Usha K writes: The beauty of the area is breathtaking. Cool breeze filled atmosphere is energizing. This is the evergreen,Â SilentÂ ValleyÂ National Park. The area whereÂ theÂ Â NationalÂ park is located is known in Malayalam asÂ SairandhriÂ Vanam,Â Sairandhriâ€™sÂ forest.Â SairandriÂ is the nameDraupadi, the wife of theÂ PandavasÂ assumed when she was the assistant to QueenÂ Sudeshnaof theÂ KingdomÂ ofÂ Viraat, while they were living incognito during the final year of their exile. The legend says that during their wanderings they came to a breathtakingly beautiful valley where the lush green grass lands met the wooded ravines, where the tigers and elephants drank water together from a green hued riverÂ bubblingÂ its course through dense forest. It is believed that theÂ PandavasÂ stayed here in a cave on a hill slope on the banks of this river.
TheÂ SilentÂ ValleyÂ National ParkÂ with a core of approximately 89.52 squareÂ kilometresis located in theÂ NilgiriÂ Hills,Â PalakkadÂ District ofÂ Kerala.Â One of the last undisturbed tracts of theÂ South WesternÂ GhatsÂ mountain rain forests and tropical moist evergreen forests inÂ India.
Home to the largest population of the Lion-tailed Macaque, in 1973Â SilentÂ Valleybecame the focal point of environmental debate when theÂ KeralaÂ State Electricity Board decided to implementÂ anÂ hydro electric project there. In 1976 the KSEB announced its plans to build a dam there. In 1983, the then Prime Minister ofÂ India, a strong environmentalist and nature lover, decided to abandon the project. The Silent Valley Forests were declared as a national Park on the 15th of November in the same year. OnÂ September 7, 1985, theÂ SilentValleyÂ National ParkÂ was dedicated to the nation and a memorial toÂ IndiraÂ Gandhi atSairandhriÂ was unveiled by the late Prime MinisterÂ RajivÂ Gandhi. TheÂ SilentÂ ValleyÂ National ParkÂ was designated as the core area of theÂ NilgiriÂ Biosphere Reserve onÂ 1st September 1986and long term conservation efforts to preserve theÂ SilentÂ ValleyÂ eco system has been there since then.
TheÂ SairandhriÂ VanamÂ forests were first explored by an English team led by the Botanist Robert Wight in 1847.The area was namedÂ SilentÂ ValleyÂ because of a perceived absence of Cicadas, a large insect with transparent wings common in hot countries. Some attribute the origin of the name to the Anglicization ofÂ SairandhriÂ and the third story says the area got its name because of the presence of Lion tailed monkeys whose scientific name isMacacaÂ silenus.
Rectangular in shape, the valley is located between 11.03 degree to 11.13 degree N latitude and 76.21 to 76.35 NÂ longitudeÂ and is separated from the eastern and northern high altitude plateaus of theÂ NilgiriÂ MountainsÂ by high continuous ridges.Â It slopes down gradually southward to the plains ofÂ PalakkadÂ and it is bounded by irregular ridges in the west. With the altitude of it ranging from 658 m to 2328 m atÂ AngindaÂ peak most of the park lies within the altitude range of 880m to 1200 m. Blackish and slightly acidic soil is a good accumulation of organic matter. The rock of the area is granite withÂ schists, a type of rock formed of different minerals that breaks naturally into thin flat pieces and gneiss, a type of metamorphic rock formed at high pressure and temperature deep in the ground, which generates the loamy soil of good quality containing sand, clay and decayed vegetable matter withÂ lateriteÂ soils on slopes.
TheÂ KunthippuzhaÂ RiverÂ which divides the park into a narrow twoÂ kilometresÂ wide eastern sector and to a fiveÂ kilometresÂ wide western sector runs the entire 15 kilometer length of the park from north to south into theÂ NilaÂ orÂ BharathappuzhaÂ River. The main tributaries ofKuntippuzha, which is of perennial nature and characterized by its crystal clear water, areKunthancholappuzha,Â Karingathodu,Â Madrimaranthodu,Â ValiaparathoduÂ andÂ Kummathanthoduwhich originate from the upper slopes of the eastern side of the valley.Â KunthippuzhaÂ is one of the less torrential rivers of theÂ WesternÂ GhatsÂ with a pesticide freeÂ catchmentÂ area.
Though Silent valley receives very good rainfall during the monsoon, as the topography of the area is diverse, the actual amount it receives varies.Â In theÂ NeelikkalÂ area in the west the mean annual rainfall is over 5000mm, while in the eastern side of the park it is around 3200mm.The park, completely enclosed within a ringÂ of Â hills, has a micro climate of its own. Eighty per cent of the rainfall occurs between the months of June and September during the south-west monsoon and during the north- east monsoon months of October to November also the area gets a significant amount of rainfall.
The mean annual temperature is 20.2 degree C and during the hottest months of April and May it is 23 degree C and the temperature during the coolest months of January and February is 18 degree C. The relative humidity is consistently high because of the heavy rain fall.
TheÂ MudugarÂ and theÂ IrulaÂ tribal people are indigenous to the area and live in the nearbyÂ valleyÂ ofÂ AttappadyÂ ReservedÂ Forest. TheÂ KurumbarsÂ occupy the highest range outside the park bordering on theÂ Nilgiris.
Flora and Fauna
Situated in the Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. The evergreen forests begin to give to shoals or stunted forests interfused with vast open grass lands at a height above 1500Â metres. The biological data says that about a thousand species of flowering plants, 108 species of orchids, 100 ferns and its allies, 200 liverworts which are flat, branching ribbon shaped plants, the margins of which resemble the lobes of a liver, 75 lichens, and about 200 algae are present here. The researchers are of the opinion that every plant in the area has unknown potential for beneficial innovations in biotechnology.
The botanists identified flowering plants here which include 966 species belonging to 134 families and 599 genera. TheÂ AyurvedicÂ experts say that about 110Â AyurvedicÂ medicinal plant species are here. Botanists recorded seven new plant species in Silent valley in recent years including ImpatiensÂ sivaranjini, a new species ofÂ BalsaminaceaeÂ in 1996.
In the Silent valley, six different tree associations including three which are restricted to the southernÂ sector,Â have been identified and described. The central and northern parts of the park are the home to the rest. The flowering of the variety,Â CulleniaÂ exarillataÂ in the forest is a dominant factor in the occurrence of lion tailed monkeys. A biological study says that all the twelve species of the Silent valley tropical rain forests show good natural regeneration capability.
The animal kingdom of the valley includes birds, mammals and insects. The bird most abundantly found is the Black Bulbul. In the valley, 16 bird species are threatened or restricted as per the list of Bird Life International. Rare bird species including Ceylon Frogmouth and great Indian Hornbill are found here. AtÂ Sispara, the highest peak of the park, a new species, long-legged Buzzard, was found during the 2006 winter bird survey. Ten endangered species recorded in Red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were found during the survey. According to the naturalists, the valley is home to 15 endemic species. The survey recorded 138 species of birds and out them 17 species was newly observed in the Valley.
Including the threatened Lion-tailed Macaque,Â NilgiriÂ Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel,NilgiriÂ Tahr,Â Peshwaâ€™sÂ Bat and Hairy-winged Bat, there are at least 34 species of mammals at the Silent valley. The forest is one of the most undisturbed habitats left for many endemic and endangered primates.Â MammelsÂ like the tiger, leopard, leopard cat, jungle cat, fishing cat, Common Palm Civet, Small Indian Civet, Brown Palm Civet, Ruddy Mongoose and Stripe-necked Mongoose are present in the valley.
Forest fires due to negligence and by people engaged in grazing livestock who often burn an area to get fresh grass shoots during dry seasons are among the major threats facing the forests ofÂ KeralaÂ and also the cutting down of hundreds of acres of evergreen tropical forest in theÂ AttappadyÂ Hills.
SaveÂ SilentÂ Valley, a social movement aimed at the protection of the valley was started in 1973. To save one of our precious heritages many steps are being taken by both the Central and Sate Governments. Since the declaration of it as the core area of theÂ NilgiriBiosphere Reserve by the late Prime MinisterÂ RajivÂ Gandhi onÂ September 1st 1986, long term conservation efforts have been undertaken to preserve the Silent valley ecosystem. TheÂ KeralaGovernment has formally approved the 147.22 squareÂ kilometresÂ Silent valley buffer Zone which is mainly at checking illegal activities in the area and to help long term sustainability of the precious rain forest.