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KERALA'S SILENT VALLEY

N P Jayan, one of India's finest wildlife photographers, captures the wilderness of Kerala's Silent Valley in its pristine perfection – he assiduously creates images that are an attractive blend of blissful art and nuanced reality.

One of India's greatest wildlife photographers, N P Jayan's photographs of India's Silent Valley are images that stand the test of time. Over a span of three years, some of Jayan's finest images capture its bounty of biodiversity and its flora.

The Silent Valley, spread over 237 square kilometres, happens to be among the oldest stretches of rainforests in the world. It is possibly the only region in the country with a relatively undisturbed evolutionary history of at least 50 million years. The Mahabharata tells the story of the Pandavas losing a game of dice and being sent into exile for 13 years. Legend has it that the Pandavas had spent the better part of these years in the Silent Valley.

Nature's bounty

The forests with its puissant pink flowers or the lush stocky bamboo stems is almost always Jayan's preferred space to "create" pictures – he uses the moment carefully, "creating" pictures rather than "taking" them.

A moth that glistens in the sun, an evergreen shrub that holds the dewdrops of the sunrise, a lithe twig that hangs languorously while the beads of moisture and a spider's web limn its length like a necklace, the vegetation in this little sanctuary seems so far removed from urban ugliness.

"When I spend time in the Valley, I forget time, I forget the outer world, I'm lost in the cinematic canvas of the sounds and sights of the little things I see, sometimes I don't know the names,

I find out the names after I meet a famous botanist/zoologist Uthaman Sir in Trivandrum. Uthaman Sir says the Valley is a precious habitat for 41 species of mammals, 211 species of birds, 49 kinds of reptiles, 46 stunning amphibians, 164 unseen butterflies and over 2,000 species of flora."

Kunthi river

Jayan's camera pans the canopy of the thick verdant forests and then suddenly zooms in to catch the ephemeral beauty of an ant on a green snake. Breathtaking images capture the panoramic expanse of the forest and its inhabitants, many of which are endemic to the Western Ghats. Jayan captures silvery brooks, roaring waterfalls and the Kunthi river that nourishes the Silent Valley National Park.

The Kuntipuzha flows through the entire 15 km length of the park from the north to south, finally meeting the Bharathapuzha. The Kuntipuzha divides the park into a narrow eastern sector and a wide western sector. This is a perennial river and the waters run crystal clear. The main tributaries of the river are kunthancholapuzha, Karingathodu, Madrimaranthodu, Valiaparathodu and Kummaathanthodu, and they originate on the upper slopes of the eastern side of the valley.

Rich biodiversity

Above 1,500 m, the evergreen forests begin to give way to stunted forests, called sholas, interspersed with open grassland. Rainforests are rich repositories of biodiversity, especially of the unexplored and wild kind. The antiquity of the rainforest ecosystem and its fine-tuned physico-chemical conditions have led to a very high degree of endemism of the species found there. Hence, the destruction of rainforests is opening up the floodgates of species extinction.

"The Silent Valley is the last of the Evergreen Forests," states Jayan. "Deforestation and development have taken its toll in areas surrounding the Silent Valley. The rainforests harbour tremendous biodiversity and the rivers are nurturing lifelines."

This makes perfect sense; because in these exotic and esoteric images, there is an aura of elegance and the tongue-in-cheek comment of a wildlife photographer who takes a few minutes of reverie in the visual vocabulary of language. Jayan has spent almost six years in the Silent Valley and it is, as if, his conscious wait has trained him to observe its multi-layered, often elusive inhabitants, the play of its soft ethereal lights and shadows, its organic fervour, and its pace.

Freezing the frame

But, freezing the frame on rare moments coupled with commentaries and narratives are far from simple. The challenge for an astute and intuitive photographer is not to recreate the classical but to capture real pictures that reflect contemporary everyday living. Not an easy task in a world flooded with easy images and a long tradition of pictures from a far more picturesque world. For Jayan, the silent moment, solitary and sumptuous, can give us an image that breathes the fabric for posterity. And, when his images remain like a reverie in your mind, you know that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

'Malayalam poet Sugathakumari, a key figure in the struggle to save the Silent Valley, said that the biggest justification for the protection of the Valley is that it gives the second highest rainfall in the country. Recalling her three-decade-long efforts to save the Silent Valley, she said that this precious chunk of dense forest is perhaps India's last, largest and oldest tropical rainforest remaining undisturbed – undisturbed because of its relative inaccessibility, oldest because its age is estimated to be 50 million years.' India's needs nature lovers who can encourage others to conserve and preserve our precious habitats like the Silent Valley.

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