Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary

Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary: A hidden treasure in Kannur

My latest trip to Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, in Kannur, Kerala was a FEAT like none before! Read my complete experience below!

Fear. The very real chance of getting attacked by any one or many of more than two dozen wild elephants that are on a rampage.
Exhaustion. An intense 9 hour, 20 km trek through dense forest that challenges your mind and body equally.
Adventure. From crossing makeshift bridges to dip in the pristine river and exploring an evergreen forest.
Thankful. To the mother nature for her kind hospitality and letting us walk out safe! 
Aralam Information Center
The start point

It was nearing one year since my last trekking trip with my colleagues Arjun, Abihjith and Sourath to Coorg and this time we zeroed in at Aralam as our next trekking destination, a largely unexplored wildlife sanctuary in Kannur, bordering Kerala and Karnataka. One of my friend, Anoop, also joined this time. The Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary is in the news recently for all the wrong reasons as around 20 wild elephants were running havoc at the adjacent Aralam Farm (An extension of the sanctuary where human settlement and farming is allowed).  They were destroying the plantations and even attacking people resulting in massive damage to property, crops and even unfortunate death by trampling of two people (In the last 2 months). Whenever such incidents happen, the entry to the sanctuary for the public is restricted or even banned and hence it was extremely difficult for us to get permission for the trek.  

Aralam River
Nature at its best
Aralam Forest
Path to the unknown
After countless phone calls to the Wildlife Warden, Forest officers, Range officers and so on, we finally got a go ahead under the condition that we will be accompanied by a forest guide and that permission will be revoked if any new attack is reported 1 or 2 days prior to our trip. Also, permission to trek inside the forest by foot is rarely given and is usually limited to just 8-10 groups per year mainly comprising of bird watchers, butterfly experts, wildlife researchers, and other similar interest groups. The standard activity at the sanctuary for the public is a 15 km Jeep ride into the forest, on a rocky road, parallel to a river, up to a small waterfall called Meenmutti waterfalls (not the one in Wayanad) and back, and would usually take around 3-4 hours to complete. 
Tough road ahead

We decided to take the tougher route, by foot, into the deep and dangerous forests! 

A day before the trek, we reached Iriiti, a small town 15 km from Aralam and hired an auto for next day early morning drop to the sanctuary, as there are no buses that early and traveling by auto is way cheaper than hiring a Jeep. We started by 5:00 AM the next day and our auto driver was under the impression that we were to be dropped off at the entrance of Aralam farm.

However, when we informed the driver that our drop point is at the Aralam wildlife sanctuary entrance which is a further 8 km inside the Aralam farm, the driver became visibly uncomfortable and was trying to discourage us saying the authorities won’t let people inside so early and that he thinks they have stopped the trekking for now and all. When we informed him that we have taken all permissions and that we indeed can go early, he shared with us his real concern: ELEPHANTS.  

He was scared to drive through the Aralam farm where elephants were a threat. However, we informed him about the news reported just a day ago, all the 22 elephants which came into the farm have been sent back to the Aralam wildlife sanctuary (where we are headed to!) by the forest officials and the farm is now free of any elephants. The news hardly comforted him and at the farm security checkpoint, the driver was seen repeatedly asking the guard if there are wild elephants en route and whether its safe for him to go.  

After getting assurance from the forest guard, he finally took us in, and after another 30 min of drive through the farm, we were dropped at the entrance of AWS and the auto driver returned immediately with a look on his face as if he has dropped us at the entrance of death.  

It was pitch dark at the entrance as the sunrise was still an hour away and all we could hear was water flowing from the nearby river and chirping crickets. There was no one at the gate and after some searching and walking into the sanctuary we found a forest officer and informed him about our trek. It was the same person who I had frequently contacted over phone and he asked us to wait for sometime as the guide who is to accompany us was on his way.  

In the meantime, the forest officer gave us a quick introduction about the Aralam sanctuary, its specialists like being one of the topmost places to see all varieties of butterfly species and rare birds. He then briefed us on the dangers of going into the forest and that it was just a day before 22 elephants have been sent into the sanctuary and instead of going to the dense forests, they may try to enter the farm back in which case, there was a high chance of coming face to face with them on our route inside the forest.    

River inside Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary
Right on time for the sunrise view!

This was probably a rare trip to a wildlife territory where you wish not to be seen by wild animals!

By around 7 AM, our forest guide Mr. Biju joined us, and we started our trek immediately. After walking through a rock paved road which runs parallel to a river, for around 3 km (same road which the jeep takes en route to the waterfall), we reached a place where the river has formed a beautiful plateau and was accessible by foot. The water in the river was crystal clear that even the pebbles on the riverbed were seen! The surroundings were glowing with greenery, and the sun adding more colors, it felt like an exotic location only seen in movies! We spend some quality time there, absorbing all the positivity, also refueling us with some packed breakfast items and water. We even undertook some environmental cleanup by removing plastic sheets and other plastic waste that had settled near the waterbody.
River at Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary
Nothing more refreshing!

We resumed our journey and traveling roughly a km more through the rock-paved road, a small path emerged to the left of the main road. The guide gave us two choices: Walk straight along the paved road and reach the waterfall OR take the left turn and explore the dense forest with the risk of a wildlife encounter! We happily chose the second option and started our trek to the insides of the forest. The next 5 km which took us almost 2 hours to cover was the most dangerous and exciting part of our trip, where we could come in contact with wild elephants any time. We were also going through the area frequented by Tigers (as seen in the capture cameras and according to our Guide, who himself had 5 close tiger sightings) and the vegetation was so thick that sideways visibility was just 1-2 meters and hence we wouldn’t be even knowing if danger was behind those trees .  

Walking inside Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary
We were asked to walk really quiet, but it was an impossible task with our shoes making sound whenever it made contact with layers of leaf foliage on the ground. The guide would signal us to stand still and not move a muscle whenever he senses danger and luckily (or unlucky?)every time it turns out to be a false alarm and the culprit on most occasions were monkeys or the Malabar giant squirrel. We were also lucky to have a glimpse of a family of Smooth-coated otter crossing our path and they vanished into the forest before we could photograph them. Our guide informed us that this is the first sighting of an otter at Aralam in years and we were the  lucky ones to see them! 
Elephant dung was to be seen every now and then and whenever fresh dung was noticed, we became extra cautious, and our heart were beating faster (in addition to the overtime pumping it was doing to keep up with our trek!) As we walked more deep into the forest, our guide informed us that we were entering the semi-evergreen/evergreen section of the forest. The trek by then was becoming more tiring as the climb was becoming steeper, but at the same time,  the forest is more dense and hence the sunlight was less intense and we could feel the temperature go down and a cooler climate.
Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary
In search of the mystery sound

Finally, after 5 hours of intense trekking, we reached our destination, which is small watch tower, right in the middle of the forest! This place is used by forest officers to halt at night whenever they are deployed into the forest and the tower is surrounded by deep drenches, so that wild animals do not cross and reach the place. We camped there for almost an hour, having our lunchtime snacks, clicking few photographs, resting for some time and then started our trek back.  

On our way back while passing through the “high-risk area”, our risk got compounded when the perfume bottle inside my friend Anoop’s bag broke and the aroma quickly spread around the area (Don’t ask what he was doing with a perfume bottle in the forest!). How its a danger? Wild animals can sense this smell from kilometers away and could lead them directly to us. Also, since we have the aroma of the strong perfume around us, we (especially the guide) will not be able to smell the elephant coming (Yes, they can smell animal movement). Luckily we did not encounter any issues. 

On the way up the forest, we went past two amazing trees. One was a class of twine which comes from a family that originated on earth as the second plant species! It is amazing that the species survived all these years. Keep in mind that the dinosaurs which came after the tree lived its life and has become extinct. The next surprise we had was a massive tree which was surrounded and intertwined by thick creepers. What had happened is that over the years the tree which was inside the creepers got destroyed, but the creepers survived and kept on growing. It is an excellent example of survival of the fittest! 

The walk back was a lot faster and we easily covered the return path until the riverfront in half the time. After reaching the riverfront, we took a long break where my friends indulged in some nice swimming activity in the river while myself and the guide stood guard making sure there is no sudden arrival of elephants, as they frequent the place during that time for drinking water.   

After a refreshing break at the riverside, we resumed the last leg of our trek and by around 4 PM we reached back at the entrance. By then our hunger had reached its peak despite eating frequently en route and lucky for us, the forest officer offered us to lunch at the staff kitchen free of cost! We had a really tasty meal comprising many varieties, all Kerala dishes prepared by one of the Adivasi inhabitant, who comes every day to prepare the food for forest officials.
After paying the trek fee and guide fee and we bid adieu to our guide and forest officer and then another auto back to Iritty. We reached back around 6 PM,  had a refreshing hot water bath and then headed out to a nearby restaurant to have some yummy Biriyani to windup the day!
Inside Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary
FAQ about Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary (AWS)

Is there safari at AWS ?

The forest department by themselves does not conduct any Safari. You can hire a Jeep or bring your own vehicle and do a 15 km (one side) drive inside the sanctuary to Meenmutty Waterfalls.

What are the timings ?

The sanctuary is open on all 7 days, 365 days of the year and the timings are from 8 AM to 2 PM (Entry timing) and 6 PM is the exit timing. So, if you are reaching the sanctuary at 2 PM, then you have to get out from there by 6PM.

Is there accomodation at AWS?

The wildlife sanctuary has two IB (Inspection Bunglow) which used to be available for the public, but is now restricted only to govt. officials.

There is a dormitory which can accommodate upto 50 people, but is given only to big groups or school teams who come there for camps and is chargable extra.

is there an entry fee?

Yes. Nominal charges are present for the tickets and ticket should be taken for camera as well. Also, guide charges are extra. The guide fee is 300 rs (for group of 5), camera fee is 30 rs and per head fee is 15 rs according to their website. 

Can I go into the forest alone?

Minimum 5 member team should be present to get permission to go inside the sanctuary. Also, a guide is mandatory for all treks, even if you are bringing your own vehicle.

Is there food options at AWS ?

No. You will have to bring your own food as there are no restaurants at the AWS. You will find a local restaurant about 1 km outside the premise.

what are the chances of animal sighting?

Chances of sighting animals like tiger or elephants are rare, but not impossible. However, you will frequently see monkeys, giant malabar squirrel, variety of rare birds and butterflies.

Can we do overnight stay at AWS?

No. Stay inside the forest is completely stopped. However, if you are planning a camp (with 30-50 group), then you can stay at the dormitory. Charges extra. Contact AWS for details.

Google Map Location:
Address and Phone Number:

Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary

Iritty 670703., Kannur, Kerala
Ph: +91- 490-2493160 (Iritty Office)
Ph: +91- 490-2413160 (Aralam Office)

Available in 10 km radius:
Useful External Links: : An excellent website which gives in-depth details on the flora and fauna at aralam. Have details on the geography, climate and weather details and many more technical details of the sanctuary. However, many of the content here are outdated especially regarding accommodation details, trek details and about night camping (for instance, the place does not allow night trekking and stay inside the forest anymore).

Official page on Kerala Forest department website.

Official page on Kerala Tourism website.
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