A Wild Trail Through Kerala’s Unique National Park

A Wild Trail Through Kerala’s Unique National Park
Bhavani river originates from the Nilgiri Hills and enters Silent Valley National Park, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Find out more about Kerala’s Silent Valley National Park as Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy unravel the mystery behind it

Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy
April 14 , 2021
06 Min Read

For a name like Silent Valley National Park, the place was alive with sounds of the forest—the gurgle of the brook, the buzz of insects, the whoop of langurs and the chirrup of giant grizzly squirrels in Culinea trees. When Scottish botanist Robert Wright explored the area in 1847, he named it after the relative absence of cicadas. Cicadas do not thrive well in wet climate. Since Silent Valley does not receive nine months of rain anymore, the cicadas too were back…

According to legend, the Pandavas stayed incognito during their agyata vasa (secret exile) in this dense jungle. It was called Sairandhri, after the alias assumed by Draupadi, and the river was called Kuntipuzha, after the Pandavas’ mother. Pathrakadavu is regarded as the spot where the mythical akshayapatra was washed.

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Though Silent Valley abounds in legends, it is its ecological importance that makes it special. Between its notification as a reserve forest in 1914 and declaration as a national park in 1984, a protracted and sustained campaign by the public, media, activists and expert committees had helped protect this unique habitat.

We were in one of the last tracts of undisturbed tropical evergreen rainforest in the world. Surrounded by steep ridges, hills and escarpments, Silent Valley’s topographical isolation allowed it to develop into an ecological island with an unbroken bio-history that evolved over millions of years. Driving past tribal settlements and the forest gate at Mukkali, we reached Sairandhri and hiked through the wilderness accompanied by experienced forest guides.

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Of the 960 species of flora here, 17 come under IUCN’s Red List. Our guide pointed out the giant tree fern Dinosaur pulpan, described as a ‘50 million year old living fossil’. Tapping the hard tree trunk, he intoned “Iron wood of the forest, in Malayalam Churuli, scientific name Mesua nagassarium.” Braving leeches on our walk, we reached the watchtower. The sign ‘Even Toddy Cats have stopped drinking in the park’ was clearly aimed at revellers. From the top, we got a panoramic view and of the Kuntipuzha river cutting through the valley.

Fed by several mountain streams, the river dashes down the Anginda and Sispara mountains, and flows south through the park after which it is called Thuthapuzha before joining the mighty Bharatapuzha. A one-and-a- half-kilometre path from Sairandhri led to the river with a steel suspension bridge, a rusty relic from Kerala State Electricity Board’s controversial and now defunct hydroelectric project.

Lion-tailed macaques

Of the 315 species found here, the park’s flagship species is the lion-tailed macaque (macaca silenus). The vedichakka fruit of the tall Culinea tree is its primary food source and over half the global population of these macaques can be found here. The park also harbours 25 species of mammals, 35 species of snakes, 12 species of fish, 255 species of moths and 100 species of butterflies, including many endemic to the region like Malabar rose, Malabar tree nymph, Malabar raven, Buddha peacock, South Indian blue oakleaf and Tamil catseye. Mukkali, the park entrance to the south, is the only place in Kerala where all three species of crow butterflies–common, double-branded and brown king–are found.

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There are other winged visitors too. The checklist of 200 species of birds includes Ceylon frogmouth, Nilgiri laughingthrush, Peninsular bay owl and the elusive Malay tiger bittern. We spotted a great Indian hornbill swoop down from its lofty height. The peaks of Perumalmudi and Velliangiri Mala rose against the mountain folds while the tallest peak, Malleshwaram, is worshiped as a gigantic Shiva linga by local tribes.

Trekking is not promoted, though the buffer zones abound in numerous hikes organised by the Eco Development Committee—the Bhavani river trail (6km), the Karuvara waterfall trail (8km) past an Irula tribal colony and the Keeripara trail (10km) to scenic grasslands. Dark clouds swirled in and we just managed a hike back to our vehicle as the call of a lion-tailed macaque resonated through the forests.

The article was first published in November 2019. 

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