Nature has so much to offer, and this holds true especially in India, where diverse habitats converge across the country to create a mish-mash of biodiversity hotspots. I realised this yet again, during my trip to God’s own Country, Kerala. As a nature and wildlife lover, I had heard about the lush green beauty of rolling grassland-hills i.e. the Sholas. But little did I expect to come literally face-to face with the most famed wild inhabitants of this unique habitat- the endangered Nilgiri Tahr. An experience in itself, as I walked side by side with these bold and beautiful so-called mountain-goats. So here is all about the thrilling Tahr experience
The Eravikulam Edge
Spread across almost 97 square kilometres, Eravikulam National Park is unlike other wildlife destinations. Rajamalai is the area open to tourism, which allows you to revel in the beauty of endemic flora and fauna. Here, you are neither restricted to a safari gypsy to sight a tiger, nor have to bear the brunt of the elements like rain and sun to enjoy exciting wildlife encounters. Instead, you get to walk around in the wild, with the wild- quite an exhilarating experience in itself! Just board a bus at the entrance gate, and enjoy a winding ride through the rolling hills, as you gape at all the lushness of the tea estates and shola hills. A big nature-attraction is the highest peak in south India, the Anamudi Peak, towering high above the neighbouring hillocks at a height of 2695 metres. One can witness the force of raging water of the Pambar river by visiting the roadside Lakkom waterfalls. A number of attractions make for a great nature outing- one can do the cascade walk along the waterfall, or opt to stay overnight at the Lakkom log house and revel in the solitude and serenity. Perhaps what draws nature lovers in great numbers is the blooming of the NeelaKurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianam) wild flowers, a plant that is endemic to this region. The carpets of blue that grace the gentle slopes are sure to mesmerize one no end. But mind you, one need to have patience to witness this natural spectacle, for the plant comes into bloom only once every 12 years. So, watch out for this phenomenon, because the next sighting is expected to be in 2018. Such spectacles may be seldom heard of elsewhere, but this wonder is preserved here since ages thanks to the relatively least disturbance in this stretch of unique Montane Shola-Grassland vegetation of the Western Ghats. Indeed, the plummeting edges of the Western Ghats make for some very one-the-edge experiences!
Walking with the Wild
What makes Eravikulam an interesting wildlife destination is not just these breath-taking vistas, but an up, close and personal wildlife experience. Once you alight from the careening ride in the safari bus, you can walk for about 1.5 km along a tar road, alongside the mountain goats. Yes, the park is home to the largest viable population of Tahr, a bold and docile species that has no qualms about letting you come within arm’s reach of their being. But beware, they may just surprise you by leaping out into the air and finding their footage on a dangerous looking rock outcrop on the mountain-side! They are known for their death-defying trailing habits, from walking along the rocky ledges of the mountain ranges. Do not worry if you see a vulnerable-looking calf trying its hand at these tactics, they have sure-footedness running in their blood. After all, these mountain champs have been ruling these mountains since you or me discovered and frequented them! But these are not the only instances of wild beings that call Eravikulam home, several other species of rare animals, birds and butterflies abound here. Being a part of the secluded biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats, this region thrives in endemic species i.e. species which are found only here, and have been genetically isolated due to lack of access or dwindling population. The Nilgiri Marten is another such special citizen of this park. Other denizens that you may spot are ruddy mongoose, otter, dusky striped squirrel, elephants, Nilgiri langur, and plenty of birds like the Nilgiri wood pigeon. In fact, the place is home to leopards and the occasional tiger too, though they are rarely seen! What amazed me is the fact that the local leopards do not prefer preying on the nimble Nilgiri Tahrs, maybe because they are just too fast for their fetish! This proved to be the wildlife learning of the trip for me- about how the same predator can have different feeding preferences depending on habitat.
How to book: Online booking for the bus safari is available on the official site- http://eravikulam.org/online-entry-tickets-terms/ . Online booking should be done at least 48 hours before the day of visit.
How to reach: 15 kilometres from main city of Munnar, Eravikulam is about a 2-3-hour drive from the nearest airport, Kochi (135 km) or Coimbatore (175 km). Some of the major rail-heads are Aluva (120 Km from Munnar) and Coimbatore (165 Km).
When to visit: The park is closed during the early months of the year for the Tahr calving season (29th January 2018 to March of 2018). To catch the blue carpet of the Neelakurinji, visit between August 2018 to October 2018.
What to do:
Spend time understanding the history, flora and fauna of the place at the Nature Interpretation Centre, which holds a wealth of information. A great place to introduce young kids to the wonders of the wild.
Plan for a guided trek or soft trail through the Kurinji grasslands in the morning or evening.
Plan an overnight jungle adventure by booking accommodation at the Lakkom Log House. Be sure to reach in time for reporting at 3 p.m.
Spread the word about conservation, attend or even arrange a nature education camp for friends and family by contacting the Kerala Forest Department, with a great blend of live exposure through trekking expeditions and astute theory.