Gavi Ecotourism – The Wilderness Beckons

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Waterfall at Gavi Rainforest, one of the bio-diversity hotspots in Asia, that is fast becoming an Ecotourist's haven. Image : http://changingworldtomorrow.blogspot.in
Waterfall at Gavi Rainforest, one of the bio-diversity hotspots in Asia, that is fast becoming an Ecotourist’s haven. Image courtesy-CWT 

Ecotourism has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry. Those with a penchant for natural environments and exploring these areas are avid Eco-tourists. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, defines ecotourism  as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Ecotourism must be able to educate those who venture for it, about the magnificence and fragility of nature and its conservation.

Gavi, comes under the Periyar Tiger Reserve and National Park jurisdiction,and is one of the most protected and sought after eco-tourism spots in Kerala,  India.Still untouched by consumerist  human activity,Gavi  is an Eco tourist’s delight. The government has taken extreme measures to make sure that the fragility of the eco-system is not disturbed by recent tourist interest. The guides on treks and safaris are local tribals or Sri Lankan Tamils who have migrated and settled in the region,and who are used to the ways of the forest. Thus the local community too benefit from  Ecotourism economy in the area, as they impart their wisdom to the visitors.

Day 1 , 11:00 am :

From a distance the lush green of the Western Ghats, described as one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots in Asia, looked like green velvet covering the hillside against the clear blue skies. As our car turned its many hairpin bends and loops, the air seemed to get crisper and cooler. The mist only added to the absolute pristine virginity of the region. The lush dense forests on one side of the road as we climbed uphill, and the view of the deep valleys below, were spectacular. For a city junkie, this was pure soul detoxification.

The Western Ghats on a Summer's Day.
The Western Ghats on a Summer’s Day.

This was not the first time that we were travelling to one of the several tropical rain forest destinations in the Western Ghats. But no matter how many times before, the stirring of emotions while on the climb remains the same. One of absolute and complete contentment. Perhaps nature has a way of healing you, in ways nothing else can.

We stopped the car for a while, to take in the sights and sounds of silence around us. All was quiet except for the sounds of cricket coming from the forests inside. The leaves were still glistening from the random rain showers. I stood at the spot where I could get a complete view of the Ghats that seemed to go on forever. I could have turned to stone and stood there forever,moved by the breathtaking view. We washed our face from the fresh water  flowing down from the mountains into a small waterfall near the roads, and continued our journey.

12:45 pm:

The Periyar River coursing through the Periyar Tiger Reserve, looked majestic. The river is the lifeline of states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, providing water to millions and in recent years has been the point of conflict between the two states. It runs through the rainforests of the Periyar Reserve . The sounds of the gushing water breaks the silence of the forests. It is believed that it is here that wild animals come to take respite from the prying eyes of humans.

Image : http://raxacollective.wordpress.com
The Periyar River.  Image courtesy- RAXA Collective

3.00pm :

After ascending 3399 ft above sea level and a dozen hairpin bends later, we enter the beautiful village of Gavi in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. One can hardly call it a village, there was just one department store, a small run down coffee shop/restaurant, a dozen houses and one school. The village is in the midst of the abundant rain forest where humans and wild animals live in complete harmony. We were told that there are hardly any cattle or pets raised because they were inevitably taken away by Leopards/Tigers at night. The government is very particular about not disturbing the biodiversity in the region and Tourism is limited. They allow only 150 visitors per day  to the Reserve.

We checked into the Green Mansion Jungle Lodge. A no frills accommodation with very basic amenities and food is mostly Indian vegetarian. We regretted not opting for the Forest Camp or Swiss Cottages that is more in tune with the natural surroundings. Nevertheless the hotel is central in location and has a spectacular view of the Gavi Lake.

Gavi Market Place
Gavi Market Place

5.30 pm :

Our Guide Mr.Muniandi , was a treasure trove of information about the forest and  life around it. He told us about the ways of the Jungle, and said that  if we were to venture into it, must respect it. As the evening got colder, we decided to take the one hour boat ride (Row Boats) on the Kochupamaba, Gavi Reservoir. The crystal clear waters, with the lush emerald backdrop was a sight for sore eyes. We sighted Hornbills, Sunbirds and Kingfishers in hordes surrounding the reservoir. The submerged trees in the Reservoir, were like  works of art.

Boating across the Gavi Reservoir. Submerged trees and sighted a Hornbill in a distance.
Boating across the Gavi Reservoir. Submerged trees and sighted a Hornbill in a distance.
Gavi Reservoir . Image courtesy : www.keralatourism.org

8.30pm:

After spending a beautiful evening,having dinner at the open Garden restaurant , watching the moon reflection in the reservoir, we retired to sleep knowing very well that the next day held much adventure and excitement ahead.

DAY 2 :  

5.30 am : Jungle Safari :

Gavi scenic view at 5.30 am.Enroute to Forest Safari.
Gavi scenic view at 5.30 am.Enroute to Forest Safari.

The morning was brutally cold. We had to have layers of clothing and woollen overalls since we were venturing into the forest in an open Jeep. Gavi is a nature lover’s paradise. I know I can never tire of saying this. It has a unique eco-system with magnificent flaura and fauna. Muniyandi explained to us that as long as we respected the Forest, she would be fine with us too. Which meant, no screaming or shouting, no talking, just absolute silence and observation. Perhaps talk in whispers or signs, if we had something to share. The journey from Gavi into the Forest reserve was spectacular to say the least. From a distance we could view the Sun and the Moon, as the dawn broke, into various hues.

As the Jeep Coursed into the Deep.
As the Jeep Coursed into the Deep.

We were told not to expect to see anything. That unlike other sanctuaries and Parks, Gavi was still a virgin forest. The animals were still getting used to human occupation. And would render themselves obsolete than fall in view of human activity. This is a forest where survival instincts were on the defensive.

7.30 am :

A wooden Bridge to cross the other side of the Forest.
A rickety wooden Bridge to cross to the other side of the Forest.

Two hours into the deep jungle and still there were no sightings.We did  however manage to spot the lion tailed Macaque, the Langur, Sambar and the majestic Wild boar. It was when we were on the verge of crossing a run down wooden bridge across a quasi river that there was a flurry of activity from some of the Safari journeyers. A herd of Tuskers had been spotted by one of the guides. Apparently the Elephants had spotted us too and preferred to hide behind the large foliage . We saw 6 of them hesitating to cross the road. All the 4  jeep stopped their engines so that the Tuskers could pass. But they did not  and were getting visibly agitated. We had to flee from the spot, when one of the guides alerted that if we waited any longer, the herd would definitely run us down.

One of the agitated  Tuskers from a distance.The picture is blurred because it was taken while we were fleeing from the spot.
One of the agitated Tuskers from a distance.The picture is blurred because it was taken while we were fleeing from the spot.

9.30 am : Forest Trek:

After a sumptous breakfast from the base camp, we were ready for  the forest  trek. Now Gavi is a difficult terrain. The forest in most part is a combination of flat and mountainous. After a small boat ride across the Gavi Reservoir , we entered the forest trek domain. The climb uphill is quite painful. In the sense, every muscle and fibre is stretched to the limit. Our guide told us that this was a difficult  8 km route and only if we were truly sure should we venture upon it. Bravehearts that we were, we decided that there was no way we were going to turn back now.

As we went deeper into the forest, the climb was only getting more difficult. The paths were slippery, with dried leaves on slopes making it easy for a Trekker to slip and fall. Sometimes when the route got really steep one had to take support from the creepers or branches hanging from adjacent trees. The deeper we went into the forest, the more darker it got. Fear was our constant companion. This was the wild terrain, and we were there in their territory, trespassing.

Amidst the divine wilderness.
Amidst the divine wilderness.

11.30 am :

Muniandi our guide was speeding ahead with the rest of the crowd, I was lagging behind, stopping often to get good shots and examining the foliage. At one point, I heard a wild cry, as though like that of a wounded animal. I could picture a Tiger in my mind going for the kill. For the first time in my life, I was scared out of my wits. There I was in the middle of the forest, with the rest of the team far ahead. Forgetting all rules, I ran for my life, shouting  for Muniandi. The Guide then stopped dead in his tracks,”Do not ever shout like that again. I am risking my life getting you here. And its my moral duty to get you back safe. You have to trust me and follow my instructions very carefully. When you scream like that , the animals know that humans are around, and they become alert. This is their domain, and if threatened, will have no hesitation in coming after you.” I felt terribly guilty for putting everyone else in potential danger.

The woods are lovely ,dark and deep.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

1.30pm:

We finally reached the open grasslands, overlooking the valley below. From a distance we could spot the Sabarimala temple. The Darshan truly was a fitting finale to the beautiful trek. After a sumptous vegetarian lunch, it was time to leave.

Given a choice, I’d never have left the pristine serenity. The mountains and forests have a way of healing you. You experience this amazing sense of peace and contentment. In Hindu custom, a mantra chanted exudes divine energy the number of times you chant it, but in natural environments like the Forests, Mountains or Water bodies, the divine energy that emanates, it is said,  is equivalent to the expanse of the place. Gavi truly is one such divine energy.

Expansive Energies. An aerial view from on top of one of the vantage points to the forest valley below.
Expansive Energies. An aerial view from on top of one of the vantage points to the forest valley below.

GAVI – HOW TO GET THERE : 

Cochin International Airport : 155 km

Trivandrum International Airport : 250 km

WILD LIFE : 

The forests are abundant with the wild, and yet it would be very rare to have a sighting, as the animal instincts are very sharp. Tigers, Elephants, Leopards, Hyenas, Sambar, Lion Tailed Macaque and Niligiri Marten, are some of the regulars. Gavi is home to around 250 species of birds.

CLIMATE : 

Located on a high range, Gavi enjoys a pleasant climate through out the year. Though the Rain Forest and the Mountains look amazingly lush during the Monsoons, Trekking becomes extremely difficult because the Forest becomes infested with Leeches.

Summer : February – April. Temperatures are 28 deg C and at night drops to 10 deg C.

Monsoon : June – August. Temperatures drop to 10 deg C at night.

HIGHLIGHT OF GAVI :

-Serenity & Magnificence of the Forest Mountains
-Full Moon at the Gavi Reservoir
-Simple Lives of the Local People
-Hide & Seek of the Animals & Humans, with the former trying to avoid the latter at all costs!
-Morning Jungle Safari
-Forest Trek
-Forest Camping
-Bird Watching
-Spice Gardens

Advance Booking is a must as they allow very limited Tourists each day. For more information please contact : http://gavi.kfdcecotourism.com/

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