Thekkady retains its freshness even after being on the tourism map for decades. Summer, winter or rainy season, the destination lures visitors with the sights of the lake and forest clasping each other. The first memories of Thekkady for most Keralites would be the excursions during their school days. Nobody can forget scenes like the lake in the middle of the forest, the boat ride, and sightings of the wild elephants.
From Kumily to Thekkady
The road leading to Thekkady from Kumily is lined with shops selling clothes and handicrafts. Monsoon witnesses fewer tourist footfalls, affecting their business. The parking area can be reached only after covering a rugged stretch and the ticket counter is near the entrance.
A path extends from near the sculpture of a tiger and the forest spreads on both its sides. Visitors, especially kids, are tempted to venture into the thick growth of stately trees. But what await them are leeches. Panicky children would scream as leeches cling to them, frightening the monkeys on the trees. But everyone takes it as part of the fun. Thekkady is, after all, a paradise for families on a trip together.
Beyond the Forest Department’s office, several lion-tailed macaques can be seen. But they are shy and scatter when people reach the area. Their acrobatic display on the tree branches should not be missed. The lion-tailed macaques are among the mammals which can be easily sighted in Periyar area. Others which are easy to observe include spotted deer, sambar deer, Nilgiri tahr, mountain squirrel, wild cat and hedgehog. There are, in fact, around 60 mammals in this forest.
The biggest attraction of Thekkady is the sight of wild elephants taking a sip from the edge of the reservoir. There are also lucky tourists who have spotted tiger and bear along the path from the entry gate to boat landing centre. Vehicles are restricted from the entry gate to the boat landing to ensure the safety of visitors and help them enjoy such scenes. Tourists are now taken to the lake in mini buses belonging to the Forest Department.
Rare birds can be watched on both sides of the road till the point where the path to the Periyar House of KTDC starts. According to a study, there are over 1,900 species of flowering plants in Periyar forest area. Of them, 143 are orchids. Birds like kingfisher, woodpecker, wild mynah and hornbill which love to feed on flower buds and spend time near water bodies present good photo opportunities. As per the statistics of 1978, when the area was designated as Periyar tiger reserve, there were 265 bird species in this forest. They include both migratory and local varieties. Bird watchers can enjoy a feast by strolling along the paths in Thekkady.
Several seats are arranged on the lawns near the path which leads to the KTDC's resorts. The rest rooms for tourists are also located here. Earlier, this area served as the parking space. When vehicles were restricted at the entry gate, this area became a resting place.
Huge trees flank the path to the boat landing from here. Troupes of monkeys which have made the trees their home pester visitors. They even grab the bags carried by tourists, many of whom flee to the boat house to escape from the simians.
The first boat trip is at 7.30 am and takes about two-and-a-half hours to cover the area from Manalkavala to Edappalayam touching Paravalavu. The biggest attraction of a trip to Thekkady is this boat ride. Earlier, boats used to reach the area near the Mullaperiyar Dam. However, after the boat tragedy of 2009, the trip was cut short to Paravalavu.
The boat almost touches the stumps of trees protruding above the water. During mornings, the lake receives many winged visitors. From morning, boats conduct regular trips along the lake. Most of the wild creatures are familiar with the sound of the boats and are not annoyed.
A host of sounds can be heard from the forest surrounding the lake. Among the early visitors to the lakeside are herds of deer. There are regular spots where elephants quench their thirst, sambar deer gather and where hornbills are seen in abundance. The drivers and other crew are familiar with each spot. The boat passes the Lake Palace resort, travels 6 km up to Paravalavu and returns. By that time, the next boat would have started its journey.
The tourism police in the area have some suggestions to improve the facilities for visitors. “More buses need to be deployed to take tourists from the entry gate to the lake. A shelter also has to be built for them,” says Roy Joseph, sub inspector.
Other nearby locations
Some years ago, more attractions have been added to make the Thekkady trip a two-day affair. Earlier, the only engagements for tourists were the boat trip and a trek to enjoy the sights of the forest. A jeep safari covers places like Ottakathalamedu, Watch Tower, Pandikuzhi view point, Chellarkovil Mett waterfalls, Lower Camp, vegetable farm, canal view and vineyards. The two-hour trip covers the first four places listed above.
The first destination is Ottakathalamedu, on a hill in the northern side of Kumily town. The beauty of the entire Periyar tiger reserve can be enjoyed from the view point here. The hill top is of the size of a volleyball court and is covered with rocks. A panoramic view of Kumily town can also be obtained from here.
A three-hour jeep trip covers the farms where grapes and vegetables are grown. It also touches the Chellarkovil waterfalls.
Meanwhile, the longest jeep trip takes travellers to Gavi, Sathram and Parunthumpara.
Another popular ride is the Tusker Trail. It takes tourists on an elephant and has become an inevitable part of farm tourism. People love photographing themselves with elephants. Most of them hail from north Indian states. For them, the first preference during a trip to Kumily is the elephant ride.
The Periyar forest area spreads from the border with Tamil Nadu on the eastern part of Idukki district where the Mangala Devi Temple is situated to Sabarimala. The forest is teeming with wildlife, including tiger, leopard, elephant and bear. A two-day trip to Thekkady offers a welcome encounter with the wild.
KTDC Aranya Nivas
This is a hotel situated close to the boat landing centre at Thekkady. It has 30 elegant rooms and 9 premium rooms.
The tourist season in Thekkady is from September to May. Boating times are, 7.30 am, 9.30 am, 11.15 am, 1.45 pm and 3.30 pm. Accommodation is available at KTDC hotels Aranya Nivas, Periyar House and Lake Palace.
Parunthumpara: A hilly area close to Thekkady. It can be reached by taking a 5 km diversion from the Kuttikanam-Kumily route. It has a view point, walkway and several hills devoid of trees.
Anakkara: This is the proposed site for an airport. Hills and valleys which lack big trees are the attractions here. It is also a resting place for travellers on the Kumily-Munnar route. The place is 12.5 km from Kumily.
Mangala Devi Temple: This temple is on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border and is 15 km from Kumily. Entry to the temple is allowed only during the Chitra Pournami festival. Jeep services will be available from Kumily during festival time.
Pattumala: The tea factory at Pattumala is locted 24 km from Kumily. Opened in 1931, it is one of the earliest tea factories in central Travancore. Many tourists make it a point to visit the factory and the surrounding area which has several waterfalls along with the tea gardens.