of which many are endemic to the western ghats. About and 75- 80 % oi the land is covered with thick, woody vegetation and about 20 % by grasslands. It has thick undergrowth and huge trees vying with each other in their competition to catch the sun. It has heavy rains during the monsoons and is closed for tourism. The fauna comprises the endemic lion-tailed macaque, elephant, leopard,. tiger, Nilgiri tahr, Malabar giant squirrel, monitor lizards, deer, gaur etc. and a large population of birds like the hornbills, Malabar whistling thrush etc. The place is teeming with the more common birds like the drongos, tailorbirds, spotted dove, marble pigeon, koels etc. The lion-tailed macaque is a rare primate endemic to the south-westem ghats found only in the intact rainforests and Silent Valley is one of its last strongholds.

Your hired vehicle or bus from the Forest Office will usually have the driver double as your official guide, though, Lord help you. if he knows only the local language and therefore can't communicate with you...that can actually amount to murder of your trip...seriously! You start at 8 am for your trip to Sairandhri, 23 km from the Mukkali gate, on a stony. mugh path. On the way, shafts of sunlight seep through the trees in patches making vivid and weird, shadow patterns. There's the famous landmark which is a 250 year old Jackfruit tree on the way which the guide will show you with pride! You pass the tribal settlements in the valley and wonder how they live so far away in the back of beyond. Mind you, all the way you are actually travelling in the rain forests.

At Sairandhri there's a watch tower for tourists. If you can climb the 124 steps of this 30 mtr structure at an altitude of 1018 mtr, you will be greeted by heaven on earth! From here you get an awesome bird's eye view of the exquisite, verdant hills around and the Kunthi river and its hanging bridge down in the valley.

From Sairandhri you embark on your one km trek downhill on a rough pathway through the evergreen rainforest down to River Kunthi which you saw from the top of the tower. On the way you will see the richness as well as the fragility of the rainforests the latter because there are hardly any rainforests left in the world. You might just chance to see the lion-tailed macaquee(Macaca silenus) or atleast you'll get to see the trees of the fruit - locally called the mullan chakka fruit - its staple food which it loves. On the way, of course, you are very likely to pick up a leech or two on your exposed limbs without which an experience inside the rainforest is just not complete! A good way to ward them off is to tie salt into a large hanky and shake the creatures off your limbs. Kunthi river is one of the pristine, fresh water rivers in Kerala within the SV with an intact catchment forest. The river is the last point of the trek from where you get back.

Permission is required from the Kerala Forest Department for tourism inside SVNP. For the short one day trip usually taken by tourists, permission can be obtained on the spot at the Forest Department office at Mukkali. This trip includes a short trek of about 2 km to the hanging bridge at the Kunti River and back. Tourists are not allowed to stay in the valley and must return to Mukkali by evening. Unlike the central Indian parks where tourists take a morning and afternoon trip inside the forest, entry into the valley is allowed only from 8 am-2pm. You can stay at Mukkali at the Inspection Bungalow or other resorts or even at Mannarkad.

Silent valley is easily accessible from the major towns of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Coimbatore,  the nearest railway and airport in TN is 90 kms from Mukkali and Palakkad (Palghat), 60 km away, is the nearest railway station in Kerala. The route from Mannarkad to Mukkali is a one-hour memorable drive on an enchanting ghat section through dense forests. For a stay at Mukkali, reserve rooms in advance through the Forest dept. Or you can stay at Mannarkkad and hire a jeep to reach Mukkali by 8 am. The visit to the Valley and Kunthi river will take only a day, and you can return to Palakkad the same evening.

The ‘Silent’ in Silent Valley has several connotations. The area is locally known as Sairandhrivanam', literally meaning in Malayalam Sairandhri's Forest. When the Pandavas, deprived of their kingdom, were sent on a 14-year exile, they halted beside a river here. Sairandhri was the name Draupadi adopted while she remained in disguise as queen Sudeshna's assistant, when in exile. A story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri.

The British named the area Silent Valley because of a perceived absence of noisy cicadas; however, the cicada, as in other forests, has become ubiquitous here too, brought in, they say, by biotic pressures and climate change. Yet another story refers to the Latin name of the presence here of many lion-tailed macaques - Macaca 'silenus'.

In 1914 the forest of the Silent Valley area was declared a Reserve Forest. In 1973, India's fiercest environmental debate was raised by environmentalists, when the Kerala State Electricity Board decided to implement the Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) centered on a dam across the Kunthipuzha River. The reservoir would flood 8.3 sq. km of virgin rainforest and threaten the endemic and endangered lion-tailed macaque. In 1983, Indira Gandhi, decided to abandon the Project and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park. On September 7, 1985 the Silent Valley National Park was formally inaugurated and a memorial at Sairandhri to Indira Gandhi was unveiled by Sri. Rajiv Gandhi. On September 1, 1986 Silent Valley National Park was designated as the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Since then, a long-term conservation effort has been undertaken to preserve the Silent Valley ecosystem.

‘Silence’ could have other shades of meaning as well. Silent Valley, exquisite in all its manifestations, could just leave you speechless! On the other hand, that this heaven on earth is sometimes threatened by the dams that spell imminent doom, could leave you speechless too. Go take a look while this rich storehouse of biodiversity still belongs to nature.