It is in the fitness of things that there shall be a museum for Teak (Tectona grandis), 'King of Timbers', and that it should have been established for the first time in the world, in Nilambur, Malappuram District, Kerala.
Teak is a native of the Indian sub-continent. The best is believed to be in Myanmar, but the next best is found in Malabar. The British discovered the virtues of teak when searching for material of construction of their war ships; 'Britannia ruled the waves'. Steam and steel obsoleted wind and wood, but teak became the favourite for 'sleepers' for railways in late 19th century.
In nature, Tectona grandis is, as the name indicates, majestic and dominant. The oldest surviving specimen, about 500 years old, still grows in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and is woshipped by Kadar (Scheduled Tribe). It is known as 'Kannimara', (kanni = first, Mara =tree)
Nilambur valley is home to some of the best teak forests. Circa 1840, Conolly, a British Collector of Malabar, decided to create a teak plantation. A collector's will was law, then. In Chathu Menon, he found a devoted deputy who executed this unique project, the first in history of forestry world-wide. A portion of this plantation is preserved 'for life'. It is a place of pilgrimage for foresters from all over the world.
Several foresters of Kerala, like Sri K.K. Nair, I.F.S, had been urging the need to establish a museum for exhibiting various aspects of Teak, and had been informally collecting specimens. In 1995, Kerala Forest Research Institute formally established the Museum at their Sub-Centre about 4 km from Nilambur. Artistically laid out in sylvan surroundings, it is an outstanding tribute to the monumental successes of Indian Forestry.
You are impressed by the scale of the exhibits. You see the extensive root-system of a gigantic tree, full size. You are surprised that this giant does not have a tap root, but is anchored by a network of roots giving it extensive footing, and distributing its massive weight over a large area – nature's expertise in engineering design! You see an illuminated image of Kannimara. But the largest known Teak tree had grown in Malayattur Forest Division, and you see a life-scale replica of its trunk! And there is an image of a 170-year old giant from Conolly Plot.
A range of exhibits shows you the ways in which this 'king of timbers' has served mankind. A sailing vessel made of teak evidences how its fame spread beyond the shores of Kerala. The exhibits provide encyclopaedic information. Full botanical descriptions, sylviculture details, pests and diseases, associated life forms, are all displayed. There is a world class library. And paintings, of Conolly the Imperialist Collector, Chandu Menon his devoted subordinate; and also of Bourdillon, a legendary Chief Conservator of Travancore, who innovated the rooted stump method of planting teak.
Step out, on to an 800-meter walk along a natural trail through bamboo varieties, medicinal plants, and other bio-resources of teak forests. (Incidentally, British foresters detested bamboo growth in plantations – they were 'fire risks'! No wonder that it attracts professional foresters and natural forest lovers from all over the world.