My journey to Parambikulam started off on a slightly painful note. Nothing serious, just the kind of pain that comes with a message or shall we say warning? As I stood there, with my unassuming hand on a bamboo tree, my reverie was rudely interrupted by an army of red ants. I guess I was in their way. A reminder of the ways of the jungle, that everything here is yours to enjoy, but from a distance; this is our world so let us be and take your experiments elsewhere... Take nothing but memories and pictures of course.
The tree house that I have booked is right at the middle of the forest, beside a beautiful river and literally a nest of sorts. A nest that is perfect for two, but book it well in advance. The images that the internet searches coughed up had me yearning to get there as quickly as possible. This is the only tree house here with a view that can leave you spell bound.
The tree house is located facing the Thunakadavu reservoir which is before you reach Parambikulam. The other tree house at the reserve is near the Parambikulam town. Only the one at Thunakadvu offers a spectacular view and more centrally located in the forest. Annoyingly enough, I was a tad immersed in my phone. I am not letting this device rob me of the pleasures that awaits me here, especially the silence without the intermittent mobile rings or the beeps. The fading goodbye screen on my mobile is just the start, to the many good things in store.
The car slowly moves from the Sethumadai check post in Tamil Nadu towards Parambikulam. On both sides of the road, whistling bamboo trees and the air had a pristine quality to it. For a second, I wished I had a stronger sense of smell like animals, so I could differentiate the various scents of the jungle. Dark shaded summer flowers beside the road and the only tree that I could name was the familiar Kannikonna. I remembered the bittersweet warning by the ants and hence never laid a finger on the flowers or the plants. There is still some more distance to cover to reach Parambikulam. Unlike the Pollachi - Valparai smooth route, there isn't much of a road to get to Parambikulam, just a dirt track. The hairpin turns are plenty though. The speedometer shows a little under 30 km/hr. The striking sights here are the groups of playful monkeys jumping and racing across the tree branches. Even a slight murmur from our vehicle instantly turns them into funny little London statues.
The Parambikulam forest guarded on both sides by the Karimalai hills and the Vengoli hills is replete with Sandalwood trees, Rosewood trees, Teak and Arjuna tree. As the drive progresses the forest gets denser. The road ahead, lies like an entwined creeper on a behemoth tree, until you reach the top. It was only when I reached up and looked down did I realize the height that we were at. A herd of spotted deer happily plays about and I had to quiet down the urge to go and run along with them.
Back in Kerala
The location of the Parambikulam Reserve is quite interesting. The route which starts in Kerala, goes through Tamil Nadu and finally enters Kerala again. When you cross Palakkad to reach Govindapuram, it’s bye-bye to Kerala. From there via Pollachi-Sethumadai, and crossing the Top Slip check post is where Tamil Nadu ends. Another 3 km from this point to reach the Kerala check post of Anaapady. Make sure to give your name and details at the Forest Information Centre here.
Your solo sojourn into the jungle ends here, as you are assigned a forest guard who will accompany you while you go into the jungle. It is for your own safety and so the question of privacy intrusion need not rise. The rest of the travel is through the Tiger Reserve, so having a guide with you in this wild cats’ territory is compulsory. There are wild pachyderms roaming about freely too. Once you reach the Tree House, the guard camps a little away and you don’t have to accommodate him as well!
With dusk fast approaching, the sky changes its hues. In the city, this is the time when the mad rush to get back home unfolds with the snarling traffic everywhere. But in the forest, the only sweet sounds at this time are of a million different birds. At the turn just before reaching the Thunakadavu Tree House, I hear a Peacock crying out its welcome. The Peacock’s mid air flight in short laps is an amusing sight indeed.
In Hornbill Country!
Finally the Tree House... all I expected was something along the lines of a Yerumadam. This is just like a little Bamboo House. Four mammoth sized Teak trees hold the tree house at a height of 15 feet from the ground level. Ideal for two people and equipped with an attached bathroom and a balcony all around the four sides offering amazing views. Bamboo seating and a table in the veranda facing the reservoir; and this was the best spot here.
The Parambiyaar River brimming in the Thunakadavu dam area, tiny hamlet islands scattered about, natives traversing the river on flimsy bamboo rafts. Idyllic scenes that otherwise belong only in paintings.
Suddenly the air around the tree house is filled with a loud whirring sound; a helicopter in the jungle?!! I rush out to the balcony to find the source of the noise, and Natarajan, the guard informs me that it is a flock of Hornbills. By the time, I run back in to get hold of the camera, they sped away and what remained were only the booming echoes of their wing flaps. A little while later, I hear a deep sounding, hollering call. The male Hornbill this time, they are known for the loud ruckus they make during the mating season. Natarajan points out a huge tree from the balcony and says that could be where the birds are nesting. Hornbills are generally family oriented birds. When the time to lay the eggs is near, they go looking for a cosy enough hole on a large tree. The female then hides in here, and sheds all her plumages. It is the male bird that goes and forages for food and feeds it to his mate. Without the feathers, the female is too vulnerable to venture out of the hole. If misfortune strikes and the male do not return, the female bird will remain there and eventually dies.
Armed with a binocular, I aim it at the opposite bank of the reservoir. I can see a herd of Sambar deers’ hurrying past, and a couple of crocodiles resting nearby. Yesterday’s rains have left the breeze in the jungle quite pleasant. The light slowly fades with the sounds of various birds. The only distinct one is that of the Peacock. A pair of them serenades right below the balcony of the tree house.
Nights are beautiful too
I have been sitting at the balcony for so long now, enjoying the silence the night offers here. I can see the faint dancing lights of glow worms a little away. When was the last time I even saw a glow worm face to face!? In some other era, I guess. A cool breeze brings with it the strong stench of elephants. They can’t be too far. But you need not worry when you are at the tree house. And again, near the areas with people, there are trenches so the elephants can’t cross that. There is a signboard in front of the tree house that sums up everything here, ‘Man has bought about many changes, but if you want to know what it was like, before those changes, come here.’ A peaceful sleep in the lap of the jungle...
I am at the Balcony even before the sun is up. I did not want to miss out on any tigers if in case it decides to go for a morning walk. To go for the trekking, you need to inform them in advance. The best chance for wildlife sightings between Thunakadavu and Parambikulam is before it gets too hot. After breakfast, I am back in the vehicle. The hardest part was saying good bye to the Tree house. After 2 km, Natarajan instructs us to stop the vehicle; with the engines switched off, we could hear the loud elephant cries. Through the trees, we saw a baby tusker making a fuss to get back to its herd, which was grazing some distance away.
The dam view point is the only area before you reach Parambikulam, where you are allowed to get out of the vehicle. Tourists can take pictures at this point. Boating facility is also provided at the Parambikulam Dam Site. After the tree house stay, another star attraction here is the overnight stay at the Veetikunnu Island with a total area of 4 km. At Nerukadavu, I see a large flock of cranes. Only those who have booked the Island stay package will be allowed to go there. From Nerukadavu, the island is a 20–minute speed boat ride. Along the way, numerous smaller islands, and the boat driver Rajasekharan informs us that swimming these waters to reach the island is an easy feat for the elephants.
Once you reach the Island, it is almost like you are in some foreign territory. The pathways are built of granite and giant bamboo stalks. Cross another bamboo bridge built across a large trench to reach the Bungalow on the Island. If it is only for a visit, you require a special permission. Sandalwood trees guard the path on both sides and as I take this path to go back, the only mantra playing over and over in my head is that I have to come back here once again.
To book your stay
Information Centre, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Anapaady 9442201690, 9442201691
One night Tariff at the Thunakadavu Tree Top Hut – Rs.5000
One night Tariff at the Veetikunnu Island Bungalow – From 3 pm to next morning 9.30 am, Rs.8000 for 5 people