Discover the history and special attributes of teak from Nilambur, Kerala, when visiting the town!
Undulating roads, stretches of coconut trees, swathes of paddy fields, dense forests of mixed vegetation, and long arms of rivers and backwaters make up the quintessential landscape of Kerala. Yet approaching Nilambur, Malappuram district, the road is unexpectedly hemmed by teak plantations on either side stirring one’s interest.
A little investigation reveals that the town is home to the Teak Museum, credited as being the world’s first teak museum (being established in May 1995 at the campus of the Sub-Centre of Kerala Forest Research Institute) and Conolly’s Plot credited as being the first man-made teak plantation in the world (being established by the British in the 1840s to provide high quality teak for a variety of purposes). The lovely Bioresources Nature Park and 143m long suspension bridge across Chaliyar River near Conolly’s Plot, adds to the charm of the interesting trip!
The Teak Museum
A visit to the Teak Museum sets the tone for experiencing Nilambur’s unique heritage of natural teak growth as well as teak plantations. The portico is graced with the huge root system of a single teak tree (Tectona grandis), while a large carved wooden door invites visitors within the two-level structure. Stepping in, you see exhibits devoted to Nilambur teak whose timber is regarded as the best teak due to its colour, grain, strength, ability to withstand fluctuating climatic conditions and heartwood resistant to pests. All these properties have made this teak ideal for varied purposes from handicrafts to homes and ships giving it a nomenclature of ‘Carpenter’s Joy’. And it has received the prestigious Geographical Indication (GI) tag last year.
The ground floor of the museum has several exhibits from the root system of teak to a traditional wooden granary to translites of giant teak trees, including one of `Kannimara teak’ (one of the oldest naturally growing teak trees) and long logs of a teak tree over 130 years old. It is exhibited with a backdrop of a wall painting depicting planting and logging of teak in the 1860s, a stump of a teak tree almost five centuries old showing its age in its rings, a miniature model of an uru, a traditional sailing vessel made of teak, and teak poles removed during thinning of teak plantations.
The upper floor has exhibits providing scientific information on different aspects related to the teak tree from the cycle of its growth to problems faced in teak plantations. The visitors can see a collection of over 300 butterflies, moths and insects; the plant and animal associates of teak; wood samples from trees of different ages; and properties of teak such as its grain, colour and texture as well as its medicinal properties. Portraits of men who worked at establishing teak plantations acknowledge their contribution, while the entire presentation conveys the efforts of teak research undertaken by Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI).
Post visiting the museum, one can walk around the building to see the wonderfully designed and maintained Bioresources Nature Park also established by the KFRI, which is said to be the first-of-its-kind in India. The park captures the essence of Kerala’s rich plant diversity and the region is one of the hotspots of biodiversity in the world. A paved path takes visitors through the different conservation theme areas spanning a wealth of plant species from algae to aquatic, a butterfly garden and a lot more.
A short drive from the museum is Conolly’s Plot. The approach to the plot is a balm to the senses as one walks a quiet cool path shaded by tall trees, then turns to walk a path along the river that is home to old trees with ample bird life. The path carries on to the suspension that sways slightly with the presence of people crossing over (though access is only allowed to a certain number of people at a time) while offering scenic views of the Chaliyar River and dense tree growth along its banks. Interestingly, the river has an important place in Nilambur’s teak heritage as logs/planks were conveyed in large rafts plying these waters.
At the far end of the bridge one walks down a spiralling staircase and to the famous plot. A paved path leads through the 5.675 acres plot that has a cluster of 117 old trees with vegetation on the ground, giving it a wonderful natural atmosphere. The idea of a teak plantation was initiated by HV Conolly, the Collector of Malabar (in response to the destruction of local teak forests) and the plantation was raised by Sub-Conservator Sri Chathu Menon. The plot was declared as a permanent preservation plot in 1943, and is of interest to researchers and students as well as lay visitors.
The plot is said to have some of the trees planted in the mid-19th century. A tree, number 23, with height of almost 50m high and a girth of 4.2m, is the main attraction of the plot. Visitors bend backwards to take in its soaring height, try embracing its ample girth, then – awed by the experience – take a picture standing near it. After a leisurely walk through the plot, it is time to return by the suspension bridge to the entrance and pause at the store for some natural produce for a delicious memory of a visit to a unique pocket of green in God’s Own Country!