Legend of Madhikettan Shola National Park hills

The driver-guide who took us past the Shola narrates the tale with a fear bordering on reverence.

There are urban legends and there are urban legends. Few would, however, match this very rural legend from high upon the hills in the Kodaikanal range. There is a shola (forest) on the road from Kodaikanal to Berijam Lake into which no one who has gone in has reemerged to tell the tale. It’s name is a pretty eponymous one - Madhikettan Shola (man with a confused brain). The driver-guide who took us past the Shola narrates the tale with a fear bordering on reverence. He swears by the story that has been passed down generations to him.

This is no ordinary country story built on myths. There is even a board erected on the road to Berijam which once used to connect all the way to Munnar on the other side of the hills in Kerala. But its Tamil lettering has been ruined by posters having been pasted on it before being removed by the forest department leaving only a confusing half tale of what was meant to be said. The trees of the shola looks so invitingly even from the road that anyone would be forgiven the temptation of wishing to wander into this most colourful forest.

‘There are many routes into the shola. You could walk in from anywhere, but no one has come back to tell the tale,” says a confident Ravi. You could scoff at the legend and volunteer to investigate except no one would allow it. The shola is deep in the hills and is under the care of the Kerala forest department as the Madhikettan Shola was declared a national park in 2003. On the Tamil Nadu side, a permit is required to go past the check post and the detailed proforma requires details of every visitor. Maybe, the locals will know how to get past the security perimeter but they wouldn’t dare help anyone to defy the myth of the Madhikettan Shola.

Maybe some day an expedition could be sent into the shola, equipped with GPS and other gadgetry, to test this great myth of the hills. But then the whole thing could be dismissed as a silly housewives’ tale considered unworthy of a full scale operation to disprove a ‘killer forest’ that strips an intruder of his brain and renders him incapable of finding his way out. The forests around these hills are not known for any predatory wild life that could target all human beings straying into the particular shola that is under 13 square kilometres and quickly fades behind the vehicles driving on to the pristine lake in the forest on the winding road.

The diligence with which the checking is done on vehicles driving to Berijam is impressive. Years ago, as teenagers, we used to drive down to the lake for fishing. Four-wheel drive Jeeps could even negotiate their way on to Munnar on a rutted track. The road is closed now for inter-state security reasons. The lake, which supplies water to Periyakulam in the plains west of Kodaikanal, is one of the few spots left in these hills that does not carry too many scars of tourists, save the silly water bottles they tend to throw everywhere except in the bins provided by the forest department.

The thickness of the sholas ringing the lake is testament to the conservation efforts in place now as opposed to the times in which the wealth of the forest was eroded by sheer human greed as fortunes were built here in Kodaikanal by individuals as well as officials. The drive to Berijam is a story of hope being reborn as dense forests stand on either side of the road in a silent tribute to these efforts to preserve what nature provides so abundantly. The Berijam lake visit is a kind of ecotourism as people who gather realise what a difference it makes if a little discipline is enforced. The very environment tells a story. That is if you ignore the few stray mineral water bottles.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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