Thenmala Range of forest and the Shenduruny WLS is something I have explored very little in the past years. Though I have visited the Thenmala Eco tourism some years back with a friend of mine I haven’t explored the better part of the range which in fact comprises the Shenduruny WLS. Shenduruny forest was declared as a wild life Sanctuary in 1984 along with the commissioning of Thenmala dam. The name originated from the abundance of an endemic species of tree called Chenkurinji. The forest is mainly moist semi ever green and Tropical ever green forest spread over an area of 172 sq km. The Thenmala dam is fed and comprised by the Parappar river, Kulathupuzha river and Umayar River. It is located in the Kollam district of Kerala. The whole range comes under the control of Agasthyamala Bio reserve. Elephants, Indian gaur, Tiger, Leoperd, sloth bear, sambar dear, wild boar, many types of deer, Lion tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur are some common species found here and many type of nocturnal birds which are endemic to the western ghats are also found here.
Though I have heard of some ecotourism programs in Shenduruny it was not very enticing to my interests as there were not much of a trekking option available there. Recently I come across some new plans which induced my interest in this area. After some serious discussion with the acquaintances there I formulated a plan for a two day trek and camping at Pallivasal camp shed which is inside the WLS. We have taken an additional boating package also along with the regular stay and trek package so that we can get the experience of boating also along with the trek and camping. As it was not a regular place it aroused the interest of many serious trekkers as soon as the event was announced. Finally I managed to restrict the number of people in such a way to abide to the norms of the forest department. I have to promise the others who were in waiting list that the event will be repeated so that the next time they can also be a part of it. I along with 9 people started from Cochin early morning via Changanassery and reached Punalur by 12 pm. We took our packed lunch and other supplies for the next two days from there and reached Thenmala by 1 pm. By the time I was completing the formalities at the office some of the team members paid a visit to the Thenmala dam and by 1.30 we were all inside the bus which will drop us in the catchment of the dam from where we will start the first day’s journey. It was planned like boating all the way down the river and then walks to Pallivasal base camp. Stay overnight there and start trekking the next day and returning back to base camp by noon and coming back to Thenmala by evening.
It was a sunny day and by the time we reached the dam site near to the boating centre the sun was in full swing. Though there was a breeze which allowed us to cool down and enjoy. Water level was comparatively low but was enough for us to cruise through. There were some quick selfie sessions there and all of us boarded the boat. The boat was just enough for us to fit in and we started the journey. The gentle breeze was soothing and we started getting excellent views of the dam’s catchment area. We could see the forest covers across the margin of the reservoir. As the water lever has come down we could see the cleared banks and small islands coming out of the water. There were dried up trees poking out of the water level. Along the banks we could see the remaining and base of large trees which were cut down for the dam. Those remaining represented the helpless thick foliage which was compromised for building the dam. Couldn’t even imagine such a huge area of forest was obliterated for the commissioning of the dam though for the very right reason. Some of the common birds and few rare birds were seen across the dried up trees and along the banks. In between we boarded down in an Island to have food. The day’s heat was unbearable in the open areas and we were sweating profusely. We had our Lunch inside the covers and again started our boating. As we moved ahead the views become impeccable. There were some lofty hilly and thick forest covers all over. Some interesting mud and rock formation in the banks of the dam made us all curious. The boat roved inside dry trees sometimes making us feel like we are inside the climax of hilarious horror movies.
We were constantly searching for any animal sighting and our guide had a fantastic eyesight with which he could sight animals from a very long distance. With the boat moving in a decent speed it took us more than five minutes to spot animals which he spotted well in advance. Our first sighting was a group of Indian gaur gazing on a grass land closer to the banks. We slowly stopped boat near the bank and had to walk a little bit high up to get a better view. Though we could see only three of them from the boat it was a herd of more than 14 gaur with males, females and infants. We could get some pics and then they sensed our presence. They retreated to the covers on our sight and after a small photo session there, we started our boating again. It was fast becoming an over cast day and rain clouds fast filled up the sky covering the sun. We could see some migratory birds and water birds. The lighting was perfect for photographs. Soon enough we sighted another India gaur resting on the banks of the river. It was a big male which was so huge that it couldn’t even move fast after realizing our presence. It gave us all a good posing for photo shoot and finally merged into the green.
By 4.30 we reached the final point of the boating and from this place we need to walk for 3.5 km to the camp shed at Pallivasal. As soon as we boarded down from the boat it started raining. As we proceeded further rain strengthened and we could do nothing but to get drenched and move on. All cameras and valuable were inside and we were on the move. Light was very less inside the forest. We unknowingly passed a herd of elephants close by. Rain was getting harder and with the light fading out we had to make the walk swift so as to make it to the camp shed before it is pitch dark. With the rain getting stronger we couldn’t move faster. All of us walked as a group and by 6 we reached the camp shed at Pallivasal. The camp shed was a semi concrete building with two rooms, one hall, kitchen and a sit out. Properly guarded with a big trench around. Electricity is maintained by solar power. There were three people there who would manage cooking and guarding. By the time it was very dark. Everyone was badly attacked by leaches and before entering the camp shed we shed all of them. Everyone’s cloths and bags were almost wet and some of them didn’t even have something dry to change as we didn’t expected it to rain. A hot cup of black tea welcomed us all to the camp shed.
After small refreshment we all sat down for some chitchat and by the time the care takers have lighted up the camp fire. We all gathered together around the camp fire and a proper introduction was done. We had some game plans after that but very one was literally hungry and right after the intro session everyone went to have food. The care takers have made sumptuous meals, chicken curry, Tapioca, veg curry, pickes, pappads, curd etc. It was too much for a dinner inside thick forest. I hope all have enjoyed the dinner to the core and. Some of the team mates went to bed after the dinner but some of the late birds made it back to the fire and continued till very late in the night with chit chats on all known subjects. I was awake till 12 is what I remember and after that I slipped into sleep.
I woke up early morning to give a wakeup call to the entire team just to find out that most of them were already awake and some of them were already ready. We had a plan to visit Rose mala view point for Sunrise. Caretakers took one batch first to rosemala watch tower. I stepped aside to move along with the second batch. Rosemala view point was just a 10 minutes ride from camp shed. A watch tower built on a vantage point which will give a 360 degree view of the surroundings and a small camp shed which is recently constructed. One could get a good view of the dam’s reservoir from here. By the time I reached with the second batch the Sun was almost out of the horizon. I climbed up the watch tower to get a better look of the reservoir and it was worth a try. Spend some time there and returned to the camp shed. We have planned to start the trek by 8.30. The breakfast was almost ready by the time we reached back. Yet again a fantastic meal from the care takers and we started the trek after a short brief.
It was just day break and sunlight only started falling on the canopies by then. We started walking through the thickets in almost plain terrain. Except the little ascends it was more or less a pleasure walk. The humidity was very high and I started sweating. I hope the same condition for others as well. One guard and two guides accompanied us. This people were so informative on the flora and fauna. They described each and everything to us. We were walking through almost pristine forest. Only authorized people roam around this terrain for official purposes. I was feeling happy to reach such a place where ordinary tourists cannot reach. The trees were so high and the creepers were so thick. They would have been there for hundreds of years growing at their own. Sun light couldn’t even peek into some of the areas. There were some steep descends after an hours walk. The sunlight passing through the thick canopies made different light shadings. Some tree trunks were so huge that even a five people can’t grab them around altogether.
We crossed some small streams with a handful of stagnant water. After hours walk we reached a small waterfalls and our guides said it is called Kochupalaruvi falls. The water flow was very mediocre. It was just a spill over on the rocky boulder. This was our first break point. We started again after 10 minutes. This time we had to ascend a bit through the slippery floor. There were lot of leaches on the way but was manageable. Our guides introduced so many rare varieties of floras to us like, Arogyapacha, Karimaruthu, Venga, Murikoodi, etc. After the ascend it was comparatively plain terrain but the trail was completely absent. We just had to cut our way through the thick undergrowth. Some of the trees branches and trunk made curious formations. The presence of animals was very much visible. Very often we came across fresh elephant dung and excretion of some other animals. We came across so many colorful insects and even snakes. We could see a camouflaged hump nosed viper on our footsteps camouflaged in the fallen dry leaves. Our guides found it very easily though. As it rained yesterday we could also see so many new mushrooms.
After almost two and a half hours everyone was feeling tired of the humidity. Though we hydrated ourselves several times sweating was abnormal and everyone was feeling tired. To make things worse we were moving through thick undergrowth and bamboo covers. We had to climb down some rocky patches, slippery boulders and all. Everyone supported each other to get down safely and by 1 pm we reached the trail which we took yesterday to the camp shed after the boating. By 2.30 we reached back to the camp shed and by then all had drained out their juices. Had Lunch and It was time to pack up.
We were dropped back near to the trekking trail and we walked towards the boat. Started boating to the extreme end of the dam and then we walked for almost 1 km. This was the extreme end of the dam and strictly not allowed for regular tourists. As the water level was down we could walk down the distance which would be always covered in water otherwise. The terrain was so very different with muddy floor, grass lands and fallen trees, All of us felt like reached in some different world. The views were excellent and mind blowing. I would say this was the highlight of the entire trip. It was like a lost world. Everyone enjoyed to the core and so much of photo sessions were happening all around. Non one wanted to go back from there but we had no other go but to return before it is dark. We had a 1.5 hours boating and reached Thenmala by 5.30. It was time to say good bye to all. Those who left from Thenmala said good bye and those who came from Cochin by Car started together. By late night we reached Cochin and reached home by midnight with the sweet memories of a wonderful trek in real tropical evergreen forest.