Travel plans could get murky if you have a kid doing her CBSE tenth standard. Exams seem to happen in quick succession, making it impossible for parents like us to chart out elaborate travel itineraries. But then, when the woods beckon, how can anyone not give in? One such urge to travel got the better of us and I, accompanied by wife Seena and daughter Surya Gayathri, decided to explore nature by packing our bags for a trip to Shendurney. Armed with official permission to explore the wild, we set out to celebrate the Christmas of 2016 deep in the jungle.
By around 2 PM, we started off from Kottayam, deciding to skip the always under-work MC Road, and took the alternate route via Mallappally, and then along the Pullad – Kozhencherry – Pathanamthitta highway before moving past the Pathanapuram-Punalur path. Heading our way via Kudamon and Ottakkal, we finally drove into Thenmala, in just about four hours. Though the lack of elaborate planning resulted in a few flaws like losing almost a day, and parting with a few extra amounts of money, the beauty of Thenmala was more than enough to forget all such woes.
The Eco Tourism Department has made laudable arrangements at Thenmala to make the traveler feel enthralled. A destination that doles out amenities for travelers of all ages, Thenmala charms every bit.
We had been to this spot on nature’s lap many a time before. Though my daughter wasn’t very keen on traveling to the same place yet again, wife Seena was thrilled. Maybe that could have come as a result of the thought that she can stay away from her daily chores at least for a couple of days. And, having me play the driver’s role must have made her happy too!
Thenmala, in fact, is a fun destination and has all that could make people of all ages happy. For the small kids, it has a park, while the youth could try out the adventure zone and the Palaruvi waterfalls close by. For the anxious, fun-loving lot, the place has a deer park and a butterfly park, while the middle-aged men and women can relax to their mind’s content at the leisure zone. The musical fountain and boating facilities have all that could keep the aged traveler happy. The Aryankavu temple nearby also adds to the charm.
However, I am not going to tell you about our visit to Thenmala. This is about a trip that is much more thrilling - a trek into the jungle beyond Thenmala. So, welcome to the woods that open up a totally different adventure deep inside the eco-tourism zone. Welcome to Idimuzhanganpara!
Idimuzhanganpara: Wild and Pretty
Absolute bliss is what a visit to Idimuzhanganpara is all about. The place is for the young minds with an inclination for adventure. Idimuzhanganpara stands tall as a destination that rolls out the green carpet to fun-loving, fit and the adventurous lot. A trek deep into the jungle on foot here would test your physical fitness and courage. You need to carry all your bags yourself, all the while.
We started off from the Ecotourism office at Thenmala in a jeep and in about 10 minutes we were at the boat jetty on the side of the dam. The boat would then take us to deeper into the forest area. The boat travel was arranged by the Ecotourism office. The boat jetty itself opened before us a fascinating view of the dam and the woods beyond. Bordering the view were the majestic mountain ranges that stood yonder. The greenery beneath, and the blue canopy of the sky above, provided for the most amazing scenery ever. As the visuals reflected along the vast waterscape in front of us, the magic of nature was caught in a frame as if on a vivid postcard. One look at the mesmerizing scenery brought forth a comment from Seena: “What a loss it would it have been if we hadn’t been witness to this?”
The Forest officials soon realized only the three of us were part of the team that would stay in the jungle. Two of them, thus, volunteered to accompany us. After the boat dropped us somewhere on the fringes of the jungle, we walked on breathing in the fresh air that swept in. If it were not for the lack of adequate rainfall in the preceding months, the boat would have dropped us further inside the jungle.
With the two officials – Ramettan and Sreekuttettan - walking a bit ahead of us, carrying utensils that would later prove of help in cooking food, we walked on. As if realizing that we were all alone on wild terrain, all of us started talking aloud as we pushed ourselves on. As time ticked away, we walked on deeper into the forest area, and by the time we finally walked into the temporary shelter that was waiting for us, we all were like family. The joy grew manifold when we realized that we were totally out of mobile phone range, and it was freedom from the internet, telecom networks, and Whatsapp!
As we settled down for a chat, Sreekuttettan walked in with steaming tea. Over tea, the itinerary ahead of us unfolded, with Ramettan suggesting that we walk up to the rooms awaiting us somewhere on the upper deck of the jungle. We obliged, and soon we were standing in front of a stream that came gurgling down from one of those hilltops. Though water seemed less, it was enough for a good bath. The water fell from three levels. The three platforms were nature-made and we guessed it would be a cool idea to have a bath from those platforms. Soorya was allowed to use the top platform, while I opted for the second. The bottom platform was Seena’s.
As we made merry under the waterfall, Ramettan decided to stand guard. We later on understood why he did so. One, the streams falling from up above comes with an inbuilt danger. The quantity of water could increase all of a sudden, and those enjoying the bath may not be able to realize the flash of more water gushing down. Two, wild animals could wander into the area, without the people under the waterfall realizing that. A man of immense experience, Ramettan decided to keep guard to alert us if any of these happens. As we continued with our bath under the water that came kissing the innumerable medicinal herbs up above us, Ramettan kept a watch on the surroundings armed with an axe.
Christmas Eve on Jungle Terrain
By evening, we walked about the vicinity to see if we would be lucky enough to spot any wild animal who ventured out to drink water. We were not so lucky, but as dusk fell we were witness to one of the most enchanting sights ever. It was sunset hour, and the beauty of the setting sun opened up before our eyes as the mesmerizing red blazing ball slowly went for the dip. I kept clicking away with my camera, as if the visual of the setting sun had never been so enchanting. As darkness began to set in, we spotted a moving rock at a distance. As we watched, it turned out to be a bison munching away on the green blades of grass yonder. One look at it and we forgot all our fatigue and stayed cautious. The wild beast, in all its splendor, had by then moved closer, prompting me to turn myself into a wildlife photographer!
After it had its fill for the day, the bison moved back into the jungle and we decided to go back to our tent. It was dark and the eerie silence was deliberately broken by Soorya Gayathri with her hushed utterances. As the night advanced, two more officials, who were engaged in wildlife conservation and gauging of wildlife resources, joined us. One of them – Biju - was an ex-employee of DC Books. When he came to know we were from Kottayam, he sat down to discuss writings, books and stories in detail. By then, it was dinner time, and the menu proved much better than we had anticipated.
It was Christmas Eve, and we enjoyed the food in celebration. To add to the festivity, we shared the cakes we had brought along among all in the group.
As we had learnt that the jungle birds wake up early before 4 in the morning, we too were awake by then. Sipping a cup of hot black tea we listened to the chorus of the birds from all around. In the jungle, all birds wake up around the same time and welcome dawn by chirping their welcome tweets in the chorus. By around 6.30, the chorus becomes less audible as most of the winged beings set off in search of food for the day. If you need to get a glance of the birds of the forest, you need to tread on jungle terrain cautiously. However, it needs to be noted that the wild beasts too come out of their dwelling places to have their morning sip of water by around these times, and that makes roaming around the jungle risky. It would be advisable not to tag along kids with you if you decide to explore the wild around these times.
Lovely, Dark and Deep
We skipped our morning bath and settled down for breakfast. The sumptuous “puttu and payar” curry breakfast combined with pappads and fruits made for an excellent start of the day. All set to explore deeper into the woods, we started our trek to the interiors. It needs to be noted that it’s not just animal spotting that is important while trekking the woods. The joy goes beyond that. It gives a forest lover much more exhilaration to watch the way the woods are. Imbibing the beauty of nature in its wildest self is utmost important and satisfying.
Before you venture into the depths of the jungle, you need to learn about the various aspects of the area you are in. It becomes important that you need to learn about what kinds of animals roam about there. Understanding the nature of the animal species by examining their footprints, droppings, the distance between droppings and their dryness and the like would help in knowing what animal just went ahead, whether they had been traveling as groups, how far must they have gone, and the like.
Chances are that animals might be watching you, though you wouldn’t have immediately spotted them. It is important that, apart from keeping your eyes wide open, you need to train your nose and ears to spot the dangers that lurk around you. Every step you take should be cautious and almost noise-free. Also, tune your ears to listen to even the slightest sound that you didn’t make. Even the sound of breaking twigs could be an elephant treading somewhere close to you! Sniff the air around you always – the wind sweeping towards you could give you hints of an animal passing by. And also, be cautious, because the wind blowing in the opposite direction could take your smell to the animals. Tread cautiously, and stay away from inviting danger. For, any mishap inside the forest could be mentally agonizing. Even if you manage to get medical aid, it may not be sufficient or quick enough.
Idimuzhanganpara is rich in wildlife. You get to spot elephants, bisons, deer, and peacock, easily. I learned that the place also has monkeys, wild fowl, different species of birds, and more. This trip to Idimuzhanganpara made me understand that the wild bisons swim across rivers with ease. It also taught me that, like the dangerous loners among elephants, there are loners among the bisons too. As per the official statistics, Idimuzhanganpara is home to eight tigers. If the official records are fortunate to find two more, Idimuzhanganpara could well be accorded the status of a tiger sanctuary.
This jungle area was popularly known as Shendurney. In earlier days, the Indian railways had sourced “Chentharuney” tree trunks to make sleepers for the tracks from this forest. Thus the forest which had Chentharuney trees in abundance came to be known as Shendurney forest reserve. One significant fact about this forest is that it stands as a region with four-levels of canopy. Some of the trees even grow to a height of 75 feet. Some of the trees had trunks of large circumference that even two people stretching their hands to encircle them failed to do so. Once upon a time, when taxation wasn’t in vogue, the government had ensured revenues through the sale of wood from these forests. However, later on, when realization dawned that protection of forests are of utmost importance, a Vana Samrakshana Sena (VSS) came into being, with an aim to protect the jungle and its inhabitants. A much laudable initiative, indeed. The region is rich in diverse flora too. Abundant bamboo clusters and tubers grow here.
One flaw being said about the Western Ghats is the presence of two ghats that prove to be a hassle for the free movement of animals from on end to the other. It is learned that a proposal on a project to make free mobility of animals across the forest and mountain ranges has been submitted to the government. If that turns a reality, the animals in the Kerala jungles would be assured of free mobility.
Back to base; to come back again
Our trek through the Idimuzhanganpara jungle was less tiring as the sun wasn’t so hot during the day. The fruits and other stuff we had carried along made sure that our resting times were fun filled. As we started walking back, the sun’s heat was a bit more. More than once, we lost our way, and ventured into vast grasslands. Managing to find the way back, we reached our tent it was noon. The lunch served was sumptuous enough and by then it was time to head back. Without losing much time, we packed our belongings and rushed to the boat jetty where we had alighted on our way to the jungle. It was time to bid goodbye to the forest. Thanking all the efforts taken by the government, and the dedication of the staff, we started our walk back.
With the invite from the jungle for a return to its lap for a similar holiday engraved in our heart, we got into the boat that was waiting for us. As we sailed forth, we saw bisons line up across the grasslands as if to bid goodbye. By around 3 PM, we reached Thenmala. And soon, I was back in the driver’s seat of my car as we drove back to Kottayam rewinding the warm welcome and comfortable stay the woods presented to us. Soon it was home sweet home for us, as we fell into the bed for a sound sleep. As I woke up, I was here at my table writing this experience for you to read.
[For more info on Idimuzhanganpara, please visit the Thenmala Ecotourism website. Or you may reach me @ 9447957571]