One of the first things that strikes you in Kerala is the abundance of vegetation. What struck me immediately (and literally) were the teak trees when I took the train from Palghat to Nilambur Rd. I had seen teak in AP, Karnataka, Orissa, Chatthisgarh and even Tamil Nadu. I had seen them in abundance on the Nagpur - Chindwara narrow gauge route too. But none as abundant as on the Shoranur-Nilambur Road branch line.
The trees grew right next to the tracks and their leaves literally slapped anyone daring a footboard travel; so close were they. There are plantations of jackfruit, banana, coconut palm, areca, cashew, pepper and of course, rubber.
I was amazed by the green coverage but worried about forced plantation. Nature does not grow in patterns. Nor does it favour one species over the other. Despite the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest, nature is a great equalizer when it comes to vegetation. In any case, it is not the rubber or jackfruit I am worried about. The worrisome ones are eucalyptus and areca which require least maintenance and generate enough cash. The trouble with these is under their roots. Eucalyptus drains the water table. Areca with its shallow roots loosens the soil and causes erosion. Areca nuts were called Green Gold in Taiwan for their commercial value. But the roots of areca are shallow and grow laterally, preventing water to seep deeper and replenish the ground water table. In cyclone or heavy winds, areca cannot protect the soil from being washed away. This problem is specifically acute in hilly areas or slopes where the soil erosion is even more acute.
The line from Ernakulam Jn to Kayamkulam Jn via Allappuzha was equally exciting as i travelled on it early in the morning. The abundance of water was evident with the greenery, the ponds and bckwaters. Thankfully, the villages dotted with little bunglows were not as predictable with their greenery. It was a pleasure to see a good variety of trees within the kitchen gardens of the houses. It was difficult to tell a town from a village thanks to the thick green cover and vast spaces between houses. Elsehwere, we would have been travelling through a concrete jungle bereft of any vegetation.
Kollam to Tenkasi was another round through plantations, the same rubber, teak, jackfruit and banana types. This route however has steep gradients that enlivened the journey. The route passes through a break in the Western Ghats (specifically the cardomon hills) and captures a wonderful scenery within itself. The little stations are thickly lined with teak and jackfruit and resemble neighbourhood parks rather than drab stations!