Thursday, August 5, 2010

When we broke the Silence in Valley...

When my friend and I chose Silent Valley National Park as our destination to chill out for two days, we were bombarded by queries about safety of two girls going there without any male company. Though we were put up a brave face, we were a little apprehensive when we finally boarded the bus to Mukkali, the place where the forest station is located, from Mannarkad.
Drizzle on and off failed to dampen our spirits. We reached Mukkali by 2.30 pm on July 26 Monday. The place resembled location of an award-winning Malayalam movie... a dilapidated bus-stand, people in humble village costumes, tea shops from where one could catch up with Akashavani... We took an autorickshaw to the forest inspection bungalow not knowing it was so close by. Also, my friend was reluctant to walk up with her bag which she claimed was ‘too heavy’.We reached the spacious inspection bungalow nestling amid soothing green. We were thrilled to find that a gushing sound that surprised us was that of a river flowing by the side of the bungalow. “We are going to stay here!!!” We screamed with joy.
The security at the bungalow showed us our room — Kunthi — named after a river. Other rooms too were named after rivers. We were the only occupants in the palatial bungalow that day. But once we got in touch with the forest officers and guards, our safety concerns were cast aside. They were so warm and extended all support for our safe stay there. In the evening, we went out for a walk in the drizzle. We first enjoyed the Bhavani river which was gushing after the rain. Then took a walk up the road which had green and only green on either sides. This is a small village, and any outsider is easily spotted. Or else, why should there have been many curious faces peering at us? Soumya, a social worker at Silent Valley, made us feel at home and guided us.
We had informed the restaurant nearby, run by an old couple, that we wanted dinner. Since there are very few clientele, if you don’t inform early, they shut shop and go to sleep by 7.30pm! Had yummy home-like food by 8 pm and had no choice but to go to bed by 8.30! Television is yet to intrude into the cosiness of the forest bungalow. We were up early in the morning, thrilled to set out on the jungle trip by 9. The Eco-Development Committee’s jeep took us into the depths of the green there. Driver-cum-guide Vinod was so friendly that he even picked and threw away leeches from my leg when I screamed for help. Huge trees and lovely mountain streams welcomed us all the way. Vinod showed us the favourite food of lion-tailed macaque, the unique species of Silent Valley National Park. Not-so-smooth ride for 22 km, which takes more than an hour, took us to the entrance of the core area of the Park. One more kilometre inside, we were asked to get down and walk. Forest buildings and information centres were located there. Cloudy sky had almost rendered the place look as if it was 7 pm though it was just 11.30 am! To make it worse, the area was engulfed in thick mist. We headed towards the watch tower which was 100- feet tall. My friend and our guide who were least bothered about my fear for heights forced me to leave it behind and follow them. At the height of 100 feet we shivered in the effect of heavy wind and mist. Though one of the forest guards had told us there was a heard of elephants at the mountain slope just opposite, thick mist blocked the view. Though disappointed at not being able to see any animals, the entire ambience had a thoroughly recharging effect. Later we headed for river Kunthi, which was 1.3 km walk from there. The innumerable leeches that got on to my feet freaked me out. We were armed with a packet of salt to fight them. End of the trek, we were awed by the wild beauty that welcomed us by the side of river Kunthi, untouched by humans. The hanging bridge over it that connects to the other core areas of the park, the wild flowers and deep green all around provided a breath-taking view.
There was just enough time for us to pack our bags and leave the place after the trek and ride back. We were so surprised by the way they take care of the reserve forest area. The entire 23 km we travelled inside the forest, there was not a single plastic paper to distract us from enjoying the beauty of the wild. Praiseworthy team work by the forest department. We clicked pictures at all possible points as proof to make our friends believe that we did go into the wild successfully! We returned with a lot more images which the camera couldn’t hold. Green memories... which promise to be ever-green.