The opening two lines of V K Sreeram's poem 'Kadu' go like this: 'A time will come when a forest shrinks to a leaf, a time will come when a drop of water holds an entire ocean like a puddle.'
In reality, the chances of a forest withering into a leaf due to tectonic changes in nature and weather patterns are very high. Kerala was replete with forests, groves and ponds but unfortunately all these nature's gifts are slowly but surely fading into memory. Though everyone spares a thought or two to protect forests and water bodies, only few take the plunge to help save the environment. But there is a place in Kerala where this cause has been taken up with right earnest. And surprisingly this place is tucked away in the hottest district in the state – Palakkad.
Velanthavalam, a village near to the Tamil Nadu border in Palakkad district, boasts of a forest. And this jungle is not just a cluster of trees. This small hamlet, the Ahalia Heritage Village, has medicinal plants, wild creepers, paddy fields, groves, ponds and sculptures. This abode from the Ahalia Hospital group will only augur well for the society and nature. Those who want to take a step back in time and be with nature, just be at this facility. Along with undergoing medical treatment, one can delve into the beauty of a wonderful village, take an evening stroll and get some fresh air. The doors to this sublime abode are always open for all.
A strong breeze, mountain ranges in the horizon and an array of shade trees and much more will greet anyone steeping into the Ahalia Heritage village. The forest, which has lot in store for the visitors, is situated 24 kms from Palakkad town and near to Kanjikode.
Have you ever thought about what will be Kerala’s state of affairs 20 years down the line? Even the present generation has a revulsion against the state’s culture and traditional art forms. Sadly, the uniqueness of Kerala, which was showcased with pride, has become a thing of the past. In this context, the heritage village, a platform that exhibits the state culture and conventional art forms, gains prominence. It is indeed a visual feast for anyone entering the portals of this village. The exquisite engravings on the boundary walls of the facility reflect the state’s rich sculpting legacy.
Most of the sculptures are the contributions of artists who attended various programmes at the village. The forest adorns a different look after a spell of rain, and you will just meld with the rhythm of nature as you walk on the wet paved pathway listening to the chirping of birds with a cool breeze rustling your hair.
Inside the green habitat
Many trees, including oil palm, mango and jack fruit, besides innumerable Ayurvedic medicinal plants are conserved in this forest. It is hard to find such places in Kerala where nature is given precedence, and the development activities in the village, without disturbing the ecosystem, can be emulated by others. The trees were retained while developing the area. While walking through the forest, one could hear the cuckoo chirping like the soft music emanating from a flute, and see the rustling leaves dancing to nature’s tune.
An evening at 'Koothambalam'
Connoisseurs of art and ancient art forms will fall in love with this place. The heritage village has a 'koothambalam' (temple theatre) in a bid to preserve the fast vanishing art forms. The rhythmic thuds of percussion instrument 'mizhavu' will punctuate the still air on certain evenings at the village. The visitors can also enjoy performing art forms such as 'Koothu' and 'koodiyattam' staged at the 'koothambalam.' The 'koothambalams' had been designed following the theoretical treatise on histrionics written by ancient musicologist Bharata Muni. Many students are studying various art forms at the art school attached to the heritage village, and this points to the fact that the present generation is interested in learning the nuances of the ancient art forms. Apart from training, the students also get opportunities to flaunt their skill in ancient art forms at the functions held at koothambalam every month thus ensuring a new generation with a firm grip on the myriad of ancient art forms.
The collection of various ancient musical instruments near to the koothambalam will take your breath away. These invaluable instruments are preserved in a two-storey building that was constructed with firm roots on ancient architecture and the traditional lights in the structure will take you to the bygone era. One could get an opportunity to get up close with the conventional 'ranthal' lamps. With ample air circulation, there is natural coolness in this edifice even when the outside temperature is pretty high. Though this region is known for water shortage, there are 8 natural water bodies such as ponds and small lakes in the heritage village to ensure uninterrupted supply of water. Each water body is a habitat and home to many species of fish, ducks and other marine creatures. The electricity is generated through wind mills and the facility is self-sustained when it comes to power.
Village sends out a strong message
The Ahalia Heritage Village shows to the world how to overcome the problems plaguing the ecosystem and nature. Entry to the forest is free as the hospital is functioning on the same premises but there is an entry fee of Rs 70 for the heritage village. The village is a must-see place for those who want to get up close with nature and peep into the bygone era. One can visit Ahalia village after a heavy downpour or to beat the oppressive summer. Any time one can step into the heritage village and walk through ancient times.
(The fee rate has been updated)