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Eco-Tourism

Royal reserve

IGNATIUS PEREIRA

The Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary derives its name from the Chengurinji, a majestic tree that was once exclusive royal property.



RICH ECOSYSTEM: The Shendurney river passing through the sanctuary.

IT is perhaps the only wildlife sanctuary in the world that owes its name to a tree. The Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary, nestled in the Western Ghats of Kollam district in Kerala, takes its name from the Chengurinji (Gluta travancorica), a towering hardwood tree endemic to the sanctuary. Chengurunji got corrupted to Shendurney and a became the name of a major river running through these jungles. Much later, in 1984, when the sanctuary was constituted, it was also given the same name.

Covering 171 sq. km. of tropical forests, the sanctuary is a rich mine of bio-diversity. With three rivers, four tributaries and a number of sparkling waterfalls, the sanctuary is home to 34 species of mammals, 245 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, 22 species of amphibians, 42 species of fishes and 951 botanical species including trees, climbers, shrubs and palms and 219 species of medicinal herbs.

Kaleidoscope of nature

Viewing this kaleidoscope of nature from close quarters is an unforgettable experience. The Kerala Forest Department permits guided entry into the sanctuary. There are five authorised entry points into the sanctuary and the one from Kattalapara to Rock Wood Mountain is an interesting trekking route, covering a distance of 19 km through dense forests and across streams. Trekking starts at seven a.m., for it is a 10-hour walk to Rock Wood.

The overwhelming silence even after three hours of trekking makes one wonder whether the sanctuary is devoid of animal life. But they are there everywhere. It's just that, to locate them, one needs to be vigilant. That art can be learnt pretty fast by watching the guides.

And soon there are hornbills, giant squirrels, spotted deer, sambar, emerald doves, jungle fowls and quite surprisingly even the highly endangered lion-tailed macaques. The Shendurney sanctuary has 32 species of trees bearing fruits or leaves that are on the menu of these monkeys. That's why they are here, the guides explain.

Beware of the sound of branches breaking. It is the signal that wild elephants are somewhere close by. Reed bushes are a favourite haunt for elephant herds and the Shendurney sanctuary is rich with reeds. Tender reed shoots are a delicacy for the elephants. As they start feeding, they are least bothered about being watched, provided they are not disturbed. "You leave them alone and they leave you alone", says the guide. "Disturbance" can mean a slight human noise unpleasant to elephant ears or even the smell of some perfume brands. One of the jungle codes of conduct is to avoid wearing perfumes while going into the territory of wild animals.



RISING HIGH: The Chengurinji tree, endemic to the reserve.

The sanctuary also has tigers and leopards. But sighting them "involves a good deal of luck", say the guides. The big cats are highly elusive and nocturnal. The afterglow period after sundown is the time when these cats venture into the open.

The amazing attraction of the sanctuary is the towering trees and topping the list is the Chengurinji. It is said that this tree grows nowhere else. Even inside the sanctuary, it grows only at certain altitudes where thick mist lingers. Its wood is maroon in colour. It is also called the royal tree since in the past its wood was the prerogative of the royal family of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom.

The myth around the tree is that using furniture made out of Chengurinji wood not only keeps at bay at least four diseases, including blood pressure and diabetes, but a cot made from this wood has aphrodisiac properties too. The Forest Department dismisses them as totally baseless. The Chengurinji is now declared a highly endangered tree species and is today protected by law. Projects have also been undertaken to propagate the tree in the area.

Other attractions

The dusky pockets of the sanctuary have a rare attraction in the form of a botanical species called the Myristica dactyloides. They are chocolate brown roots jutting out of the ground and spreading into vast areas like little boomerangs arranged on the forest floor. Yet another attraction is the garbah kulam, a pond that wonderfully maintains its water level. The pond never raises its water level even if it rains heavily for days together and the level never falls even during the peak of summer.

The trek comprises steep climbs and equally difficult downhill routes. Rock Wood is scaled by dusk. On the mountain is an anti-poaching shed of the Forest Department protected by a deep trench on all four sides to keep especially elephants away. For those who prefer it, there is also a tent in the courtyard.

The guides prepare the supper. Meals are strictly vegetarian. The night at the shed is again a thrilling experience. Wild animal calls can be heard and the guides identify them. Adventure apart, such tours are used to impart environmental education. Help is also offered for research fellows on species study inside the sanctuary. Education programmes for the National Cadet Corps and the National Service Scheme is also organised. A trip into the Shendurney sanctuary is like a course in an environmental institution.

* * *

  • Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram (73 km).

  • Thenmala has a railway station on the Kollam-Shencotta metre-gauge section.

  • Nearest BG railway station: Kollam (66 km).

  • Best period to visit: October to May.

  • Trekking is arranged by Thenmala Tourism Development Cooperative Society, Thenmala, Kollam District, Kerala-691308. Phone: 0475-2344660., e-mail: thenmalatourism@yahoo.com.

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