A beautiful racket-tailed threeto flew past us as our jeep made another hairpin turn and Saju, the driver, took my surprise away from the bird’s distinctive tail feathers. “It is very common here, sir,” Saju said, but I was convinced that this sighting was only a sign of many wonderful things to come. And sure enough, a huge squirrel captivated us in no time, its raucous sounds contrasting with the maroon fur glistening in the rays of the morning light. We stopped to get a better look at this feline creature, but it shot up a tree and disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
But more captivating than the animals of the Silent Valley were the trees, tall and stately, dark and luscious at the same time. The canopy reduced the harsh sunlight to mere rays of light. The floor of the forest was laden with a carpet of rotting leaves. The Silent Valley National Park wasn’t exactly quiet – crickets chirped incessantly, though their chatter was muffled by the other sounds of the jungle. As I marveled at this setting, a beautiful crested serpent eagle glided right over our jeep. Saju stopped immediately and I got out of the jeep to take another look at the bird of prey. Suddenly the cacophony of a million birds filled the sky, but we couldn’t see any of them: the dense foliage shielded them like a thick curtain.
A little further on, Manikandan, our forest guide, asks the driver to stop. “Do you get the smell?” He asked. We did. A strong smell of elephant dung hung in the air. We looked around for the pachyderms, only to find more elephant faeces. The trampled bushes were a sure sign that the giants had just crossed our path. Despite such a close encounter, we ended up not being able to spot the animals.
There was no time in Silent Valley to ponder, for among the mossy trees were streams and cataracts, their white, flowing waters mesmerizing. I saw many ferns and numerous orchids, but being a novice as far as flora goes, I had to be happy appreciating their beautiful colors. As I observed the ferns – some the size of a small tree, with fronds the size of a palm – Manikandan broke my reverie by gesturing to the canopy. There, up in the trees, was the silhouette of a primate, swinging to a treetop where another sat. We couldn’t see the animals clearly, and although my companions thought it was the snapdragon macaque, I was sure it was the Nilgiri Langur. Both animals are also included in the Red List of endangered animals issued by the World Conservation Union.
On the last stretch of the ride we saw a sambar, a 5 foot long rat snake, a monitor lizard and a myriad of butterflies, all before reaching the Schtandhri watchtower, the point where the jeep track ended. Overlooking the Kunthi River, this tower offers breathtaking views of the mountains surrounding the Silent Valley, such as Poochipara peak and Anginda. Watching the white river running past dark green rainforests was a beautiful sight.
A short trek from the watchtower to the river was reminiscent of other treks in the Western Ghats, no thanks to the presence of leeches. It was still beautiful – the bounty of the forest was in full view and ferns and butterflies brought us to every corner. After an adventurous journey over a short, winding and hanging bridge over the river, we raced down the rocks to a beautiful waterfall. It was getting dark when we got back to the watchtower, but I couldn’t resist climbing back up. There, in the fading light, the valley spread out around me, its blanket of silence that held a million secrets. The trees wouldn’t even give one of them away.
Location: In the southwest corner of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, in the Kundali Hills of the Western Ghats, 40 km North East of Mannarkad Town in Palakkad District Distances 468 km SW of Bengaluru, 125 km NW of Coimbatore, 65 km N of Palakkad Route from Bengaluru NH7 to Salem; NH47 to Palakkad via Coimbatore; NH213 to Mannarkad; provincial road to Mukkali, the starting point of the park
When to Go: The park is open all year round, but the best time to visit is just after the monsoons, from September to the end of March. Animal sightings are best from November to January; the snapdragon macaque is seen more during these months as this is the time when a particular tree called culinia blooms; the primates love flowers and fruits. Many orchids also bloom in the valley during this season
Go there for tropical rainforest, lion-mouthed macaques, Nilgiri langur