Silent Valley National Park
|The Silent Valley, apart from being a veritable treasure trove of flora and fauna is also home to one of the oldest and the last stretch of tropical evergreen rainforests. Another peculiarity that makes it unique is the absence of cicadas. These insects that produce an incessant sound characteristic to any forest are absent. Their conspicuous absence makes the forest comparatively silent and hence the name Silent Valley.
Silent Valley is also known as Sairandhri Vanam which means Sairandhri’s forest. Sairandhri is another name for Draupathi, the wife of Pandavas who are the heroes of the great epic, Mahabharata. It is believed that during their 13-year-long exile in the forest, the Pandavas and Draupathi had been captivated by the tranquillity and serenity of this area and spent a long time here. Hence, the name. There is also a river flowing through the place called Kunthipuzha, referring to the mother of the Pandavas.
It was in 1847 that the first investigations in the Silent Valley area were conducted by Robert Wright. The valley was given its name by the British because of the absence of cicadas there.
During the 1970s, the Kerala State Electricity Board began working out the details of a hydro-electric project to be started at Kunthipuzha. The proposed project triggered off protests from various quarters, especially environmentalists. The environmentalists argued that the project would threaten the unique flora and fauna, disturb the ecological balance and put an end to the bio-geographic isolation of the area that was vital to its existence. Owing to the protests, the project was abandoned and in course of time, the state government proclaimed the area a national park.
Location and topography
The Silent Valley, nestled in the high mountains of the Western Ghats, is about 45 km away from Mannarkad. It forms a part of the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
The valley sprawls over an area of 237.52 sq km and houses four types of vegetation - West Coast tropical evergreen forest, southern sub-tropical broad-leaved hill forest, Montane wet temperature forest, and grasslands. With altitudes ranging from 725 to 2383 m above sea level, the Silent Valley has a rather cool climate, with temperatures rising up to 30 degree Celsius in summer and dipping down to eight degrees during winter.
The crystal clear waters of Kunthipuzha flow across the entire length of the Valley, enriching it, before finally meeting the Bharatapuzha.
Flora and Fauna
Silent Valley harbours more than 960 species of flora and its montane rain forests and tropical moist evergreen forests remain rather undisturbed.
Over 17 species of plants identified here come under the Red List of the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature). The IUCN is an international organization dedicated to natural resource conservation. Its Red List compiles information from a network of conservation organizations to rate the most endangered species.
Sholas, grasslands etc., too are also part of the valley’s topography. It also contains the towering Culinea trees - home for the Lion-tailed macaques, an Old World monkey endemic to the Western Ghats.
The Valley is decorated with orchids of various hues. More than a 100 varieties of orchids can be seen here, including rare ones such as the Malabar orchid. Plants of high medicinal value are also seen.
The Valley is home to 25 species of mammals, 12 species of fish, 35 species of reptiles, 95 species of butterflies and 255 species of moths. Gaur, the largest wild cattle, Lion-tailed Macaques and Nilgiri langurs are found in the Valley. Tigers, leopards, civets, sloth bears and the Sambar are some of the variety of animals found in this undisturbed forest terrain.
With more than 170 species of birds, the valley is an ornithologists’ paradise. Out of these, 16 have been listed as threatened by Birdlife International. The Nilgiri Wood pigeon, the Malabar Parakeet and the Nilgiri pipit are found here. The rare birds include Jerdon’s Imperial pigeon, the Great Indian Hornbill, the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush and many others.
The butterflies found here belong to 95 different species and includes all species of Crow butterflies, the Malabar Rose, the Buddha Peacock, the Blue Nawab and so on.
How to reach there
Vehicular transport is possible only till Mukkali, which is about 22 km away. Silent Valley is again more than 20 km from Mukkali; from Mukkali you can hire a jeep to Sairandhri. Entry to Silent Valley is restricted and prior permission of the Assistant Wildlife Warden should be obtained.
The jeep journey from Mukkali to Sairandhri is breathtaking, with nature unfolding its green magic all along the way. From the top of the 100 feet high watchtower at Sairandhri, one can get a bird’s eye view of the entire valley. Adventure travellers could trek to Poochappara, Neelikkal, Valakkad or Poovachola. The Kuntipuzha, the smaller brooks with clear waters and the wildlife all go to make these treks a great way to spend some time in the lap of nature.