Monday, June 29, 2015

Captive Elephants - The Anguish in my Heart

30th, June 2015
I've edited this post today because I cried this morning. It is not that I'm prone to emotional upheavals but a video link a friend sent me left me shaken, and I could feel the nausea an hour after I watched it!

Many of my previous post have a link with the elephant. To most of us, our only encounter with these gentle giants are only when we meet them at a temple or parade. We never give a second thought as to how they reached where they are, amongst us; the most callous, cruel and scheming of all God's creations.

In the course of searching for an old set of photographs, I ran into my old friend, the Clay Elephant, as I call him. It seems relevant now considering the number of reports about captive elephants running amok.

Please click the Link in Pink to meet the Clay Elephant of Guruvayur. Strictly speaking this post has no link to Woodcrawling, but the main protagonist should have been roaming free in one of India's forests. Unfortunately, he lives, chained for life, in Punathoor Kota in Guruvayur as one of the Lord's elephants.

Today, I too realized that while I walked around photographing these beautiful pachyderms on my visit to Guruvayur and other temple festivals in Kerala, I have never really thought about how they came to be where they were in the first place. If a self proclaimed Woodcrawler has not applied thought to the fundamental reason as to how & why a temple elephant became a temple elephant, I can imagine the rest of the world.

Ignorance is bliss and when truth hits you hard, it really hurts. I had posted on how elephants think in third part of  my blog series on the Aftermath of an Elephant Attack. After seeing this video by Kalyan Varma, I am left speechless!

If this is the solution to human-elephant conflicts, it disgusts me! It is we, who have encroached on their territories and cramped them for space by blocking their migration corridors. We forget that these gentle creatures have no politics or any vicious agenda. They only want to move freely in what is rightfully their home. It is we who have occupied their space not the other way around. It is we who should be moved out of the traditional homeland of elephants.

This video is only a short bit of the entire story. If a ten minute clip can leave you shattered I can't imagine how it will be to sit through the 20 hours of recording. I can also imagine what turmoils Kalyan Varma would have gone through, seeing this first hand.

Here is the clip. Be prepared for some stomach churning scenes.

My friend the Clay Elephant too would probably have gone through a similar painful experience. Now he spends his life chained up with more than 50 such magnificent tuskers in Punathoor Kota, Guruvayur. He is destined to live, suffer and die in those heavy chains.

If you love these gentle giants don't just view this clip and keep silent. Raise your voice and protest. Let the temple elephants and other captive elephants take a step towards freedom. I know it is wishful thinking but this cruelty has to stop, and unless someone protests elephants in India will suffer this fate!

Please share the post............. for the sake of the elephants!

Update: 31st July, 2015

Courtesy: Kalyan Varma & Peepli org
If you want to see how the elephants in the above picture felt while going through this drama, see the blog here.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Siruvani - Secret of Sweet Waters

This is a trip that happened nearly a year ago, in July 2014. Siruvani was perhaps the nearest wilderness area from Palakkad but one with very restricted access. This was not a trip that was planned early but an idea that sprouted overnight. If you really want to enjoy a trip to Siruvani you'll have to pull strings in the forest department or irrigation department.

Palakkadans envy the people of Coimbatore for many reasons but there is one that really hurts. Can you imagine? You are given the responsibility of storing the sweetest water in the world but have been forbidden to drink it?! Well, that is Siruvani. The dam that is in Kerala, holding water that belongs to Tamilnadu!

Kerala's history is peppered with such dam wars. The most controversial is the Mullaperiyar dam in Idukki district. The dam is in Kerala but maintained by the Tamilnadu Government. The storage levels of this 120 year old dam is a hotly disputed issue between the two governments. Similarly, the Parambikulam Aliyar Project (PAP) is another such project that has not one, but four out of five dams in Kerala, but operated by Tamilnadu!

Siruvani reservoir is the result of a proposal to dam Siruvani river downstream of a preexisting one at Muthikulam by the Tamilnadu government. Since the proposed location was in Kerala but the utilization of the dammed water was by Tamilnadu, the latter funded the project and the Kerala PWD constructed the dam. The agreement can be viewed here. The approach to the dam for ordinary mortals like us is from the Kerala side though there exists a road from Coimbatore. That route is closed for public and used only by TWAD and Tamilnadu Forest Department officials.

(As is usual in my blogs, PINKS ARE LINKS. Click to open the relevant page)

The route:
Since the direct road from Coimbatore is restricted for public, the only access is from the Kerala side. You have to reach NH 966 (formerly NH 213) connecting Palakkad and Kozhikode. If you are coming from Coimbatore, you have to take the Anaikatti-Agali-Mannarkad route through Silent Valley. At Mannarkad you take a left over the Nellipuzha bridge and drive some 12 kilometers towards Palakkad to reach Edakurissi. If you are coming from Palakkad Edakurissi is about 28 kilometers from the city.

(The Route: Palakkad-Edakurissi-Palakkayam-Inchikunnu-Singappara-Siruvani Dam-Keralamedu) 

At Edakurissi, you take left or right turn onto the Siruvani road, depending on which side you come (right for those driving from Palakkad). There is  board showing the way on the highway. As you drive past the rubber estates you feel the terrain gently swing upwards. Five kilometers from Edakurissi you will reach Palakkayam. The Siruvani road crosses a bridge, after the deviation to Kanjirapuzha dam, in the middle of the village. After that the road spilts with the left fork going downhill to a school and eventually also to Kanjirapuzha dam. Take the road going uphill to the right. 

Five kilometers of gentle slopes, and a view like this...........

.............the road ends at the first forest check post. This is the Inchikunnu checkpost, that lies in the Mannarkad range, and you have to park your vehicles here enter your details, before proceeding any further. 

Inchikunnu CP
Private vehicles are not allowed beyond this point and you will have to take the eco-tourism vehicles, a couple of Tata Ace minivans. The problem is that they are usually booked in advance by folks with some influence or they are already out on a three hour drive that you end up waiting for a long time.

We had the permission from the authorities to take our vehicle so after the formalities we started rolling uphill again. After the Inchikunnu CP it is one single road to Siruvani.  Since there is no other road  distances cease to matter. The forest is so verdant and the clouds rolling over the road force you to stop time and again.

Dripping rain forest but surprisingly leech free!

There were some surprises too in between, a pair of Malabar trogons!

Malabar trogon (male)

Malabar trogon (male), a very shy bird

Malabar trogon (female)

You will eventually reach the Singappara checkpost, (Agali range), which is usually open, so don't drive through without stopping! You have to enter details here again before proceeding further.

Singappara CP

You are driving through some of the most virgin rain forests in Kerala. The strict restriction of visitors have ensured that this part of the world is mostly unspoilt. Finally, passing through the quarters of the TWAD, we reach the Siruvani Dam and reservoir, after driving 50 kilometers from Palakkad.

The road goes past the dam to cross a bridge and reach the other side. Vehicles are not permitted over the dam. Once you climb back to the other side you have an unhindered view of the sweet water stored in the reservoir and the many cascades that feed it. 

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

The dam with TWAD buildings in the background

Monsoon clouds kissing the hilltops hide all but the biggest cascades.

When the clouds lift briefly all the cascades can be seen

The reservoir was full

If you look above the dam you'll see the TWAD buildings and on a grassy knoll above that on a sunny day you'll find elephants and gaur grazing. As the cloud lifted for a few minutes we were treated to the sight of a herd of gaur munching on the succulent grass peacefully. This is undisturbed paradise for them.

Gaur on the knoll

The road continues into TN but we are not allowed to proceed beyond the border check post at Keralamedu. We did not have a guide so we were couldn't go on a walk either.  Usually it is the drivers of the mini vans who double up as guides.

Apparently, beyond the checkpost after a short hike you will reach the Keralamedu grasslands from where you can see the Tamilnadu side of Siruvani. Besides, it was mid July and in the middle of a very healthy monsoon. Three people, close to and beyond 70 years do not exactly make a hiking group! 

As we drove away we became acutely conscious of all the dung on the road. This was undisturbed haven for elephants and gaur and the evidence of their presence was everywhere. I was hoping to run across something on our drive but the weather ensured that we would not have any unexpected encounters!

From there we drove to the site of the intake valve but I was reluctant to cross the locked gates. This had been recently, the site of the a major issue regarding water supply to Coimbatore. The Kerala Irrigation Department accusing TWAD of siphoning off water in excess to what was in the agreement. Finally after a lot of saber rattling it was finally resolved with Tamilnadu agreeing to release water from the Parmbikulam-Aliyar project to Chittur area of Palakkad district.

View from the intake valve area
The last program for the day was the visit to Pattiar Bungalow, a 150 years old British built rest house, sitting on the edge of the reservoir. It used to be rented out earlier but now the restrictions are a little hard to overcome. 

Our first view from the Pattiar bungalow

The views were simply breathtaking. I resolved that I'd make a trip in summer. Some day, not too far in the future, I want to sit on the verandah and watch the wildlife come down to drink water.

Pattiar Bungalow

Wild gooseberry in the rest house compound

Flitting sunlight adds to the beauty of the place

Returning reluctantly
 Siruvani is a place to come and see nature in its unspoilt pristine state. Just 50 kilometers from Palakkad we had finished our trip by midday. We drove back to Singappara check post where they have a small area designated for picnickers. We stopped to eat our lunch there before driving back to Palakkad.


The drive back, as usual, was very slow with frequent stops to enjoy the monsoon and its attendant shows.

Lovely places to crawl through to look for sweet water!

Sweet Siruvani cascades

The Secret of the Sweetness!
One thing I can surely vouch for is that the water of Siruvani has an out-of-the-world taste, that is attributed to the vegetation and the minerals in the rocks through which the water flows. I also read somewhere that it is also due to the water imbibing the flavour of the wild gooseberrys that fall and get absorbed into the soil as they rot! There are thousands of these trees on either side of the road. 

If you ask me if it is really sweet, to be honest I'm not sure but it certainly is a million times better than some of the packaged water we get to drink these days. We filled our empty water bottles at Pattiar Bungalow at the insistence of the caretakers. I also drank from the little cascades on the hill sides and it is really true; the water is unlike anything I have tasted elsewhere!. Siruvani is Coimbatore's sweet secret. There is no point in a Palakkadan being envious. I was left wondering why the then Kerala Government never thought of having part of the waters diverted with the state itself!

For those contemplating a trip, contact the number or email given in the board below. However if you want to stay in Pattiar Bungalow you will need to know someone in the Forest Department.

That Siruvani is only 50 kilometers from Palakkad, makes for an easy day trip. Carry food with you. The last place you can get anything is in Palakkayam but you have to get out of the forest area. As for water, discard your bottled water and fill all you canteens and water bottles with the sweetness of Siruvani!

Foot note: While the folks in Coimbatore flaunt their pride to all of us, there is some dispute as to where the sweetest natural water in the world comes from, The official entrant in the Guiness Book of World Records for the sweetest water is not Siruvani but waters of a spring in Phillipines. Of course, can you leave the Americans behind in any race? They claim that the waters of Memphis, Tennessee is the sweetest! That dispute will probably, never get resolved taking into consideration that each of us have different tastes in everything and pollution is not going to disappear any time in the foreseeable future!

While scouring the internet for information or blogs on Siruvani I discovered that there is not too much about this place. There are only two more blogs that give any worthwhile information that will be useful to anyone planning a trip to this Secret of Nature, hidden from prying eyes. I hope it remains that way. I feel proud to live close to such a place that is yet unspoilt by man's greed. I am glad that the Kerala Forest Department is very strict in granting access to this hidden stretch of green. 
Please feel free to contact me for more details. Happy woodcrawling!