Kerala’s hill station has more to offer than tea. Eravikulam was declared a sanctuary in 1975 and upgraded in 1978 to a national park, in part due to its unique flora and fauna.
Located in one of the many cardamom plantations that cling to the side of the higher slopes, our hotel grandly calls itself “Olive Brook: Republic of Nature”. It sat up a one in three climb just off the only road running along the valley and consisted of six bungalows overlooking a colourful and well-maintained garden. Good.
As is the norm in India, every car that approaches a bend beeps its horn. Loudly, several times. There are bends either side of our hotel. Not so good. Contrary to expectations, however, we were not kept awake all night by frantic horn blowing as it turns out everyone retires to bed early in those parts, and since the road takes you nowhere but to other hotels it was virtually deserted after 9:30pm. Phew.
Our ‘bungalow’ was vast. We had a front sitting area and an inner sanctum home to a huge double bed and an even bigger bathroom. We could have fitted two Espers (our yacht) in there. Each night we sat on our veranda, sipping beer and ‘unusual’ local wine, listening to the sounds of the jungle. The hotel food was less than inspiring, pretty to look at but rather bland in taste, so after the first night we chose to eat in Munnar at the same place as our driver. The unfortunately-named “Roachas” is not in any tourist guide but it serves locals with real Keralan food. We had a fantastic fish supper of Meen Moilee and enjoyed a very tasty lunch there too for less than a quid each.
Found 10kms outside Munnar, Eravikulam was declared a sanctuary in 1975 and upgraded in 1978 to a national park, in part due to its unique flora and fauna. We went at the wrong time to see the enigmatic Neelakurunji, a plant which produces its carpet of blue flowers every 12 years (go there in 2014 for the next viewing) but we did see the fabulously rare Nilgiri Tahr, the only species of Caprine ungulate (look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s) found south of the Himalayas. There are around 2,500 left of this friendly wild mountain goat in the world, ensuring its place among the status of ‘endangered’ in the WWF list of rare animals.
We arrived at the park excited at the prospect of seeing rare goats. In addition to nature’s gifts, it is home to Anamudi (2690m), the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas. We were not allowed to walk up the mountain path, so along with everyone else ascended the foothills aboard the park bus. We jumped off with about 40 domestic tourists at the high entrance point. We were not allowed to deviate from the path. We were told to keep quiet so as not to upset the wildlife. We could not pass go. Fair enough.
Accompanied by families of screaming children scrambling in the undergrowth, shouting groups of men and chattering women in bejewelled thong sandles and saris, we tried to pretend we were at one with nature. A Nilgiri Tahr crossed the carefully designated pathway in front of us ignoring the noise: the 25 species of other mammals, 132 species of birds, 101 species of butterflies and 19 species of amphibians recorded in the Park kept their distance. An abrupt end to the path made it clear we would not be allowed any further, ending our dream of a decent shot at climbing the highest peak in southern India.
A little disappointedly we returned down the hill-path, trying to find a moment of tranquility among the tourist madness. Anyone who has visited India will know this is never an easy task. We gave up at the bus drop-off point, and, in a last ditch effort to find some serenity in the beautiful surroundings, decided to walk back to the bottom. Fat chance. A guard shooed us back up the hill and we joined a heaving bus of tourists back to the park entrance.
Oh well, we saw the goats.
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