District Idukki Location Thekkady, entry point to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, is in the
Location Thekkady, entry point to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, is in theCardamom Hills, contiguous to the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu
Distance 186km SE of Kochi
Route from Kochi NH49 to Thripunithura; SH15 to Ettumanur via Keecherry, Thalayolaparambu and Vaikom; MC Road (SH1) to Kottayam, NH220 to Thekkady via Kanjirappally Vandiperiyar and Kumily
Located near the Tamil Nadu border in Kerala’s Idukki district, Thekkady is almost synonymous with tigers, elephants, spices and gorgeous, rolling green hills. A hub of adventure and wildlife tourism, Thekkady has much to offer for the adventurous traveller. It is the entrance to the Periyar Wildlife Reserve, a vast protected forest space where majestic elephants and bright-eyed tigers roam in one of the last few spaces in the world that truly belong to them. While Kerala is dotted with many wildlife sanctuaries, the Periyar reserve area is somewhat different: by the greenish blue waters of its lake, dotted with tree stumps, lies a veritable animal kingdom. Close brushes with animals are common, whether it is the suspicious barking deer, the casually languid Nilgiri langur, or the elephants and tigers the area is known for.
Perhaps what is most amazing about this place is the remarkable manner in which ‘protection’ has replaced ‘poaching’ as the catchword in these forests. Not so long ago, this area was notorious for elephant poachers and cannabis fields. Today, the poachers have become protectors; the eco-tourism project promoting a level of symbiosis between human beings and animals that is truly unusual – caring both for the safety and preservation of the forest and animals, as well as the livelihood of the local residents. It is quite likely that the guides and the guardians of the forest have stories to tell from their poaching days, before their weapons were replaced by binoculars. Now, their remarkable ability to spot animals makes for fantastic shooting – with the camera, of course! They can point out birds, animals and plants to tourists, which they would otherwise miss.
Named after the Periyar, or the Big River, the Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the 18 hotspots in the world recognised for their biodiversity. It is one of the world’s most ancient and complex environments. Within the three kinds of forests in the sanctuary – evergreen, grasslands and moist deciduous – dwell different species of animal and plants. Giant teak and rosewood trees are found alongside bamboo forests and orchids. The beautiful forest is home to big cats such as tigers and leopards, elephants, gaur, deer, antelopes, many kinds of reptiles and a rich variety of birds. Additionally, it is located in the most dramatic of settings possible, comprising of stunning mountain ranges, beautiful valleys, spectacular lakes and rivers. Sitting on a bamboo raft floating down these waters, it is easy to understand why some of the animals are shy and perhaps even a bit unwelcoming. This is their territory after all – one of the last few strongholds of nature in the world.
The sprawling Periyar Tiger Reserve falls in the southern segment of the Western Ghats in the Cardamom Hills at an altitude of 2,900-6,000ft. The largest sanctuary in Kerala, covering an area of 777sq km, it was declared a protected area way back in 1933 by the Maharaja of Travancore. The core area of the reserve stretches across 350sq km, and was declared a National Park in 1982. This area is zealously kept inviolate. The Pamba River flows on the western side of the reserve.
The only point of access for this sanctuary is the little village of Thekkady, which lies 4km from Kumily, at the end of the Kottayam-Thekkady Road, on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Buses and auto-rickshaws ply between Kumily and Thekkady quite regularly. The Periyar Tiger Reserve begins at the boat house, 2km from the entry gate, the distance can be covered on foot or in a vehicle. All treks, boat rides and walks begin from this point; the Eco-tourism Centre at Ambady Junction is next to the boat house, where tourists can sign up for treks and other activities in the reserve. The most comfortable way to see the sanctuary is on a boat ride on the manmade Periyar Lake.
Entry Indian Adults ₹25, Children ₹5; Foreigners ₹300, Children ₹105 Timings 6:00am–6:00pm Photography ₹100 Videography ₹250 Vehicles Heavy Vehicles ₹200, Light Vehicles ₹50, Two- and Three-Wheelers ₹25
TIP Binoculars are available on hire but are generally in a very poor condition; it is advisable to take along one’s own pair
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
There are several Eco-tourism programmes in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which include day-and night-treks, camping and bamboo rafting. Run by the Eco-Tourism Centre at Ambady Junction (Tel: 04869-224571), these are exciting opportunities to spot animals and birds. Visitors are advised to make prior bookings, as these are popular attractions and sometimes booked months in advance.
The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a known tiger and elephant reserve. It undertakes numerous conservation activities for the preservation of these species. With just over 20 tigers spread out over an area of nearly 800 acres, however, visitors are far more likely to spot other animals, like elephants, leopards, gaurs, and the chital (spotted) and sambar deer. The gaurs in the Western Ghats are the largest in the world, weighing up to a tonne. While the chital deer move around in large groups, sambar deer are often spotted wandering alone.
The dhole, or the wild dog, is a carnivore that hunts in packs and can bring down a large sambar with ease. The packs operate during the daytime and are often spotted in the reserve. The sanctuary is also home to a number of smaller carnivores, such as small cats, mongoose, marten and ratel. It is near impossible to see the jungle cat because of its nocturnal nature; it is easier to spot smaller cats, such as the fishing cat and the elusive rusty spotted cat.
This area is also home to the small Indian civet and the brown palm civet, which live on fruit. The large ruddy mongoose is another animal to watch out for, easily recognised in the winter months owing to the brick red coat it dons. The brown mongoose, which lives on fruits, is largely nocturnal and difficult to spot.
While the lion-tailed macaque usually keeps to high branches, the Nilgiri langurs are far more easily seen, especially close to the boat house, announcing their presence with drumbeat-like calls. Common langurs and bonnet macaques, commonly visible in most towns, are easier to watch out for.
A rare ungulate of this forest is the Nilgiri tahr, which is a wild goat that lives in the craggy mountainside and grasslands. A small population has been sighted near the Mangaladevi Temple, which is accessible to tourists.
Periyar is a paradise for birdwatchers. The forests inside the reserve and the lake attract many kinds of birds; some residents, others migrants. One way to spot members of the avian community, including the orange-headed ground thrush and the forest wagtail, is to sign up for one of the bird-spotting treks and ask specifically for a guide familiar with birds. For those who do not have time for a trek, a walk from the main gate to the boat jetty early in the morning will afford viewings of up to 50 species. The lake, home to three varieties of kingfishers – the common, the white-breasted and the pied – occasionally attracts the stork-billed kingfisher, ospreys and white-necked storks as well. The forest is home to a number of woodpeckers of different varieties, nuthatches and minivets. Please note that venturing off the road or into the forest without a guide is strictly forbidden.
A popular image of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is its vast lake surrounded by hills, sometimes with a herd of elephants bathing and playing in the water. The lake provides a safe vantage point for experiencing Periyar’s wildlife. Visitors can watch animals, birds, fish and butterflies of many different kinds from a bamboo raft on the lake. It was constructed for this very purpose; large areas of the forest were submerged in the water to create it, as tree stumps jutting out of the water will testify. In the summer months, the lake is a precious source of drinking water to animals. Even though it is manmade, and perhaps constructed keeping in mind the needs of the visitors more than those of the forest, over the years, the reservoir has developed into an aquatic ecosystem with a number of creeks, pro-montories and small islets that serve as a habitat for wildlife. Hills rise around the lake, filled with grass that is food for elephants, gaur and sambar.
The bamboo rafts, which can be hired from the Boat Jetty near the Wildlife Information Centre, drift across the lake making almost no sound and thus cause very little disturbance to the animals. On rare occasions, visitors have sighted tigers during boat trips; herds of wild elephants, on the other hand, are sighted far more frequently. Otters, snakes and turtles live along the shoreline, and the trees jutting out of the water offer perches for birds such as the cormorant, the grey heron and, sometimes, the grey-headed fishing eagle.
Boating Charges Adults ₹150, Children and Students ₹50 Timings 7:30am, 9:30am and 11:15am, 1:45pm and 3:30pm
Tribal Heritage Programme
Five tribal communities live in the Periyar area. The reserve organises a Tribal Heritage Programme that lasts two hours, as part of which visitors are taken to a tribal hamlet and the Tribal Heritage Museum. Traditional fishing gear, hunting implements and indigenous medicinal plants are on display here. A tribal guide will show you around.
Entry ₹300 Timings 8:00am–12:00pm, 2:00–4:00pm
Located 12km from Thekkady, beyond the dense forests at the northern boundary of the reserve, the ruin of the stone temple houses the deity Mangaladevi or Kannagi, the protagonist of the Tamil epic Silapattikaram. The location offers a spectacular view. The temple itself is only open on the full moon day of Chithra Purnami (April–May), when many pilgrims congregate to pay homage.
Spice Plantation Tour
Short tours to tea gardens surrounding the Periyar Sanctuary and spice plantations are organised by the Kerala Tourism Information Centre (Tel: 04869-222620), whose office is located near the main entrance gate to the sanctuary at Kumily. They take visitors to the Connemara Tea Factory, 15km outside the sanctuary. The tours that start before 2pm also include a visit to a tea factory to witness the processing of tea leaves. Visitors get to see the aromatic acres of the Eden and Abraham vanilla and spice plantations on the periphery of the sanctuary.
Tour Fees ₹350 Timings 10:00am– 2:00pm
Thekkady offers spices like fenugreek, nutmeg, black, white and green pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, aniseed, coriander and cloves of the best quality. Sample packets that combine all these spices in neat transparent packets can be purchased at stalls in Kumily. Some of the better shops include Kerala Spices and Cee Pee Spices at Thekkady Junction, Indian Spices at Avanchal Junction, Spice Court near the Sweet House Bakery in Kumily and Crescent Spices near Kumily’s Private Bus Stand. In addition to this, the area offers tea of various grades and quality, as well as banana chips freshly fried in coconut oil. The Periyar Tiger Reserve also sells its own merchandise, including T-shirts with the Periyar Tiger Reserve motif, tigers and elephants.
WHERE TO STAY
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: 04869222023, 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 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 Ecotourism 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: 30250001; Tariff: ₹9,500–22,000), located in a spice garden near the forest, has a nice, wild ambience. There is a bar with a Raj atmosphere, a wildlife centre, swimming pools and Ayurvedic treatments. The hotel arranges tours to tea and spice gardens. Other high-end options include Muthoot Cardamom County (Tel: 224501-03; Tariff: ₹8,000–16,000) with 44 rooms, the All Spice Restaurant, a cafe, swimming pool, gym, activity centre and Ayurvedic massage centre. Shalimar Spice Garden Resort (Tel: 223232, 222132, Cell: 09605040066; Tariff: ₹7,000–17,500) in Murikkadi offers nine rooms and 13 cottages, a restaurant, swimming pool and an Ayurveda spa. Sterling Holidays’ Woods n Spice (Cell: 09497720076; Tariff: ₹5,000), on the Mangaladevi Road, has 50 rooms, a multi-cuisine restaurant, swimming pool, games and trekking. Hotel Tree Top (Tel: 223286-87; Tariff: ₹5,040–6,760) has 16 rooms and eight cottages including a four-bedroom bungalow, a restaurant, a park and many games on offer. Green Woods (Tel: 22275253/ 382, Cell: 09446574383; Tariff: ₹7,000–44,000) on the KK Road in Kumily has 32 roomms and four suites, a restaurant, swimming pool, jacuzzi, recreation centre, mini-gym, curio shop and Internet. Nice midrange options include Hotel Kumily Gate (Tel: 222179, 222279, Cell: 09446432079, 09447382056; Tariff: ₹1,000–2,500), offering views of the Periyar Dam. Poetree Resort (Tel: 222045, Cell: 08606998444/ 48; Tariff: ₹6,500-25,000) in Kumily is a luxury option with a restaurant, swimming pool, an Ayurveda spa and fitness centre. There is a small library and curio shop too. Michael’s Inn (Tel: 222355-56, Cell: 09605040066; Tariff: ₹2,100–4,500) offers 23 rooms and a restaurant. Hotel Ambadi (Tel: 222192-95; Tariff: ₹1,600–3,000) is a comfortable hotel with a nice restaurant. The Wildernest (Tel: 224030, 211471, Cell: 09895999666; Tariff:₹4,000) has 10 lovely rooms.
Leela Pankaj Resort (Tel: 222392, Cell: 09562892818; Tariff: ₹700– 2,000) is a long-established trusted budget hotel with six huts and two restaurants. Woodlands Prime Castle (Tel: 223469, 222077; Tariff: ₹900–1,500) on Thekkady Road has 87 rooms, Ayurvedic massage, trekking and boating facilities. High Range Residency (Tel: 224654, 223343, Cell: 09249123898, 09447867521; Tariff: ₹1,200–2,000) has 22 rooms and a restaurant.
Vandiperiyar, 19km away on NH220 towards Peermade, also offers a few good hotels. Springdale Heritage (Tel: 252271, 252871, Cell: 09847058996) is a well-maintained beautiful property with rooms and suites. There is restaurant, swimming pool, health club and an Ayurveda spa. Amaana Plantation Resort (Cell: 09895132177, 09745622177; Tariff: Rs. 8,000) is a new property with five cottages and a restaurant. Boating, fishing and Ayurveda treatments can be organised. A spring runs through the plantation.
Among the many homestays, Chitrasala (Tel: 223239, Cell: 09447615579; Tariff: ₹1,200–2,000) on the Munnar Road in Kumily offers four rooms, home-cooked meals, travel assistance. Claus Garden (Tel: 222320; Tariff: ₹1,980– 2,200) in Rosappukandam, Kumily, has five rooms and the same services as Chitrasala. Mickey Homestay (Tel: 223196, 222196, Cell: 09447284160; Tariff:₹750–1,000) has five budget rooms.
Paradisa Plantation Retreat (Tel: 0469-2701311, Cell: 09447088119; Tariff: ₹9,000–33,000) is in Murinjapuzha, 37km from Thekkady. The cottages here are designed like tharavads. Every inch of the resort, from the entrance to the restaurant that offers a jaw-dropping view of the hills, has been carefully designed. There is much to do here. Ayurveda, yoga and acupressure for those who need rejuvenation, hang-gliding, paragliding and powered gliding for the adventurous, tours of Periyar Sanctuary and Murinjapuzha Falls.
WHERE TO EAT
Thekkady has a number of cafes, eateries and restaurants, a number of which are located just outside the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The best of these, at only slightly up-market rates, is the Bamboo Café. Serving both traditional Kerala and Italian cuisine, this restaurant is set within the bamboo forests on Lake Road. With a versatile kitchen that also caters to palates not used to the spicy Malayali food, this restaurant is a favourite amongst tourists. Another excellent place to feast on south Indian food is Bar-B-Que, near the Periyar Hospital, which also holds highly recommended cooking classes. Spice Garden Restaurant located on the Bypass Road, is known for offering lovingly prepared, Italian and Indian cuisine. The Periyar Café (also known as the Thekkady Café) and the French Bakery are more pocket-friendly options. The former is located right outside the Sanctuary, and offers scrumptious, hot, filling food for those heading into the Sanctuary as well as those who have explored to their heart’s content and would now like to kick back with a nice cup of tea. Another option for a tasty South Indian thali is the Ariya Bhavan, at Thekkady Junction.
The French Bakery and Restaurant, on Lake Road, offers cuisine that is not French so much as it combines elements of European, Indian and Israeli food. Their chips and baguettes are fantastic, and they offer freshly prepared juices. Our Place, near the sanctuary, is the best place for freshly made British and European food. Chrissie’s Café on Bypass Road serves amazing pastas and pizzas.
The rich, unspoiled, rolling hills of Peermade, were named after the 13th century Sufi saint, Peer Mohammad. A global traveller and a friend of the Travancore royal family, he settled in Kuttikanam in Peermade. He is buried at the foot of the Peeru Hills, in a small and unassuming tomb, set in the majestic, beautiful hills, under deep blue skies.
The slopes of Peermade are covered in plantations. Sprawling tea estates dominate the landscape, contributing to the never-ending, aromatic cups of tea proffered at any time of day in all local restaurants and dhabas. There are also a number of cardamom, rubber, vanilla and coffee plantations.
Peermade is a fairly small town. Most sights of interest are located in its vicinity, and not actually in the town. A good base for tourists is the nearby town of Kuttikanam, only 4km away on the Kottayam-Kumily Road. Kuttikanam is home to some of the better known resorts in the area, and closer to most of the local attractions.
The most intriguing of these is the 160-year-old Summer Palace of the Travancore maharajas, located down a dirt road about 10 minutes off NH220 from Kuttikanam. The building and the grounds are in a state of disrepair, but the caretaker is extremely knowledgeable about the structure and the family that once inhabited it. His tour takes visitors through the entire building, exploring the durbar hall, the kitchen and dining areas, the bedrooms and even small prison cells. While he does not charge for these unofficial tours, do tip him for his time and expertise.
Peermade is known for Ayurvedic treatments, retreats as well as consultations. The Sahyadri Ayurvedic Pharmaceutical Factory and Treatment Centre is a venture of the Peermade Development Society (PDS), offering residential treatments lasting from one up to four weeks, and consultations with experienced Ayurvedic doctors.
The Sahyadri Ayurvedic Factory, located a kilometre away, makes for a scenic and informative walking tour. Visitors are asked to remove their footwear and put on the rubber chappals provided, and cover their hair with hairnets. Inside, one gets a glimpse of the various stages of processing of Ayurveda ingredients into a medicinal decoction.
Entry ₹100 Timings 9.00am– 4.00pm, Closed Sunday and national holidays
Another recent venture of PDS, the Sahyadri Organic Tea Factory and Plantation, was established in 2001 as a scheme focused on small tea growers of the region.The factory can be viewed from specially designed vantage points so that visitors get a feel of the process without disturbing the production line. Organic tea can be purchased from the Sahyadri Organic Products Outlet at Kuttikanam.
Location Near Valanjanganam, Kuttikanam Tour Fees ₹10 Open 9:00am–4:00pm
Gavi and Pullumedu (48km)
Gavi is a little village that is a part of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the Vandiperiyar-Kakki Road. From Vandiperiyar, take the diversion from Vallakadavu and get onto the Kakki Road to get here. The Kerala Forest Development Corporation runs an Eco-Tourism project at Gavi, south of Thekkady in Pathanamthitta District, near the Kakki Dam. The KFDC resort, The Green Mansions, organises trekking expeditions with guides, camping at the Meenar and Valley View forest sites near protected elephant trenches deep in the forest, visits to tree-houses, boating on Gavi and Kullar lakes, with activities such as fishing and swimming, plantation visits and other sightseeing trips.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel 04869-252062
Pullumedu Hill, adjacent to Gavi, offers an incredible, panoramic view from its summit, of acres of greenery and the sacred shrine of Sabarimala, nestled amidst the foliage.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
Peermade and Kuttikanam have excellent high-end to mid-range options. KTDC’s Tamarind Easy Hotel (Tel: 04869-233250, Cell: 09400008678; Tariff: ₹1,900) is among the cheaper options, with eight rooms.
Thrisangu Haven (Tel: 232491/ 98, Cell: 09947449966, 09349137537; Tariff: ₹2,550–4,550) is housed in about 15 well-manicured acres atop a hill in Kuttikanam. The elevation affords views of the area. The resort has 30 rooms and a range of facilities including a playground, a community centre, a bonfire site and a restaurant. They also organise trekking expeditions to the neighbouring Thrisangu Hills.
Wood Palace Heritage Resort (Tel: 232266/ 11, Cell: 09495049000; Tariff: ₹2,500–5,000), also in Kuttikanam, is a charming option. The resort’s name is derived from the architecture of the building, which is modelled on a traditional Kerala illam (house). Each of the 10 traditional rooms has a balcony overlooking a valley and faces westwards, making for beautiful sunset views.
Misty Mountain Plantation Resort (Tel: 232065, 233265, Cell: 09447848123; Tariff: ₹5,000–7,800), also in Kuttikanam, is a homestay. The resort occupies one corner of the Glenrock Estate (a collage of coffee, tea, vanilla and spice plantations), but its proximity to the main road belies the feel of being on a plantation. The resort offers 7 cottages, a multi-cuisine restaurant, and lots of activities like fishing, trekking and canoeing.
Matagi Mundax Homestay Yoga Retreat (Tel: 232479, Cell: 09447550804; Tariff: ₹4,000) is a homestay near Kuttikanam Junction. They have two rooms here and the tariff includes all meals. Mundax also offers travel assistance, yoga and Internet. Himrani International (Tel: 232288 Cell 09446388800; Tariff: ₹1,500–4,000) has rooms and suites, a restaurant and Internet. Nearby is the Pattumala shrine of St Mary, a famous pilgrim centre whose statue of Virgin Mary was brought here from the Velankanni shrine in Tamil Nadu.
In Peermade and Kuttikanam there are no independent restaurants outside of the resorts, where all tourists dine. Most of the resort eateries are multicuisine.
Trekking in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
The Eco-Tourism programmes in the Periyar Tiger Reserve include trekking, night treks (armed guards accompany trekkers at night), camping and bamboo-rafting. All these programmes are very popular with visitors, and often need to be booked months in advance.
Bamboo rafting particularly is an exciting experience as the raft is not powered, and you get to see wildlife at close quarters with the least amount of disturbance to animals. Usually, the trekkers are taken into the forest for treks and to a raft in the evening to sail back.
The best of these programmes is the Periyar Tiger Trail (Tariff: 2D/ 1N ₹3,000 per person, 3D/ 2N ₹5,000 per person, including meals and equipment), strenuous treks open only for medically fit visitors. A team of five guides and two forest officials accompany groups of upto five into the sanctuary. Tents are pitched in the forest for the night.
Contact the Eco-tourism Centre (Tel 04869-224571) at Ambady Junction to sign up for these programmes.
When to go September to March is excellent to experience brilliant greenery without the rains. This is also the best time to spot migrant birds. Summer, though hot, is good for wildlife-spotting
Tourist and Wildlife Offices
Tourist Information Office
Periyar Tiger Reserve
Peermade Development Society
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, among other places in Kerala