Cholayar or Chalakudy Puzha as it is known downstream is one of the largest rivers in central Kerala. It originates from Anamalais and Nelliampathy slopes in the Western Ghats and joins Arabian Sea after merging with the waters of Periyar near Paravur. It is world famous for its waterfalls at Athirappally, Vazhachal and Charpa.
The river also hosts the relic patches of unique riparian low-lying forests, extremely rare in Kerala. It is home to four species of horn-bills: Malabar Grey, Indian Grey, Malabar Pied and Great Indian Horn-bills. The fish diversity (more than 100 species) of the river and the bird diversity (more than 200 species) of the adjacent riparian forests are amazing. It is the last resort of an ancient tribe called Kadar who live by the river at Vazhachal range. The riverside ancient route to Valparai and Pollachi connected Kerala with the Tamil country for centuries.
The thickly forested islands in the river are also home to rare and endangered flora and fauna. The Cholayar basin is also part of an elephant corridor stretching from Parambikulam to Puyamkutty. Large mammals like Gaur, deer (Sambhar, Barking and Mouse deers) leopard and tiger are also abundant here. The human-leopard conflict is a serious menace in Malakapara.
In the last week of April 2010 I visited the banks of Cholayar with Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas. We stayed at Athirappally near the river. We explored upstream up to Sholayar reservoir near Malakapara bordering Tamil Nadu en-rout to Valparai. In the oil palm plantation below the Athirappally waterfalls my friend spotted a spotted dear and calf.
This was an alarming surprise for us as the western slopes of Western Ghats are not known for this species which is abundant in the eastern and dry slopes like Parambikulam. It could be an indication of changing climatic and vegetation patterns. We saw plenty of Malabar Grey Horn-bills on the way as well. Giant Squirrels and butterflies are quite common in the riverine vegetation and sparkling glades. This unique biodiversity hot spot is also under increasing threat from big dam projects that would eventually maroon this invaluable gift of nature.