Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Parambikulam

We (Wife, daughter and I) had been planning a break from the monotony of daily routines for quite a while and we had decided to do this at Parambikulam, which kind of met all our interests – ornithology interest of my wife and daughter, wildlife and photography interest of mine.

The first 3 days of the break was spent at Tented and Tree Top accomodations at Parambikulam with the family (a bonus where my brother and his family joined us in the last minute) and this included, daily Safari’s, long treks into the Jungle, Birdwatching tours, Bamboo rafting on the dams / reservoirs, Tribal fusion dances etc, which were organized by the management of Parambikulam wild life Sanctuary.

The second part of the holiday, was a stint at Bird and animal Photography, roughing it out with the forest folks inside the deep jungle, cut off from civilazation . . .

Tucked away in the valley between the Anaimalai Ranges of Tamil Nadu and the Nelliampathy Ranges of Kerala on the majestic Western Ghats is the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, a fine example of a delicate eco system of flora, fauna and the all important Water resources jointly (and peacefully) managed by the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The Road route would read: Coimbatore to Pollachi, which is about 50Kms and Pollachi to Parambikulam about 65 Kms (via Anaimalai, Vettaikaranpudur, Sethumadai, Topslip). The road right up to Sethumadai is impeccable while the last 25 odd KMs from Sethumadai to Parambikulam, primarily up the ghat section, is almost nonexistent.

The sanctuary lies at altitude ranges between 300m and 1438m above MSL. There are 7 major valleys and 3 major river systems. Major peaks in the sanctuary are Karimala (1438m), Pandaravarai (1290m), Kuchimudi, Vengoli (1120m) and Puliyarapadam (1010m). Apart from the natural rivers and streams, the sanctuary possesses 3 man-made reservoirs namely Parambikulam, Thunacadavu and Peruvaripallam.

The Government and Forest department of Kerala have done a wonderful job of maintaining the exclusivity of this sanctuary, by making sure that none of the private vehicles pass beyond the Parambikulam check post. The only exception being, those who have booked their stay at the Eco Care center, part of the sanctuary. These handful of vehicles are allowed in, accompanied by the forest guide. This ensures there is hardly any traffic on the prime jungle section and the animals have the forest all to themselves with the least amount of disturbance.

The Eco Care Center is essentially a set of 7 Tents, a basic canteen, a projection theater, a small office complex and a souvenir hut, from where the forest office functions. The entire operations are manned using the local tribes, providing them a livelihood. The Tented accommodation and the attached toilets are maintained spotlessly clean, while the food is very homely and worth the nominal fee charged (4500 INR for a complete package for a couple – includes Acco, Food, Treks, Boat rides, Safari, Tribal Fusion, Eco Meditation inside the thick jungle, Bird watching etc).

A few other wild accommodation options like 100 ft up on huge trees - Machan type tree houses (holding 4,6 and 8 beds) are available for those who like to rough it out. There is a trench around the tree house to keep the animals away, and comes with complete ladder, toilets and the works – all very well maintained.

The other exotic option is to stay at Veettikkkunnu Island. A completely isolated island from the mainland (about an hour away by boat), this 2 SQ KM island has just one cottage which holds about 6 people. A Cook and two armed guards are provided by the administration for the guests on the island. The stay is absolutely awesome. Practically marooned on an uninhabited island, you can explore the island at will, party on the beaches and just let your hair down.

This is a photographer’s haven, both for the mammals and the birds. The mammal photography is a bit of a challenge, since the forest vehicles (enclosed Tempo Travelers) are out on a Safari during mornings and evening and the light deteriorates rapidly in the evening. The birding thought the day, compensates for this. Guided bird watching treks during the day, provide ample opportunity for some great photography.

Tourists have the opportunity to explore nature's bounty by undertaking several treks organised and managed by the Tribal Eco-development Committees. To suit the interest and fitness of various groups of visitors, soft, medium and hard trekking trails are available in this sanctuary ranging from merely taking a short walk and losing oneself in the serenity of Shola (evergreen) forests, little climbing and having a bird's eye view of the seamless blending of forests and waterscape of the reservoirs to conquering the tallest peaks of the sanctuary.

Credit for this awesome project, a self sustaining, Eco care concept, goes to the amazing vision and drive on one man, Mr.Sanjay Kumar. An IFS officer, in charge of the forest range of this entire division, he was the brain behind conceptualizing, implementing and operating this efficient set up. A living proof of what dedication and focus at individual levels can achieve. I tip my hat to him.

Contact: Ecocare Centre, Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Anappady, Thunakadavu (PO), Pollachi (Via), Palakkad, Kerala – 678 661.Phone : 04253 – 245025. More info at www.parambikulam.org/

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