After exploring the backwaters of Kerala and having a perfect rejuvenation in the house boat in Alleppey, I further traveled to unearth the paradisiacal beauty of Thekkady, which is famous for the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the spice plantations. On the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, this famous forest of deciduous and Savanah grasslands is home to lion-tailed macaque, sambar, gaur, Nilgiri langur, elephant, deer, Indian bison, bear, and more. Adding more serenity to its landscape, there is a placid and tranquil lake near the reserve and it is a must-visit attraction for tourists. Thekkady stands unique with its peacefulness, harmonious greenery, and plantations. The accommodation options in this eye-soothing town are many and some of the Thekkady hotels are fabulously built amidst dense biodiversity. The night walking in Periyar and my stay at Carmelia Haven were the highlights of this trip.
While each one of us may be familiar with Kerala in many ways, its most attractive places are different from one another. Kochi has that colonial, city-like feel, Alleppey owns the backwaters to its name, Munnar is a laid-back hill station while Thekkady is unique for being blessed with the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and stretches of cardamom and other spices plantations.
Five Highlights of my 2 days stay in Thekkady
- Leisure stay in one of the best plantation resorts
- Boat Cruising in Periyar lake
- Night Walking in Periyar
- Off-roading in Kailasapara, a hamlet in Vandanmedu
- Learning about Cardamom and its growing-selling process
The longest river of Kerala, Periyar is put in use for irrigation, electrical power generation, and other industrial & commercial activities. The source of the river is believed to be the southern boundaries of the jungles of Periyar Tiger Reserve. As it flows, Periyar is also the name given to a lake in its course. This reservoir or lake is almost like a nucleus, surrounded by the jungles and thus many animals and birds are spotted drinking water and taking a dip in its waters.
Before visiting the Periyar Sanctuary, one must know about the entry fees and the activities available there. Check for the site of the Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundation. From nature walks, and bamboo rafting to green walks and Jungle camping, there are many options to indulge in the wilderness. Tickets are also available in the window in the park but there are fixed timings for that. Our tickets were taken by Carmelia Haven. One thing that we had to ensure was to reach there in time. If the boat ride begins at 3:30 p.m., you must try and be there by 3. The parking area is away from the gate of the reserve. So first you must park your vehicle at the designated location and then join a queue for the bus which comes and fetches the visitors. Two-wheeler vehicles have a parking area closer to the reserve. I quite liked this idea of collecting people in one place and using a common bus for entering the jungle.
We reached the parking ground as targeted. There was a long queue already and while we were still haggling and gearing up with our caps, cameras, and water bottles, the bus arrived. It did not even take five minutes for it to get full. We did not get seats being among the last ones to climb in it. It was a quick fifteen-minute ride towards the forest gate and soon we were all walking towards the area where the boats are parked. The moment I saw the lake, I was in love with its picturesque setting. The landscape around the lake gets to your heart and soul. The weather was such that it made it look prettier. Within minutes, I was on the boat. The walk from the point where the bus drops you to the banks of the lake is close to 500 meters so you must be careful with the timings. The boats make a move as per the schedule. Do carry your tickets as well as the Periyar Reserve gate pass.
After wearing the lifeboats, we were all supposed to settle down in our seats. Our seat numbers took us on the upper deck. I liked the fact that a lot of discipline was maintained in keeping everyone glued to their seats. No one was allowed to stand up while the boat was in motion. This way, the ride could be enjoyed better. As the boat began moving, everyone got busy appreciating nature. The dense forests on both sides and the lush greenery were very soothing. It goes unsaid that we were all banking high on the chances of spotting wildlife. The lake is a part of the forest’s ecosystem so everything about it makes you happy. Being a wildlife enthusiast, I was hoping to see some elephants and bison. I must say as the boat moved further, the scenery on the Periyar became all the more beautiful. Even though we did not get very lucky with many animals, the avian species kept us entertained. There were a variety of birds that could be spotted everywhere. I bet this place is a must-do for bird lovers. When the boat reached further, we spotted wild boars far away, and then there was a bison too. I prayed for the elephants too but they remained elusive.
After forty minutes, the boat took a turn and it was time to return. Usually, this activity is a one and a half hour affair and we were going back to the starting point. I wanted to explore the lake further but had no choice. Well, many of my friends were disappointed about not spotting big animals but I quite liked this activity and would recommend it to everyone. Just go for it without high expectations of spotting animals and you will enjoy it. The way Periyar lake looks and appeals to the eyes, you are sure to fall in love with it.
Light Snacking and some shopping
After the boat ride, we couldn’t wait for the night jungle trail that was to follow. While I had done a night safari in the buffer region in Madhya Pradesh, the idea of walking in the jungle in the dark gave me goosebumps. But then travel is all about the thrills and adventures. Isn’t it? We had our tickets already in place and there was no looking back. There were still two hours to go before we were supposed to report to Bamboo Grove to start the trail at 7 p.m. After the boat ride, we walked the way back instead of taking the bus ride. Also, we had plans to check out some local eateries for quick snacks. After thirty minutes, we reached the main gate. There was still a long way to the parking. On the way, we stopped to indulge in some banana fritters, chips, and tea. I did some quick shopping too from the shop just opposite the place where we ate. Whenever you are here, don’t forget to check out the abundant varieties of homemade chocolates available in every shop. I tasted spice chocolates and liked them immediately. They were so unique. I also got some almond and cashew chocolates packed for my folks at home.
Night Walking in Periyar
It was time for the last and the most exciting event of the day. We reached the designated gate. They gave us big leech socks or pants which we had to wear to keep the leeches off. A torch was handed over to each one of us. And after signing the forms that we were responsible for everything, we were introduced to our guide. He was a young talkative chap who made our scouting memorable for two reasons. First, when it had been like fifteen minutes inside the jungle, he scared us by saying that though he had a rifle gun he couldn’t assure saving us if a big animal attacked. To some extent, I must applaud him for his honesty but he should have told this right before entering the jungle gate. Second, he was only fluent in Malayalam. Though he could understand what we spoke to him in English but was not able to answer well. Thankfully, we had two fellow writers who could interact with him in his native language. The night guard joined us soon (who spoke Kannada) and we began our journey. This is the night of epic adventure and crazy fun.
Once we stepped into the jungle (buffer area) of Periyar Tiger Reserve, the guide showed us some age-old sandalwood trees which had to be saved from smugglers. There were four camp sites inside the jungle to keep a watch on the smuggling. While we walked in the dark amidst the creeping noises of the jungle, every small ruffle got our antennas high. I enjoyed it to the core but also had butterflies in my stomach. The best thing about night walking in Periyar is that it gives you a different kind of experience. It lets you hear the sounds of the jungle at the night. Your job should be to enjoy every moment. Being in the territory of animals is not an easy feat but if you have decided to do that, make sure to make the best of it. And talk less and listen to the sounds of the jungle.
What to do on night trails?
The best thing to do on such trails is to be with your gang, not take different paths, use the torch to find your path, take smaller steps and maintain silence. Three hours in the jungle couldn’t have come without an adventure. Well, we did not encounter a tiger but one of our friends lost the sole of her shoes. It became difficult for her to walk. The guide suggested us a shortcut. The moment we turned, we found ourselves in puddles of swamp and mud. While we were still struggling to come out of it, her second shoes also decided to part ways and now she was in a fix. Imagine yourself in a jungle with your shoes not giving the strength and support that you expect from them and what happens when you find yourself in a situation where you are supposed to run. Well, thankfully we didn’t have to run. However, it was fun walking back, especially after the mud splashed all over us. We had a peaceful exit out of the jungle after exploring it for a good two and a half hours. I must say this will always be memorable. I brought back two leeches on my feet and extremely dirty shoes despite wearing the leech pants.
What a fun trip this was!! Happy traveling.
To travel to Thekkady directly, you can make your air ticket bookings to Kochi airport or Madurai airport and do a road trip from there.