Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Thekkady, is one of the oldest protected areas in the country. The Mulla Periyar Irrigation Dam, constructed in 1895, was considered an engineering marvel at that time. But the dam inundated a large tract of forestland and created a 26sq km lake, which is today the main watering hole of the reserve. Stumps of trees play host to a number of birds, including cormorants and darters.

The name Thekkady comes from thekku or teak trees while Periyar is named after Periyar, or the big river.

Courtesy Kerala Tourism
A group of elephants at Periyar Tiger Reserve
A group of elephants at Periyar Tiger Reserve

Tropical evergreen and deciduous forests, spread over the 777sq km of hills, valleys, plains and waterlogged areas make up the reserve. By 1950, the area had gained the status of a wildlife sanctuary and 28 years later, it was brought under Project Tiger. The core area was declared a National Park in 1982.

The Kottayam-Thekkady Road ends at Kumily on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. There is only one entry point to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, through the small village of Thekkady, 4km from Kumily. You can either reach it by bus or autorickshaw, both of which ply between the two villages. The starting point of the reserve is the boathouse, roughly 2km from the entry gate. This distance can be either covered on foot or in a vehicle. All treks and boat rides begin from this point. Near the boathouse is the Eco-tourism Centre, where you can sign up for trekking and other activities. The Pamba river flows on the western side of the reserve. The best way of seeing the reserve is by taking a boat ride on the Periyar lake.

Entry Indians  25, Foreigners  300 Timings 6.00am–5.00pm Camera Still free; Video  250 Vehicle entry  50–200

Tip Binoculars are available on hire but are generally in a very poor condition. So take your own along

Things to See & Do

There are several eco-tourism programmes in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which include day and night trekking, camping and bamboo rafting. All of these present exciting opportunities to spot animals and birds. Contact the Eco-tourism Centre at Ambady Junction, Kumily, for signing up for these programmes. All these are popular and booked months in advance, so make your reservations well ahead.

Boating

The hills around the Periyar lake provide food for elephants, gaur and sambar, so the best chance of viewing wildlife is during boat rides. The reservoir in itself has many creeks, promontories and small islets serving as habitats for wildlife. The boats are run by the Forest Department or the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC).

Boating on the Periyar lake
Boating on the Periyar lake

Boating fee KTDC:  150; Forest Dept:  150 Timings 7.30am, 9.30am, 11.15am, 1.45pm & 3.30pm

Walk in the Wild

One of the eco-tourism programmes is the nature walk, which covers 4–5km on different routes and lasts for three hours. It provides tourists with a good opportunity to spot birds, butterflies and occasionally, large animals. The charges are  300 per person. The minimum charge is Rs. 1,200 for four persons, and a maximum of five persons are allowed in each group. The walks are held at 7.00am, 7.30am, 10.00am, 10.30am, 2.00pm and 2.30pm. A trained tribal guide accompanies each group.

Jungle Patrol

There is regular patrolling of the fringe areas of the forest, and this programme lets you be part of the patrol groups. Thereby, the patrol, an effort to conserve the forest, doubles as a tourism venture; the tourist too gets a chance to help in the conservation effort. The 3-hour-long night trek can be undertaken in one of the several slots: 7.00–10.00pm, 10.00pm–1.00am and 1.00–4.00am. Each slot has six visitors, moving in two separate teams. An armed forest guard accompanies each group. The charges are  1,000 per person.

Bamboo Rafting

This full-day programme involves trekking through different habitats, though the rafting itself lasts three hours. It starts at the boat landing at 8.00am; the guides take you inside the forest for a trek and then back to your raft to sail back in the evening. The programme ends at 5.00pm and the charges are  2,000 per person, inclusive of food and entry fee; a minimum of two and a maximum of 10 persons, per day, are allowed.

Jungle Story

This involves an overnight stay at a cottage for two at Kokkara, an hour’s walk from the forest check-post. Check-in is at 3.00pm and check-out at 9.00am the next morning. At  5,000 for two, the tariff is inclusive of trekking and dinner. The stay at the inn gives you a chance to enjoy the beauty of the jungle at night.

A herd of gaur grazing in a clearing in the forest
A herd of gaur grazing in a clearing in the forest

Bamboo Grove

An eco-friendly area, the bamboo grove is where tourists can stay in eight huts made exclusively with natural materials such as bamboo and grass. The charge is  4,000 for one cottage and the rate is inclusive of food for two, boating, trekking and entry fees.

Border Hiking

This is a full-day hard trek oriented towards conservation. It starts at 8.00am and ends at 5.00pm. The trail passes through altitudes of 900–1,300m, offering the tourist several beautiful views. Sightings of gaur and elephant are also com-mon on this route. The charge of  1,500 per person includes refreshments. Two guides and an armed forest guard accompany the tourists.

Periyar Tiger Trail

This includes two programmes (1N/ 2D and 2N/ 3D) that only the medically fit and those in the age group of 15–65 can be part of. The programme covers 20–35km of area, depending on the route chosen. Armed guards accompany the groups, which consist of five visitors and five guides; simple vegetarian fare is prepared en route and accommodation is in tents. For a 1N/ 2D trek, the charges are  5,000 per person (a minimum of  8,000 has to be paid for the programme to be organised); for a 2N/ 3D trek, the cost is  7,000 per person (a mini-mum of  12,500 has to be paid). The route passes through hills and valleys, giving tourists a chance to spot wildlife.

Spice Plantation Visits

The Kerala Tourism Information Centre (Tel: 04869-222620) located near the main reserve entrance gate at Kumily organises tours to spice plantations. Visitors are taken to the Connemara Tea Factory, 15km outside the sanctuary.

Tour fee  350 Timings 10.00am–2.00pm

Where to Stay & Eat

There is a wide range of stay options here, from luxury to the basic. Thekkady also has a few resorts set inside the sanctuary. There aren’t many stand-alone eateries but all the hotels offer meals and non-guests can eat at most without advance notice.

Inside the forest

KTDC’s Aranya Nivas (Tel: 04869-222023, 222779, Cell: 09400008591/ 92; Tariff:  4,100–9,000) is a great option for birdwatchers, right inside the forest. KTDC’s Lake Palace (Tel: 223887-88, 222014, Cell: 09400008588/ 89; Tariff:  10,000–25,000, with meals) is also in the sanctuary. There are six suites here, with restaurants and Internet. The Lake Palace can only be approached by a boat.

KTDC’s Periyar House (Tel: 222026/ 546; Tariff:  1,250–3,400) is located midway between the main entrance and the boat house. You will get a feel of the jungle if you stay here, plus there’s a restaurant and beer bar, boating, trekking and plantation visits.

The Forest Department also has Bamboo Grove (Tariff:  1,500) in Anavachal, with 15 cottages; Periyar Tiger Trail (Tariff:  5,000) inside the forest, with three tents and the Tented Camp (Tariff:  1,500–5,000) in Vallakkadavu. Meals are arranged. For bookings, contact Eco-tourism Centre, Periyar Tiger Reserve (Tel: 04869-224571).

Outside the forest

Club Mahindra Tusker Trails (Tel: 222273/ 401, Cell: 09946559829; Tariff:  7,500–9,500), earlier Taj Garden Retreat, is close to the main gate and has 49 cottages with restaurants, swimming pool, spa and Ayurveda. The CGH Earth Group’s Spice Village (Tel: 302500-01; Tariff:  9,500–22,000), located in a spice garden near the forest, has a nice, wild ambience. There is a bar, a wildlife centre and Ayurvedic treatments. The hotel arranges tours to tea and spice gardens.

Another high-end option includes the Muthoot Cardamom County (Tel: 224501-03; Tariff:  8,000–16,000) with 44 rooms, a restaurant, swimming pool, gym, activity centre and Ayurvedic massage centre.

Getting There

Air Nearest airport: Cochin Interna­tional Airport, Nedumbassery (190km/ 4hrs). Prepaid taxis (Tel: 0484-2610115 extn: 2107) to Thekkady will cost between  4,370 and  4,860

Rail Nearest Railhead: Kottayam (110km/ 3.5hrs). Taxis to Thekkady will cost between  1,681 and  2,281

Road Thekkady is 5km from Kumily on NH220, which links Kollam to Theni in Tamil Nadu via Kottayam (107km), Peermade (25km) and Vandiperiyar (14km). Thekkady lies on SH19, which runs through the length of eastern Idukki District, from Munnar to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Bus The KSRTC Bus Stand at Kumily (Tel: 04869-224242) is connected with Kottayam, Alleppey, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Munnar, amongst other places in Kerala

Fast Facts

When to go September–March is the best time to enjoy the greenery and for birdwatching. Summer is good for spotting wildlife

Wildlife/ Forest Dept offices

Deputy Director (Project Tiger)

Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady

Tel: 04869-222027/ 23750

Tourist Information Office

Department of Tourism

Government of Kerala

Behind Private Bus Stand

Kumily. Tel: 222620

keralatourism.org

Eco-tourism Centre

Ambady Junction

Kumily

Tel: 224571, Cell: 08547603066

Tip Contact the centre for spice plantation tours, nature walks, Periyar Tiger Trail tour, trekking, etc

STD code 04869

State Kerala

Location Thekkady, through which one enters the Periyar Tiger Reserve, lies in the Cardamom hills in Idukki District

Distance 186km SE of Kochi, 119km SE of Kottayam

Route from Kochi NH49 to Thripunithara; SH15 to Ettumanur via Keecherry and Vaikom; MC Road (SH1) to Kottayam; NH220 to Thekkady via Kanjirappally, Peermade, Vandiperiyar and Kumily.