There may be forests everywhere in the world, but the emerald covers of Kerala are the closest to my heart. Like the luscious locks that crown the head of every Malayala manga, Kerala is crowned by exquisite forests. Here is a selection from the vast array of Kerala’s natural wealth, its exquisite forests:
Agasthyarkoodam, at the heart of South India’s Western Ghats, is one of Kerala’s jewels. It is named after one of the seven rishis in Hindu culture, Agastya to whom pujas are still offered on the peak. In 2016, it was added to UNESCO’s list of biosphere reserves. The forests surrounding the serene peak harbours over 2254 species of higher plants including 400 endemic ones. UNESCO called the biosphere reserve a ‘genetic reservoir‘ of plants like cardamom and nutmeg. It is also home to a tribal population of over 3000 people, who consider the peak sacred. With respect to their beliefs, trekking is allowed for only three months, from January till March. It was only in 2019 that women were officially allowed to climb Agasthyarkoodam, even though there are several accounts of women travellers who have climbed the peak before 2019. Trekkers seeking to climb Agasthyarkoodam must get prior permission from the Wildlife Warden in PTP Nagar, Thiruvananthapuram as only 100 people are allowed per day.
Sholayar Reserve Forest
One of my personal favourite forests in Kerala! Located across Thrissur and Ernakulam, the Sholayar Reserve Forest boasts of an extensive 400 sq km of exquisite scenery. Sholayar is also the home of two iconic waterfalls in Kerala – Athirapally and Vazhachal. A sequence in the nationally acclaimed film Bahubali: The Beginning was filmed at Vazhachal. The flora and fauna diversity at Sholayar is exemplary; there are spotted deers, barking deers, tigers, Nilgiri Tahrs, lion-tailed macaque to name a few. There is a single 44 km road that runs through the reserve forest and the drive is known to be quite exhilarating. Travellers have to adhere to quite a few rules to be allowed to enter. The road starts at the forest check post past Vazhachil and goes to the next checkpoint in Malakkapara. All plastic items are marked before entering to prevent littering and travellers have to reach Malakkapara within an allotted time or bear a fine of ₹2000. Beyond it lies the Sholayar Dam, Uralikal Estate and Valparai, a picturesque hill station in Tamil Nadu.
The main attraction for a tourist in the Periyar Forest is the Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area in Kerala’s Western Ghats. It was first declared to be a sanctuary by the Maharaja of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma to stop encroachment by commercial planters. Later, more areas were added under several projects like Project Tiger. Currently, the area spans over 925 sq km and is situated in the districts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta. It encompasses a tiger reserve hosting about 35 tigers and an elephant reserve. The forests can be divided into four categories – the open grasslands where elephants are found, the moist deciduous forests, the semi-tropical forests, and the tropical evergreen forests.
Silent Valley National Park
Silent Valley is one of the last undisturbed tracts of rainforests in South India. It is currently a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Silent Valley Forest has an array of natural life, like the Great Indian Hornbill and endangered lion-tailed macaque. It was named Silent Valley by Britishers who noticed the absence of the chirping of cicadas. From 1973 till the establishment of a national park in 1980, Silent Valley was the site of constant environmental protests regarding a proposed hydroelectric project. Said to be the Amazon of India, the core area of the national park is nearly 90 sq km. The buffer zone around it extends to 148 sq km. Tourists are welcomed at Sairandhri, within the national park. Mukkali is the last checkpoint before entering the forest, from there a traveller must hire a private jeep with a guide and must be back at Mukkali by 2 PM.
Marayoor Sandalwood Forest
Marayoor Chandana Kaad is one of the forests in Kerala you always hear about but rarely check out until you absolutely have to. However, the absolutely gorgeous forest is worth the effort it takes to get there. It is located 40kms from Munnar, which is itself a great location. The most attractive feature of this forest is its natural sandalwood cover. The forest department also has a sandalwood factory. Marayoor is also a great site for history buffs due to two locations within the forest – Muniyara and Ezhuthupara. Muniyara is a prehistoric megalithic monument for that age, and Ezhuthupara has some of the oldest cave paintings in South India. Another attraction is the Marayoor jaggery, known to be superior among its peers.
Kannavam forest is known for more than its green lusciousness. Kannavam forest was the home of the Kurumbar and Kurichayar tribes that aided Pazhazi Raja in his legendary war against the British. It was from within these forests that he led guerrilla attacks against the Britishers. Kannavam forest is thus the site of much historical bloodshed, including the execution of Thalakkal Chandu and Kannavathu Sankaran Nambiar. Some of the great locations within the forest include the Velumbath Makkam and Thodeekalam Temple.
Bhoothathankettu Forests are called so because of the local legend that Bhootas that is, demons had once tried to make a dam over there and had failed. Remnants of giant rocks are still found across the Periyar River. While the myth sounds much cooler, the rocks are believed to be the product of two great floods in the 4th century and in 1341. Bhoothathankettu is located in the Ernakulam district. Pedals and speedboats are the major travel methods. The major tourist attractions in the place include the Bhoothathankettu reservoir, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and the Idamalayar reservoir. This reserve is protected and hence entry is illegal. On a sadder note, Thattekad is also the location of the 2007 boat disaster that killed 18 people, including 15 children.
Conolly’s Plot is not exactly a forest, but rather, the world’s oldest teak plantation spanning 2.31 hectares. It is located 2 kms from Nilambur in a place called Vadapuram. The prefered mode of travel is through the Chaliyar river near it. Conolly’s Plot is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malabar. The area is named after H.V. Conolly, the Collector of Malabar when the British ruled. He, along with his subordinate Chandu Menon was the one who gave the order for the creation of the teak plantation in order to meet the increasing timber need in the colonial empire. One of the attractions is the hanging cable bridge tourists need to cross to reach Conolly’s Plot, which is the longest of its kind in Kerala.
Remember the extraordinary landscapes we were treated to in the movie Ordinary? That place is Gavi. It is located inside the Ranni Reserve forest. It is a part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve and has diverse fauna – over 200 birds and several mammals. The trip to Gavi is a little rough and it is advised that tourists go in a jeep. Trekking is the main fun activity at Gavi and it usually takes 2-3 hours. A trek in Gavi is probably every Malayali trekker’s dream. A couple of silent walks with an incredible diversity of plants and animals in a cool, rain-soaked forest? Bliss.
Boating is another exciting thing to do here and the target location would be the Gavi Lake. Check out travel instructions here.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. With an area of 344 sq km, it is touted as the second-largest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. It was formed in 1973 and has the largest population of tigers in the state. Wayanad also has the largest population of indigenous people in the state. Jeep safaris, treks and bird watching are popular activities. It is also called Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary and is open from 7 AM to 5 PM. Check out the details here.
These are our list of favourite forests in Kerala. Have we missed out on any? Let us know!