Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Nilgiri Tahr lives on at Eravikulam National Park, Kerala!

An event of days gone by...last December during my solo all india motorcycle journey...

Eravikulam National Park, the abode of the Nilgiri Tahr is located in the high ranges of the southern Western Ghats in Idukki district, 15 km north of Kerala's tea town of Munnar.

I had ridden to Munnar from Tamil Nadu. It was a nice bright and sunny day when I made my way to the tourism zone of the Eravikulam National Park, which is located at Rajamallay, to the south-west of the park, on the Munnar-Udumalpet Road (SH 17). I bought my entry tickets at the check post here and was taken in a forest department bus through a small estate road to the Interpretation centre, a distance of 5 km from the check post below.

From here, all tourists are allowed to walk along the road for a distance of 1 km. To go beyond this, one needs special permission from the forest department as this national park is pretty sensitive to the survival of the Nilgiri Tahr, locally referred to as varai-aadu (literally hill-goat).

As you would guessed by now, the star attraction here is the Nilgiri Tahr, whose population here is about 2,500. The Nilgiri Tahr is endemic to the Western Ghats and is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Mammals. The primary purpose of this sanctuary, spread over 97 sq km and declared a national park in 1978 is to protect the Nilgiri Tahr. The Nilgiri Tahr prefers hilly terrain at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,500 m.

The 1 km long tourist walk that I mentioned earlier is dotted with small puddles of water fed by the forest department. When the sun is high in the sky, the Nilgiri Tahr makes its way to these water puddles to quench its thirst. And as the case was, I sighted a lot of Nilgiri Tahr grazing, sitting, drinking water on the slopes of the hills. Now, at first glance, looking at its eyes and horns, the Tahr, might look a menacing creature. But, upon a closer look, one will find out that they are very timid and shy. I was appreciating this beautiful animal when I was irritated by the cacophony created by the tourists who were trying to manhandle these animals. Why don't tourists understand that they are in a wildlife sanctuary and they are disturbing the peace of the "wild" by treating it like a zoo. I was so annoyed at these tourists that I took matter into my own hands and fed them with a scary thought. I said, "Look at those horns - see how sharp they are; what if you get whacked by these sharp horns on your back side :-); the nearest hospital is 25 kms away!!"Upon hearing and digesting this thought, people seemed to back off a little. I felt happy at having slightly solved the situation!

A nature lover like me, my anger melted into peace as I absorbed the waves of grasslands that surrounded me in all directions. This green bed is such a pleasing sight. These grasslands of Eravikulam are called 'climax' grasslands because scientists believe that they represent the culmination of evolution. Interspersed in these vast stretches of grass are little pockets of sholas, the Tamil word for forest, which are storehouses for vitality.

From the place where I was standing, I could also sight the neatly laid out tea plantations of Munnar (refer the picture on the left).  The entire landscape invigorated my senses. That is when I realized that this terrain would have been much prettier before these grasslands were replaced with tea plantations, a cash crop, during the British times. I agree that the tea plantations offer livelihood to the community and provide $$$ as a cash crop, but they have jeopardised the eco system. For e.g., elephants, as we know, migrate from drier to wetter terrain every year in search of food and greener pastures and the Munnar tea gardens come in their way. This is what leads to the human-elephant clash, human beings being squashed by elephants in anger and elephants being shot by the angry humans. What we need to realize is that we need to study the ecology of the terrain and identify ill-effects before starting an industry next to a eco-zone.

Now, an interesting fact about this national park and these hills of Munnar that elevates the beauty to an un-proportional level is the "Neela Kurinji". The entire 1 km tourist walk area is dotted with sign boards that revels in this piece of information. Neela Kurunji (Phlebophyllum kunthianum or Strobilanthes kunthiana) is a shrub that grows abundantly at Eravikulam and the adjoining Western Ghats. This shrub flowers once in 12 years and covers the entire green world around into colours of mauve or violet or blue. It last bloomed in 2006.

So, remember to visit this place in September or October 2018 to witness this heavenly sight. I have already book marked my 2019 calendar with this event!! A rare heavenly event!!!

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist's lens, visit the album below.
my solo all-india motorcycle journey

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