Diverting to a smaller road from NH 47 at Alathur, Palakkad while coming from Kochi and travelling approximately for 16 km will take us to the Chulannur Peafowl Sanctuary under the administrative control of the Peechi Wildlife Division. Spread over two districts- Palakkad and Thrissur- the sanctuary has an extent of 3.42sq.km. Near the present marked border of the two districts we can also see the writing which marks the border of the ancient Kochi. To honour the renowned ornithologist K.K. Neelakantan (in the pen name ‘Induchoodan’ he has contributed immensely to the Ornithology of Kerala and authored books like ‘Keralathile Pakshikal’) the sanctuary was renamed as ‘Chulannur Peafowl Sanctuary dedicated to the memory of Sri. K. K. Neelakantan'.
The area which receives rainfall from both southwest and northeast monsoon is relatively dry during the summer season owing to the dry winds which reach the area through Palakkad Gap. A person who goes for trekking in the sanctuary can see the terrain as a not-so-high from sea level and the area is interspersed with small hillocks, rocky patches and even dry forest which is otherwise green because of the monsoon showers. The sanctuary protects our national bird in its natural habitat through vested forests from both Thrissur and Nenmara divisions. It is the only place where the sizeable population of peafowl can be sighted in such a small area.
Inside the sanctuary, they offer trekking and a person who goes to the forest early in the morning has a very high chance of sighting the fauna in its natural habitat. The trekking is through two bits, the Malesamangalam Bit 1 and Chulannur Bit 1. Both bits together take around 4 hours to complete the walk, depending upon the person’s speed of walking. Inside the forest, which is named as ‘Kunjan Nambiar Smriti Vanam’ as a part of dedicating the sanctuary to those great souls whose birthplace were close to the area, one can see many natural and artificial wonders which are as follows.
Flora and Fauna
The area has a rich diversity of flora and fauna which together comes to almost 350 species. The fauna is used wisely to protect not just peafowl but also other species. The Butterfly Park and medicinal garden are examples of this initiative. A person who visits the butterfly garden can see numerous varieties of butterflies which are otherwise not easily found. The medicinal garden there also has a wide variety of plants out of which some are not commonly seen outside forests. Also, during the trekking, a very large area has Red Abrus decorating the forest with its bright red colour. The soil and the Red Abrus together offer the visitor an excellent treat for the eye.
The trekker can also see different varieties of mushrooms, some of which are edible and others are not. The size and shape of these mushrooms vary considerably all throughout the forest. Also, there is a cave once believed to have been inhabited by a leopard and this is still kept untouched on the rock.
Another attraction during the trekking is the sound of cricket which rhythmically follows each of the tourists and acts as background music for the whole time. The cry of a peafowl to attract or warn others of the species is also clearly audible marking their presence near us.
These birds go to the nearby agricultural fields and farms in search of food when their prey (small snakes, insects, etc.) inside the forest reduces considerably due to the dry weather. These fowls eat crops like paddy and so the farmers cover the paddy with a net so that the crops are not harmed by the birds.
There are also facilities in the sanctuary to identify and treat injured and sick birds.
Artificial ponds are the initiative of the department to make sure that freshwater is available to the fauna all throughout the year. During the rainy season, the ponds get filled by the rain and if the season is dry the department arranges water and fills each and every pond and tanks by taking the water inside the forest in vehicles. This unique idea is a model for other areas which face water shortage.
Shivan Kallu (Shiva Stone)
This is a small rock which is used by the people there to load and unload sacks of paddy and other items on their shoulder for taking rest and continue the journey. The journey with crops and animals at that point of time was by foot and this rock was a big help the travellers.
Deposits of small stones
All throughout the trekking, we can find deposits of small stones which are now heaps of stones in varying heights. The early travellers who wanted to cross the forest for many purposes like trade used to deposit small stones or pieces of rock at certain points as an offering to God for a safe and easy journey.
Like any other forest area, this place also has 2 temples- one for a form of Nandi (the holy bull of Lord Shiva) and the other for Mallan. Offerings to these temples differ as Nandi it treated as ‘Uthamam’ or divine and Mallan’s temple is ‘Madhyamam’ which still follows the crude forms of offerings like arak. The people of the area believe that a ‘pooja’ done in these temples at least once in a year keeps the forest and people safe. As a part of forest conservation, even the forest staffs support these kinds of beliefs.
This is the name given to a banyan tree which stands alone on the rocky patch and this offers shade to those who walk through the rock to cross the forest as a shortcut to their area or the market.
These are small structures with stones on all sides, leaving a gap for a person to enter and stay protected from rain and hot sun with a roof of a flat heavy stone. Usually, such structures are known to have used for the burial of the dead. But here this is believed to be used as a resting place by the travellers to escape the scorching heat of the sun on the rock. Also, this is locally known as ‘Tholan Vacha Kallu’.
There are also ancient steps cut in the rock which were once used by the people when there were no bus service or other public transport services available. Then the people used to carry the load on the shoulders and to make the passage through the rock easier they that carved steps which are still used by people. It is also an animal- friendly creation as it helped the movement of draught and pack animals easier.
The fire season in this area is of severe risk to the forest because at that time the area and the forest is dry; even the undergrowth and grass goes dry. Also, the area has bamboo groves which add to the severity of the potential risk. Therefore, during the season entry of visitors to the forest is blocked to avoid any kind of unfortunate incident. Also, the department has erected temporary sheds inside the forest and watchers there on duty watch for any sign of wildfire, to control the fire as soon as possible. They have also created a fire line to prevent the spread of wildfire. It is also the duty of the department to burn dry grass under controlled situations in order to prevent any fire from creating a wildfire of high severity.
According to the officials there, they are tired of encroachers as there are signboards like ‘watchtower’ on the road which attracts youth from nearby colleges to go inside to see what’s there. This can lead to unfortunate instances as this is a sanctuary for peafowl and a dry area. So they are even thinking of removing signboards on either side of the road. But those boards inside the sanctuary like those which gives information of a tree, a general idea of flora and fauna of the country are of great use to the visitors.
In the sanctuary, the department together with interested school authorities offers nature camps. The camps usually take 2- 3 days and here they are offered trekking, awareness classes and outing to visit places of cultural and historical importance in the nearby areas.
The dormitories are available subject to prior booking and permissions. This can also be used by the public, who wish to stay in the sanctuary and explore the area without disturbing the harmony of nature. The trees which were planted in 1993 have grown to a height which would easily cover the watchtower and block a hurdle- free sight of the area. The vested forest and sanctuary is a success story of dedicated and committed minds to protect the bird in its natural habitat.