An engineer left his business in Dubai to build a biodiversity park. Mango Meadows Agriculture Pleasure Land, built by Nellikkuzhi Kuriakkose Kurian, houses 4800 plant species.
Several forests have been cut down in the name of development by industries and governments alike, hurting tribal populations as well as local fauna and flora around the country. However, 50-year-old Nellikkuzhi Kuriakkose Kurian stands out. Nellikkuzhi Kurian has built a man-made oasis in Ayamkudy, a village in the state’s Kottayam district, using money from his own pocket.
For the past three years, the Mango Meadows Agriculture Pleasure Land, a biodiversity park, has become a popular site for visitors and tourists to revitalise in the middle of nature, with not a speck of pollution on its premises. Nellikkuzi’s objective when he began was never to establish a park for touristic interests.
Nellikkuzi, a Kaipuzha native, began his career as an engineer directing construction sites in Mumbai. He moved to Saudi Arabia in 1995, at the age of 26, to work as a site engineer for a construction company. Nellikkuzi says, he was visiting a location one day when he stumbled across a man-made oasis in the middle of the desert.
During a visit to India in 2002, Nellikkuzi purchased a 5-acre barren property in Ayamkudy village to pursue the venture. He says, “There were four coconut trees on the property, and the rest was desolate.”
He began investing money in native tree planting and travelled to remote areas of the country. Nellikkuzi had bought 30 acres of property about a decade later. He says, “In 2009, I decided to give up my business and devote my savings and life to the development of the forest.”
Today, the green haven is home to 4 lakh trees, 4,800 plant species, 85 vegetable varieties, and 145 fruit trees, including plum, cherry, Israel orange, and others. Other uncommon plant species and trees found in the park include Aegle marmelos, which is considered sacred and utilised for medical purposes.”
Nellikkuzi says, “I’ve also planted a rare species, ficus alii, which is on the verge of extinction, as well as other variations like calabash or beggar’s bow, rudraksha, and others.”
He claims that not all of the types he grows are edible.Nellikkuzi continues, “But my major goal is to save as many plant species as possible from extinction,”
The paradise also has four ponds with 64 different types of fish. Tunnels connect the ponds, which range in size from 50 to 150 square feet. Due to this, fishes can travel between the ponds. Nellikkuzi built these ponds to create job opportunities for people.
Nellikkuzi says he began cultivating the site to build a mini-forest, but it soon evolved into an eco-friendly homestay.
He says, “I built a farmhouse to oversee and maintain the plantings.”
However, many friends and relatives began to visit the area in search of quiet and to spend time away from the city’s bustle “he claims.
Nellikkuzi opened his biodiversity park to the public as the number of tourists grew.
But, he says, “Floods in 2018 inundated my park, causing losses. I looked for loans to help me recuperate. I need Rs 7 lakh each month to keep the park running, and my debts have ballooned to Rs 25 crore. I intend to compensate them through tourism.”
Aside from flora, the park has go-karting, cable cars, a swimming pool, boating and boat safaris, a ropeway, archery, a restaurant, a resort, and much more. According to Nellikkuzi, no vehicles are permitted on campus, and guests must get about by e-vehicle, bullock cart, or foot.
He says, “Researchers and students from all across India have investigated the plant species at my biodiversity park, which demonstrates that I was successful in my goal of saving and protecting unique varieties.” However, Nellikkuzi admits that establishing a mini-forest on his own has not been easy.
He says, “There was no Google or the internet to help me identify and locate unusual plants. It took me months to locate and acquire uncommon plant species. I put in a lot of effort by going to agricultural universities and botanical gardens to collect uncommon species ,” adding that financial limits are another challenge that persists to this day.
Nellikkuzhi Kurian says, “My work impressed the Gujarat Tourism and Fisheries Minister during his recent visit, and he encouraged me to develop such a biodiversity theme park.”
Nellikkuzhi believes that Mango Meadows Agriculture Pleasure Land will help future generations grasp the country’s natural heritage.