I discovered Gavi purely by chance. The resort we stayed at in Kumily, Thekkady organized day trips to Gavi and we decided to explore this quaint little hamlet nestled in the midst of wilderness. Though the place became popular after getting featured in a couple of movies, it still remains one of the lesser traveled destinations in India. Now declared a part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Gavi is home to a variety of flora and fauna including leopards and elephants. Located in the Seethathode panchayath of Pathanamthitta district, there are many roads leading to Gavi. Yet the dense forest encapsulating Gavi attracts only the discerning enthusiast. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation operates an ordinary bus service from Pathanamthitta to Kumily via Gavi and that is the only public transport available in the region.
We started from Kumily at six in the morning. It was in the month of July when the monsoons were in full swing. Our open jeep traversed the rain washed mud tracks hewed out in the thick of the forests. The scent of the wild was accentuated by the persistent drizzle and the buzzing and screeching of insects. We peered out of the jeep to catch a glimpse of the wildlife inhabiting the region. Among the few animals we spotted were the Great Indian bison, elephants and black monkeys. Driving down, we entered a clearing in the middle of the jungle and there awaited Gavi in all its magnificence. The Kerala Forest Development Corporation runs an ecotourism project here with arrangements for food, camping and trekking. The day's activities included hiking, visiting the cardamom plantations and boating.The highlight of the tour was a waterfall hidden deep inside the jungle accessible to tourists by boat. The grandeur of the falls arising from heights and shattering away on rocks like shards of glass, is unparalleled. It captured the essence of Gavi - a wild, unpredictable kind of beauty which is as pristine as mountain water and as dangerous as its violent currents.
It is when I tried to gather more information about this hidden gem that I chanced upon a documentary on the people of Gavi. No, they are not aboriginal tribes. Nor are they native dwellers. They are refugees from Sri Lanka who sought to build a new life away from the terror they faced back home due to the constant tension between the LTTE and the Srilankan Army. The Indira Gandhi government provided them refuge in the impenetrable forestland of Gavi, safe from human intervention but precariously exposed to the perils of living in the wild. Till date, little has been done to improve their plight. One member from each family is employed at the cardamom plantations maintained by the forest department. The demand for wage increase is met with a threat to job security. The nearest school is miles away and the only dispensary in the region has just one nurse. It seems as if these people, in their quest for a better future, got drawn into the esoteric depths of Gavi, becoming one among its darker secrets.