There exists in India, a tropical evergreen rain forest with an unbroken evolutionary history of 50 million years. Steep escarpments and ridges on all sides ensured that this plateau remained unsullied by man, thereby preserving its rich bio-diversity. The multi-layered canopy harbours a variety of plant and animal species, many of them hitherto unheard of by Science. A new frog genus supposed to be of the Jurassic era was discovered in the year 2003. It is no wonder then that scientists have described Silent Valley as ‘the richest expression of life on Earth’.
Silent Valley is a virgin, fragile forest, nestled in the mountain folds of the Nilgiris in Southern India. In God’s own country, Kerala, Silent Valley is surely God’s own abode. It has etymological connotations to the absence of noisy insect cicadas that are generally abundant in tropical rain forests, although now, cicadas form an integral part of the forest. The local names of the valley and the river that flows through it, resurrect the grand tale of the Mahabharata. In the local lingo, Silent Valley is called Sai-randhi-vanam or Sai-randhiri (synonymous with Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas) and the river is called Kunthipuzha (synonymous with Kunti, mother of the Pandavas).
Cut-off from civilization and commercialisation, Silent Valley is an ideal destination for nature lovers, researchers and gutsy trekkers. Undulating mountains and lush greenery greet the eye at Silent Valley. View from the watch tower at Sairandhiri is panoramic and the entire valley below appears to be a wavy green enormous carpet. A silver line that runs through is the Kunthipuzha.The interpretation centre at Sairandhiri imparts information on various rare species of orchids, plants and animals. Kunthipuzha is a 2 km down hill trek over a suspension bridge. With fresh elephant dung strewn around on the path leading to Kunthipuzha, it is the nearest one can get to wild elephants. Lone male tuskers are a dangerous proposition as can be judged from the frenzied paths they pave through thick foliage. However, there is no danger from them unless of course, you bump into them. The most famous resident of the park is a medium sized species of monkey, called the lion tailed macaque. Other animals include tigers, leopards, snakes, Malabar squirrel, Nilgiri langur and the malabar laughing thrush. The only nest-building snake, the king cobra is a prized possession of the park. Vibrantly coloured butterflies, fluttering their enormous wings create an artistic mosaic, which is a sight to behold. Early mornings and evenings are the best time to spot animals. Silent valley was once a battlefield, when the proposed construction of a dam on the river Kunthipuzha by the Kerala government for its hydroelectric project, constituted headlines in almost every national daily in the late 1970’s. The dam was to submerge the verdant valley together with its prized fauna. The debate between environment and development attracted international attention and continued for over a decade. Scientists, researchers, ecologists and nature lovers the world over united to preserve Silent Valley and a ‘Save Silent Valley ‘ campaign was launched. Their efforts paid off, when in 1984, Silent Valley was declared a national park. Today, the park is well conserved and has been declared a biodiversity hotspot. Two of its prized animals, the lion tailed macaque and the Nilgiri langur are listed in the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) red list of threatened animals.
Do’s and Don’ts
As the park and adjoining areas are declared polythene free zones, polythene going in must find its way out. Animals, which are unfamiliar with polythene and plastic may choke on them and die. The forest abounds in leeches. These 1-inch long, dark-brown thread like creatures latch on to any open area of your skin and bloat on your blood. If possible, wear high ankle leech proof jungle boots. The experienced forest guards however, roll up their trousers till their knees to easily spot leeches clinging on to their skin.
Procure all required permit slips from the forest department office at Mukkali, before entry into the park. Mukkali, 23 Km from Silent Valley, is the starting point. A forest guard accompanies each group as a guide and also ensures that no damage is done to the fragile flora and fauna. It is also safer to stick to your group. Silence pays, as chances of sighting animals are heightened. Do not be disappointed if you don’t see animals, as they are shy of humans. Be patient, observe keenly and you will find the forest teeming with various life forms.
Information for Trekkers
Only serious trekkers find their way to Silent Valley, as trekking in this undulating terrain with thick vegetation is no cakewalk. Trek to Poochipara (Cat’s rock, 7-Km steep climb from Sairandhiri) takes 3 hours. Trekker’s are allowed to stay in the five camps of the forest department set deep inside. Trek routes can be chosen based on the duration of stay (1-4 days). A 4-day trek route starts from Mukkali and goes through Sairandhiri-Poochipara-Walakkad-Sispara and Anginda. Trekkers must procure all requisite permits from the forest department office at Mukkali or from the Wildlife Warden at Mannarkkad. For treks starting from Mukkali, all permits and payments are made at the forest department office, Mukkali. A guide-cum-cook accompanies trekkers through the trek route for the entire duration.
Silent Valley is situated in the northeastern part of Palakkad district, Kerala. The nearest town is Mannarkkad (66Km). Bus transport is available to Mukkali(23 Km). You can hire a private jeep from Mukkali to Sairandhiri or trek right up. Jeep takes 1 hour while a trek uphill takes between 4-5 hours. Visitors are few as the place is totally non-commercialised. Forest officials are helpful and dedicated.
Entry fee per visitor is Rs 20/-. Private jeeps from Mukkali to Silent valley and back cost Rs 450/-. You can also take your own vehicle with permission from forest officials (Vehicle entrance fee-Rs 100/-). On the way uphill you see the Karivara farm inhabited by the Mudukar tribes of the Attapadi forest reserve.
The forest guest house at Mukkali has dormitories and 3 rooms. The inspection Bungalow at Sairandhiri has 4 rooms with solar powered electricity. Room rent for a couple at both places is Rs 400/- and rooms are quite basic. There is no other private lodging facility available anywhere nearby. Hence it is best to book your accommodation in advance.
Nearest town: Mannarkkad-66 Km
Nearest Airport: Coimbatore (68 Km)
Nearest Railhead: Coimbatore (68 Km), Palakkad(106 Km)
Best time to visit: September to March
Contacts: Wildlife Warden, Silent Valley National Park, Mannarkkad, Palakkad, Kerala, Pin-628582 (Tel: 04924-222056) Email- firstname.lastname@example.org
Assistant Wildlife Warden, Silent Valley National Park, Mukkali P.O, Palakkad, Kerala, Pin-678582 (Tel: 04924-253225). Emailemail@example.com