Nilambur is a valley of rivers. Long ago, iron ore used to be taken down these rivers and exported to Greece and the Middle East. Placer gold is panned from this ore. From Perinthalmanna, one can go to Nilambur either via Wandur, or via Melattur and Kalikavu. We chose the second; less travelled, part of it can be traversed only in four-wheel drive vehicles; comparatively free of potholes but picturesque round the Silent Valley.
From Melattur, we took the road less travelled. We decided to give our ride, the Mahindra Thar, a rather unconventional route. We off roaded, where there was no roads; splashing water as we drove. But then, the water was so crystal clear further ahead that we gave in to the temptation and had a dip. We sat, by the river, dangling our feet in the stream; enjoy a 'fish pedicure'. Hundreds of little fishes start nibbling away at your soles, the gentle tickling quite pleasant. A local person passing by told us that this river was called the 'Vellipuzha', the river of silver.
Back on the Highway, we see the Sahya ranges on the right; Silent Valley to our left. There is a small waterfall, the Kalkundu. It forms a circular depression carved by centuries of falling water. One side is open, allowing access. It falls within the buffer zone of Silent Valley Reserve, but we did not see any officials of the Forest Department.
A dose of history
Perhaps iron smelting was first established in the world here. Ore of high quality is found in Karuvarakundu. This type of rock is locally called 'Kitakallu'. Traditionally, smelting centres were known as 'Uthala'. Place names like Uthala-kunnu, Irumbuthala,date back to this time. Historians trace evidences of export of smelted iron, swords, etc., to Damascus and to Greece says Abdulla Kutty Master, Co-ordinating Editor of a magazine.
Back on the road
We turn right from the little bazaar of Karuvarakundu, immortalized by the folksongs of Poet OV Karuvarakundu, and pass Keralakundu waterfalls. Through roads flanked by flourishing fields of rice, we reach Kalkundu. Right across flows the stream; and topples into a miniature fall. A trekking path takes off to Silent Valley, and on to Ooty through dense forest. Remote though it is, litter still manages to find its way here.
In tents at Nilambur
We traversed the roadless river margin; and put up tents for the night. Discarded liquor bottles revealed that the place was frequented by those who liked their booze in privacy. The mist was heavy, and the night cold, in the milky moonlight. Heavy sand removals have widened the river bed. Rafts of timber float down, noisy as they knock together. Little lamps reveal the men on the raft catching fish. From afar, we hear the calls of the night birds.
Before the bridge was built, there was a ferry. Across is the forest. Travellers to Akampatam, Eranjimangad, and beyond used the ferry, and engaged a jeep taxi. Now only sand, (illegally mined), is ferried and transported.
The river of Gold
The Chaliyar has been famous for placer gold deposits, from long ago. William Logan mentioned (in the Manual of Malabar) that the Chaliar was also known as Kanakavahini (the channel of gold), Suvarna Nadi (the Golden River), etc., and described how people panned the sands for gold. People still pan for gold. The Chaliyar flows round Nilambur.
Five kilometres away along the road to Manjeri is the Connolly Plot – the first Teak Plantation ever. This is a place of pilgrimage for foresters world-wide. The trees are to be preserved for life. Some of them are well over 30 meters tall. We have to cross a suspension bridge to reach it. A tributary joins the Chaliyar here, forming deep currents – dangerous, do not get into the river. Legend commemorates a Sahib Britisher who was drowned here.
If you do want to ford the river on foot, then go on to TK Colony. The river flows in small streamlets between big boulders here, 'crystal clear' is inadequate to describe the water. Though about 10 feet deep in places, the water is so clear that one can see a dropped pin on the bottom. There was a scare that some 'Maoists' had been found here – as a result, there is a constant guard of foresters here.
We have to traverse Pookkottupatam to reach the colony. Some parts are in the buffer zone of the Silent Valley. The little river, Kottapuzha, joins the Kutirapuzha here; and both, the Chaliyar. They form the boundary of the New Amarambalam South Reserve Forest.
There are many more rivers - those originating in the Velleri Mountain range, and coming down from Gudalur and Cherambadi to join the Chaliar, and draining the Nilambur valley, bounded on three sides by mountain ranges. The Chaliyar flows into the sea near Kozhikode, and provides life and livelihood for so many. Beyond Nilambur, we pass through Vazhikadavu to the Nadukani pass. And from there, the Nilgiris live up to the name of the 'Blue Mountains'.