Education cannot be restricted to the boundaries of a school. No learning is worth its salt unless it attempts to acquaint, acclimatise and sensitise the learner to the mysteries of nature and the ethos of existence.

Having felt the importance of these aspects of learning, Ravi Thomas, principal of the Emirates National School, Sharjah, organises annual trips for students to various destinations of the world.

This year the school conducted an educational tour to the Silent Valley in the Palakkad district of Kerala in southern India.

Unique excursion

The trip, the first of its kind to be undertaken by any school in the Gulf, included a visit to Ooty, Kochi, Kovalam and Thiruvananthapuram in addition to a visit to the Silent Valley National Park.

Describing the experience of his visit to the national park, which preserves natural rainforests and has a rich mosaic of wildlife, Nitin Sathish, a student of the ninth grade, said: “The trip has left a great impression on my mind. It was an unforgettable experience.''

Among hills and vales

After leaving the UAE by air, we, a group of three teachers and 16 students of the eighth and the ninth grades, reached Kochi in the evening.

We went to the Aeli Hills by bus and stayed overnight at Alwaye English Language Institute, the sister institution of the Emirates National School, where we watched a movie after dinner.

Next morning, our first destination was Cherai Beach, where we attended a meditation session. Then, in the afternoon, we went to Veega Land, a water theme park.

Ooty was to be our next stop. We stayed at Ooty Golf Hotel, which was a reasonably priced, nice hotel and we booked nine rooms for Dh30,000 (Dh2,199) for a night.

We visited the Government Botanical Garden, Rose Garden and Ooty Lake and had a campfire at night.

Next morning we visited the Attappady, a tribal village area, and got a taste of rural tribal life. After a dip in the Sirvani River and lunch after that, we left for Silent Valley.

Celebration of life

The place exudes a quiet grandeur and a celebration of life, as seen in the wide variety of plants, animals, birds and insects.

On the way to the valley, we visited a garden of medicinal plants and gathered useful information on the plants and their uses.

We also stopped by the Bhavani River, which is one of only three rivers in Kerala that flow eastwards — more than 35 others flow west towards the Arabian Sea.

The Bhavani River flows to Tamil Nadu, where it joins the Cauvery River to the Bay of Bengal.

We had dinner later at Interpretation Centre, a government guesthouse, where forest officials shared with us some general information about the valley and showed us video clippings.

Next day started our trip to the Silent Valley National Park. Everybody registered their names, as is the law, before proceeding to the forest area of the valley.

We started the 23km journey by road, which took us about 90 minutes.

All the vehicles had a forest guide and on the way, we saw various species of animals, including the lion-tailed macaque and the Malabar giant squirrel. We also saw waterfalls and visited trekking centres.

“Trekking through the rainforest ignited our love for Mother Earth,'' Sathish said.

At 11.30am, we reached Silent Valley National Park, formally inaugurated in 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister of India at the time.

Silent Valley is the most dense of the tropical forests in the Western Ghats, with a rich variety of vegetation.

A watchtower in the park allows a fascinating view of the forest. Near that is a museum, where there are various specimens of stuffed animals.

“It was a very informative trip for me, as I learnt more about the various species of plants and animals. Besides, it also helped me strike a cordial relationship with teachers, fellow student and the principal,'' said Balasubramanyam of the ninth grade.

Time to remember

Our trip included a trek to an abandoned dam project on the Kunthi River, which took us through thick forest. It was a challenging, though tiring experience.

Kevin Joy of the ninth grade, said: “It was an amazing experience.'' Another ninth-grader, Stanley Junior, said: “It was such a thrilling experience that I want to go for more trips.'' For Amit Sujit too it was an exciting journey.

As we returned to the Interpretation Centre, we spotted species such as the hornbill, the Malabar giant squirrels and the lion-tailed macaque.

This species of primates is found only in this forest, as it feeds on the fruit of the kuleenia tree, also found only in this forest.

— Abraham Mathew is the vice-principal of the Emirates National School, Sharjah

Go there . . . Silent Valley . . . From the UAE

From Dubai

Nearest airports are Kochi and Calicut.

Emirates flies daily to Calicut. Fare from Dh1,810

Emirates flies daily to Kochi. Fare from Dh1,400

— Information courtesy: The Holiday Lounge by Dnata.
Ph: 04 4380454

How to reach

  • By air: 90km from Coimbatore and 120km from Calicut
  • Season to visit: December to April
  • Visiting Hours: 8am-1pm
  • Make sure you get permit slips from the assistant wildlife warden's office at Mukkali. Accommodation can be arranged at the wildlife warden's office at Mannarkkad. Also remember that Silent Valley is a plastic-free zone.

The story behind the name

The Silent Valley is named so because of the absence of the chirping of cicadas, which are found abundantly in tropical rainforests such as this.

The controversy over Silent Valley, which lasted for a few years in the late Seventies and the early Eighties over the proposed hydroelectric project, came to an end when it was pronounced a national park on September 7, 1985, by Rajiv Gandhi.

On November 1, 1986, the Silent Valley National Park was included in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

A buffer zone has been recently declared for the park, including areas from adjacent territorial divisions.