Thursday, July 21, 2005

Planning a trip to Kerala -IV: Thekkady and Periyar

We left Munnar at around 3 pm and set out for the famous Periyar National Park, known for its elephant herds. We covered the distance of about 180 km from Munnar in 4 hrs. The drive through spice plantations was very pleasant. This is the Spice County. The road runs along the borders Tamil Nadu in some places. May be Veeranpan once roamed in these jungles. Thekkady is the town centre about 3 km from the Periyar NP. Munnar has a charm of its own but you may not like to stay there for more than a night. But Thekkady is one place where you can seriously think of staying for 2 nights. Most of the hotels are located near the gate to the national park. I was surprised to find hotel charges very low as compared to other places in Kerala. This may be because most tourists stay here for more than a day. I took cottages (not rooms!) for Rs.500/- each in Leela Pankaj Resorts located just 200 meters from the gate to the park. We decided to have dinner outside in the town so that we can move around the town. The market is full of Spices shop. They sell spices in various packaging and are ideal for souvenir to be gifted on your return. Prices were cheaper as compared to what we get at back home. Everyone was buying spices. We also ended up buying more than 1000 rupees worth of spices. Thereafter we had to buy extra bags for carrying these spices back home. Let me tell you that quality of the spices were really good. There are some souvenir shops near the gate of park that sells handicraft items. We bought Kathakali masks and houseboat replicas there.

One big headache of visiting national park is to get up at those unearthly hours to catch the first trip into jungles. Wild animals like getting out early before sunrise! The visiting area Periyar National Park is limited around the beautiful Periyar Lake. Lake Cruise conducted by forest deptt. is the best way to visit the park. Animals come out early in the morning before the sun shows its might in search of water and freshly sprouted grass on the banks of the lake. The first cruise starts at 5:30 am. Next trips are at 7 and 9:30 am. But those will be too late, as rising temperature will push the animals back into the jungle. Vehicles are allowed upto the jetty from where the ferry leaves. Another good thing I found here was the very nominal gate fee charged by forest deptt. For taking the vehicle into the park I had to pay just 16 rupees – Rs.10 for the vehicle and Rs.2 per head. For the 2-hour boat cruise the charge per head was 60 rupees plus an additional 20 bucks for the camera. Now compare these to the amount charged at Kaziranga NP. You are forced to pay 60 rupees as entry fee per head, pay 100 odd bucks for the vehicle entry, pay another 50 as guard fee, pay 50 for camera everyday, pay 120 per head for elephant ride, and so on. Low fees certainly encourage more tourists.

So the boat set its sail at 5:30 am. Sun was still under horizon. Reflections of the red soil and lush green vegetations on the placid waters of the lake were exuding a different kind of eerie charm. The lake is dotted by many burnt dry tree trunks, which indicates the once there were plantations in the area now under water. In fact this lake was a man made artificial reservoir built by the Britishers in 1935. Most of the passengers on the ferry were foreign tourists and a fair no. of Gujjus from Mumbai. The ferry was moving slowly, navigating through the tree trunks. On the way it picked up some tourists from a forest deptt. run resort located well inside the jungle. I can tell you this is probably the best place to spend a night though it is very costly. Forest deptt. has another resort named Aranya Nivas near the boat jetty, which is also within jungle. But this one is ideally located. The ferry moved on. Soon we spotted some deers. Then we had the first sight of a small elephant herd. As the ferry was taken closer to the bank for us to have a good view of the herd, they fled into the jungle. We saw few odder, bisons, wild boars, some water birds and another herd of elephant. I must say you see more animals in Kaziranga safaris. But watching animals on this unique boat safari on this scenic lake is by no means less exciting. The safari ended after 2 hours and we were back to hotels. Somking inside the park arae is prohibited and is strictly enforced.

The boat safari is not the end of activities in Periyar. If you have time in hand this is what you can do here --- 1) Go on jungle trekking. Groups of 5 are allowed per trip and are conducted in the morning. 2) In the evening forest deptt. conducts Night Safari from 7 to 8 pm which should also be interesting. I felt it will be more fun and adventure rather than getting to see animals. 3) Then there is a 3-day Tiger Trail conducted here. 4) Indulge yourself in one of those Kerala style ayurvedic massage centers here. 5) Every evening Kathakali dance is organized for tourists. Your hotel will arrange for tickets.

I did not have much prior information of these activities at Periyar. neither these were available on the net. So my itinerary had only one day allocated to Periyar. Further my houseboat was already booked and so I could not alter plans to extend my stay here. But if I come back here, I will certainly stay for two days here. We left Periyar for Allepey where the best 24 hours of our vacation was waiting to unfold.

1 comment:

singh said...

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