In the land of bamboo

Wooden

Can a place race along the path of urbanisation and yet retain all the culture, heritage and natural beauty it is famous for? At least a part of it?

sights Conolly’s teak plantation in Nilambur. photo by author

Perhaps it can. Nilambur certainly does.

The Ooty trip was enthralling and we were driving down the Nadugani Ghats to enter the Malappuram district of Kerala. Crossing the Tamil Nadu and Kerala border, we drove through towns separated by teak and rubber plantations and cut through residential areas to find ourselves in front of one of the most popular tourist destinations of Nilambur, the Teak Museum. Set in Malabar, Nilambur was famous for its rich forests, for the gold that washed down the Chaliyar River, only to be extracted through a method that continues to this day, and for the role it played during the independence struggle. Though noted for the commercial
production of teak, Nilambur gets its name from nilimba, meaning bamboo.

Wholly dedicated to the marvelous
timber wood, the Teak Museum describes in detail the various uses, cultivation, distribution, wildlife attached to, and the history of teak wood. A whole section is dedicated to the comparison of various timber species. Beautiful pieces of carved wood tempt you to the sales section. Situated behind the museum is a bio-resources park — a textbook for academics, a beautiful park for the general public. Different plants — orchids, ferns, algae, bryophytes, cacti, hydrophytes, palms — await the interested eye. The taxonomy garden, the medicinal plant garden and the butterfly garden are added attractions.

From here, we made a 7 km drive to the Adyanpara Falls. The surrounding forest area and the graceful fall of the water on the adyan (huge) rocks made it a charming picnic spot. We drove on to Chandakkunnu bungalow. A book out of mom’s shelf, Message in a bottle, penned by Quintus Browne (a DFO in Nilambur in 1930s, who had buried his life story in a jar when he was a POW in Thailand towards the end of 1942) gives a vivid description of Nilambur and the Chandakkunnu DFO
bungalow. A slightly curved road led us to the building from colonial ages, with
impressive teak doors and windows. Though the windows are broken and walls tarnished, I agreed with Browne who had said, “It is an excellent site, and in the warm, humid climate of South Malabar; the breeze one catches on the hill is more than welcome.” It also served the purpose of being a watch tower.

We also made a trip to Conolly’s plot, the world’s oldest scientifically developed teak plantation. Planted in 1844, by H V Conolly, the then Collector of erstwhile Malabar, it was the first of its kind — it prevented irrational felling in the natural forests and also met the demand for teak. Conolly adopted new techniques for raising teak seedlings and acquired suitable land for planting them.
The felled poles and trees were easily transported through the Chaliyar River, where the water carried it downstream to its collection point. Rich alluvium deposited by the Chaliyar River, together with water availability, has ensured that we see the sky high trees even today. Earlier visitors were ferried across the river to the plantation by a boatman. Now, a hanging bridge has replaced the boat.

Exhausted, we sat on the sandy banks of the river. But, before we could pride ourselves on having seen the whole of Nilambur, we learnt from a friendly localite that there was much more — the scenery at Chaliyarmukku and the forests of Nedungayam to name a few. Nedungayam, during the British regime, boasted of an ‘elephant yard’ where wild tuskers were captured and trained. Today, the Dawson’s bridge and memorial, though ill-maintained, stand as a tribute to the past.
We promised that we would return to discover what we had missed. As we walked back on the bridge, the sun disappeared behind the tall bamboo clumps of Nilambur, setting an end to our journey.

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