Lost in the Woods @ Parambikulam...
Two days and the distance that I had to cover was close to 50 kms, trekking thorough one of the best biodiversity hotspots in India. Can I do this or I can't, a cloud of incertitude eclipsed my mind. With this dubiety kicking in mind, I boarded the bus a late Friday night after the day’s work hoping that the weekend would end up with some exciting experiences.
The next day morning, I woke up as the bus stopped in search of the correct route when we reached Pollachi. While we were motoring along the road planked on both sides by trees, I could see big billboards of Jayalalita and Karunanidhi which confirmed my curiosity that we were in Tamil Nadu.
But we were going for trek in the forests of Parambikulam which is in Kerala. The puzzle got resolved when I learnt that the only entrance to this wildlife sanctuary is through the Anamalai Wildlife sanctuary which is in Tamil Nadu. We paid all the necessary fees at the check post to get into the sanctuary and the sky appeared a bit cloudy that day.
Along with few others, I was going to start my trek which is commonly known by the name 'Tramway Trek'. There is a little bit of history to this which says...
The tramway was set up in 1905 under the visionary of Maharaja of Cochin Sri. Rama Varma to transport Cochin teak from Parambikulam to Chalakkudy. From there it could be exported to the rest of the world thorough the Cochin Harbour. The total stretch of this tramway is close to 49.5 miles running through the thick forest, crossing many rivers and the time taken to cover this distance was 9 hours. It was around 1953 that this tramway was stopped for a number of reasons.
All that remains today are the remnants in the form of rails, bridges, wagons, etc. A couple of years back as a befitting tribute to the centenary of the Cochin State Forest Tramway, an eco-friendly trekking plan was launched along the tumbled down tramway route. The foot trail along this rail trail will give an opportunity to see the remainders of bygone days of the transport system, besides seeing hundreds of birds and animals including tiger, elephant, sambhar, spotted deer, sloth bear, porcupine etc.
This is one of the best managed wildlife sanctuaries in India.
The bus took all the trekkers near the gate of the Parambikulam Dam, which was the starting point of our trek. From the bus, what we saw were a pleasure to eyes, peacocks dancing in the woods and spotted deer milling around.
The route offered some fresh sites that made me indulge in fantasy as if someone was using the river water bed as a mirror to teach the basics of reflection.
The trek started at around 10AM and by now the sun was shining bright and smart. The entire trek course was along the river and it was amazingly beautiful.
Since, the initial trek path is flat and regular, I was looking for some excitement and it was just the right time that our guide showed us a herd of elephants near the river bank. After drinking water and cleaning themselves, the elephants moved towards the trek route and this was an ultimate moment of excitement. These colossal creatures were just 60 meters away from the group. We were all lying on the forest’s leaves carpeted floor like soldiers in a war field and I positioned my camera lying down to get a perfect composition. People wearing white shirts and caps immediately put on something non-white because elephants react aggressively to white color. We were resting on the forest floor with pin drop silence, except for the sound of the birds chirping in the woods and the crackling sound that one gets when walking over a bed of dry leaves till the gang of elephants and calves (total number was around 15) passed by.
It was 11:30 AM by then. Our guide told us that, we could catch some more wild actions since this was the time when a bunch of tigers would plunge into the river for some coolness. Hope ran high, but we couldn’t trace them. But we spotted few crews of deer and sambhar, but these species being a sensitive lot, vanished when they encountered a foreign element in their territory.
The gang reached a small tribal colony in the midst of the forest at around 1:30 in the noon for a small break after having trekked for around 10kms. The entranceway to the tribal colony was a bridge across the Kuriakutty River. The bridge though not in operation, still stands intact and the rail line snakes through some thrilling landscape.
Lunch was served to us by the tribal people, which comprised of simple rice, sambar and cabbage fry dished out in dry leaf plates. The food provided the much needed energy and the journey started again. The dry forest was slowly given way to dense evergreen forests.
En route, we traced many birds such as grey hornbills, the great pied hornbills, etc. Also I found some snake's outer skin, hanging from the branch of a tree.
As I was trekking through this abode of greenery, a lot of emotions swam through my mind. And one needs to be in such a secluded place to feel vulnerable to the wild, exhilarated, beatified, commoved, expectant, anticipative, disappointed and happy at the same time. There was exquisite greenery all around with no presence of human beings and I was walking alone with music on my ears courtesy my iPod. It just appeared that the road ahead was never ending.
It was around 5 PM in that we reached the endpoint of day one trekking. The night stay was in an anti poaching camp at Muthuvarachal right next to the flowing river at an elevated altitude. Just imagine the excitement, when someone is there in the dense forest, with the only source of light as either the moon-light or the candle light. Insects creaking and mosquitos' bombinating to attack were the only sounds that one could hear. Even though this camp was at a raised tract, surrounded by trenches, there were still chances of tracing some wild animals in the pitch dark.
We had dinner, which was boiled rice and legumes again courtesy, our tribal friends. We woke early in the morning the next day at around 6 AM and set out for a walk. The jungle was fresh with the earthy smells of the morning. Strolling through the luxuriant vegetation, we saw some pugmarks of a leopard and marks left when the prey was dragged over the dampish soul.
We returned from our morning jaunt and had our breakfast at around 9AM. Then we started for our return journey which lacked verve and we planned to trek till lunch time. As I trekked I could see lots of 'manchans' (tree-top houses) but the most interesting finding was a bird studying center in the heart of the forest. This unit is built in the honor of late Dr. Salim Ali, a renowned ornithologist who had found more than 100 species of birds, traveling on the tram way route.
I saw a wide variety of insects, frogs and other creatures during my return journey. It was around 2PM that, we all had lunch in the same tribal colony, where we had food the previous day. Since we were drained out of energy, our guide asked us to take the Tempo traveler else it wouldn't have been possible for us to leave the forest by 6PM.
As the vehicle was traversing through the bends and the curves of Western Ghats, the scene of the Parambikulam dam was breathtaking from a higher altitude. The next break point was to see the largest and the oldest (as it is close to 450 years now) teak tree in the world, Kannimara Teak. Parambikulam was once home to some of South India’s finest stands of teak but most of these are now replaced by teak plantations, which cover around 9000 hectares of forest land.
We saw a couple of monkeys, lion-tailed macaques, Indian Gaurs too from the Tempo traveler. By now it was 6PM and the return journey to Bangalore started. We made a couple of stops on the way back for dinner and for having tea from road side stalls and before we could realize, we were back in the concrete jungle by 4:30 AM.
Since I was tired, I took some rest before the grumbling and groaning Monday work started, unwilling to let go of the endearing and striking Sunday. Monday, I had a business meeting in the Taj Hotel at Bangalore, and then when I was having lunch there in the neatly manicured gardens, it just reminded me, how life changes suddenly. Just 24 hours ago, I was in the woods having food in a tribal colony and now I am in a restaurant, with a great assortment of cuisines.
Well that's how life is. Take it as it comes.
The remaining pictures of the trek are here in this album.
Keep reading and remain connected.