Friday, August 6, 2010

Listening to the sounds of silence...

The entrance to silent valley national park

Travelogues are really not my cup of tea (Actually anything in which I cannot mix in huge portions of sarcasm and poor jokes are not my cup of tea).
However a rain-drenched visit to Silent Valley inspired me to pen this lil piece.

Where, how and why?
Silent Valley is a reserve forest located in the Palakkad district in the north-east border of Kerala.It is part of what is called the Nilgiri biosphere (which is an International Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats, in the Nilgiri Hills range of South India).
To get to Silent Valley, you have to first reach Mannarcaud ,which is near Palakkad town. Palakkad is well connected by train and bus to all major towns in Kerala.The nearest airports are in Kochi and Kozhikode (around 3 hours by road).From there you have to travel up through about 20 km of hairpins to reach the small town of Mukkali.The entrance to the ‘buffer zone’ of the forest is here.The actual core zone of the silent valley reserve is about 23 km from the entry point.No private vehicles are allowed beyond the entry point.You have to shell out about 1000 bucks to hire an authorised Jeep with a driver and a guide + around 200 if you’re carrying a camera.(If you’re planning on a trek you can avoid the jeep, but still have to hire the guides.The number of jeeps and guides are restricted, so you’ll have to book well in advance, especially in peak seasons).If you’re planning on a single day programme, you don’t need to make any stay arrangements (Normally the guides bring you back by 2:00 pm max, so you can return to virtually any major town in Kerala by the end of the day).However the real fun is in staying a couple of days and really enjoying the treks in leisure.If you do plan to explore the place over a few days there are a couple of options for lodging (All outside the core area of course)– there are cheap lodges in Mukkalli, a rather pricey resort slightly away and also some government owned cottages (you might have to pull a few strings to get accommodated here though) farther away in Agali (which is around 17 km away from Mukkali)

We had our trip interrupted in between due to a fallen tree.Luckily our guides and the driver managed to clear the path soon

The history of Silent Valley is rather interesting.The area is locally known as "Sairandhrivanam" literally, Sairandhri's Forest. In local Hindu legend, Sairandhri was Draupadi, wife of the five Pandavas, who disguised herself as Sairandhri, queen Sudeshna's assistant, while they were in exile. Apparetly the Pandavas during their exile moved into a untouched virgin forest in what is now Kerala.(Our Guide who belongs to one of the indigenous tribes claimed that the remains of the cave where Draupadi and the Pandavas stayed remains to this day). The first English investigation of Silent Valley area was in 1847 by the botanist Robert Wight. There are various versions as to how the name ‘Silent valley’ came to be – One versions mentions that the British named the area Silent Valley because of a perceived absence of noisy Cicadas. (Surprsingly the moment we entered the core area of the forest we were greeted with the monotonous and unique creeking tune of thousands of Cicadas apparently orchestrating a symphony.Our guide (who interestingly belongs to one of the indigenous adivasi tribes of the area ) mentioned that apparently Cicadas and Crickets are now very much present in Silent Valley, unlike before ).Another story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri vanam. A third story, refers to the presence there of many Lion-Tailed Macaques- Macaca silensus.(Unfortunately due to the pouring monsoon showers ,we could not get to see any of the Macaques ….of course my daughter Nadia was there,no lion-tail, far from silent, but quite the monkey most of the time!)
[The history part is heavily borrowed from wikipedia]

A rather interesting slug commonly seen in silent valley

View from the observation tower

Things to keep with you:
Hiking boots – essential unless blood-letting is one of your hobbies.Whether or not you get lucky enough to see macaques or elephants ,you will definitely meet leeches of all kinds by the hundreds (especially if you ,like me , are nutty enough to go in the rainy season).For the same purpose you need a pack of salt.Applying salt apparently makes the leech walk away in disgust! (Plucking them off might result in their mouth parts remaining in your skin and can later induce a rash ).However half the time you never know that one of them lil suckers was sipping your blood away to glory for quite some time as the bite is completely painless.Keep a few band-aids handy too coz the bleeding from the leech bite tends to go on for some time due to a cute little anti-coagulant called ‘hirudin’ that these guys inject into your blood.
A Swiss-army knife, a torch , rain coats, insect repellent creams and a rope …those are the other things you need to keep with you.Of course a camera (with spare batteries) and binoculars …and if you’re into serious photography protective hoods for your lenses. You can take any kind of food with you but ensure that all the waste is put back into plastic bags and taken back with you.

Leeches enjoying themselves on the legs of our friend Mr Ajay Bhanu

As of now the core area has very little mobile reception, but keep a charged mobile with you all the same (Unless the trip is partly to get away from the stresses of office or married life or both!) and finally while silent valley is a great spot for young people to enjoy nature it may not be a great place to take very young kids with you.

All photographs copyright feroze kaliyadan - please do not copy without permission

1 comment:

AJAY BHANU said...

Yaaaa! Its,attractive and informative.By visiting through the silence even a single day, you made this!!!!!!!!! Very very rare persons only can hear and feel the sounds from the most valuable phenomenon of nature's silence.........
with love ajay.