RADventure2 : Part 10 : Kumarakom - Thekady - Munnar - Point Calimere : 860 Km

Kumarakom to Point Calimere (Part 10)

This episode captures the details of our trip from Kumarakom to Point Calimere. This section 860 Kms was covered over 4 days (26 - 29 Oct). 

26 Oct 2016  Kumarakom – Thekady : 126 Kms
Start Time: 05:10 hrs
Pit stop: Periyar Tiger Reserve Bamboo Grove - 8:10 hrs for Jungle trek and Bamboo rafting;
Final Halt Thekady: Periyar House: 15:51 hrs.

We set out before the break of daylight from Taj Kumarakom, the hotel team handling our departure was thoughtful and handed us packed breakfast for the road. That was really a great gesture! Apart from being hygienic, it helped us save at least some crucial time.

Our aim was to get past Kottayam town well before the morning crowd took to the streets since we had a time constraint. Once past Kottayam, it is a hilly winding terrain all the way to Thekady. The route was exceptionally beautiful with the rising sun piercing through mist and clouds and greeting as at every bend as we made our way. 
Peeping Sun at day break
Glittering waterfalls 

We needed to get to Thekady Bamboo Grove (Periyar Tiger Foundation) before 9.00am so that we could join the 9.30am schedule for Bamboo rafting. I had booked the program for the day online. The website mentioned ‘half day bamboo rafting’ and we felt that would be  great way to explore the forest. At the Bomboo Grove (Periyar Foundation Office) we went through the rigmarole of filling out forms and declarations, our shoes where inspected if they were fit for the trek inside the forest and we where asked to wear Leech socks (which is a common practice in rain forests). As I got friendly with the forest guide, I was told that the trek involved a walk of 5Kms to the Periyar lake, before we board bamboo rafts. Now 10 Kms trek in a jungle (5Km x 2) is not a joke, specially where the terrain is hilly. And my better half Runa (Sanghita), was totally unaware of this grueling route march, nor were we mentally prepared leave alone the walking gear. For sure our shoes were not meant for trekking. At this stage I did notwant to send a shock with such a news, having paid the money upfront. I decided to lift the spirits and felt experiencing it is the best way of discovery, and in the worst case Forest folks will find a way to get her back if at all the going became too tough. Both of us have been regular morning walkers (15~20Kms average in a week), and I felt this was a test of our years of practice.
Bamboo Grove Reporting Station for Bamboo rafting

Ready for the trek 
So at 9.30am, a group of 10, along with a forest guide and an armed guard we set off on our trek to the rafting centre.   As we got closer to the core forest, maybe after 1.5 Kms or so, the sight and sounds changed completely, there were conspicuous elephant markings and trails, all over the place, and langur calls could be heard every now and then, apart from various bird calls. The Forest was filled with invisible activity and hectic life. All of a sudden came face to face with a herd of elephants (4 – 6) who were gorging on their breakfast. Most in the group were new to a forest experience. Quite tensed as we spotted a calf (baby elephant) amongst the heard and realised it could be dangerous. Just then saw the Forest guard accompanying us cocking his rifle. The Forest guard and the Forest Guide, immediately stopped our team of trekkers and gave clear instructions. The elephant herd was around 50 meters away. A heard with a baby elephant can be very risky, and in the terrain that we were in, they would out run and outnumber us easily. Luckily the wind was blowing towards us, and therefore the elephants could not smell us, and did not see us as a threat (elephants have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell and vibrations). We waited patiently for about 15~20 minutes, before the elephants went off in the opposite direction, happily continuing their voracious feeding. 
Silhouette of an elephant encounter  

Group Members and the Forest guard trying to figure out the mood of the elephant heard

The rest of the trek to the rafting centre was without any major event / sighting apart from the occasional Langurs and Malabar Giant Squirrel crisscrossing overhead. Not used to such an undulating terrain, Runa began to feel the stress soon, and had a tough time reaching the rafting centre. I decided to stay with her along with the forest guard. We were trailing the rest of the team by almost 10 minutes. Me, Runa and the Forest guard brought up the rear, and reached the rafting centre around 12noon. It was a great relief to get to the rafting centre. 
Lunch was announced, each one of use were given a lunch backpack at the starting point. We happily devoured the lunch consisting of Sambhar rice, pickles and fruits. All the time we were being closely observed by a pack of Rhesus monkeys who were waiting to get done with the leftovers.

Bamboo Rafting on Periyar Lake
Rafting session followed. Surrounded by lush hilly jungle, rafting in its midst is an awesome experience. It is relaxing, rejuvenating and exciting!! While rafting we spotted a vast variety of birds, some of which are published herein. After about 1.5 hours of rafting the return trek began. It was quite an excruciating task for Runa, but in the true sporting spirit she chugged along, and finally about 3pm we made it finally to base.

The treacherous route march

Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (Periyar Tiger Reserve) is a protected area in the districts of Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta in Kerala, India. It is notable as an elephant reserve and a tiger reserve. The protected area covers an area of 925 sqkm. The park is often called the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary or Thekkady. Periyar National Park lies in the middle of a mountainous area of the Cardamom Hills. 

Periyar Lake
Periyar Lake - Thekady

Periyar Lake 

In the north and the east it is bounded by mountain ridges of over 1,700 m altitude and toward the west it expands into a 1,200 m high plateau. From this level the altitude drops steeply to the deepest point of the reserve, the 100 metre valley of the Pamba River. The highest peak in the park is the 2,019 m high. The Periyar and Pamba Rivers originate in the forests of the reserve, and the lake within the reserve is a result of Mullaperiyar Dam, that has been constructed as part of the Idukki (Periyar) hydel project.

For the night we checked into Periyar House (KTDC Jungle resort), within Periyar Tiger Reserve, which in hindsight was a very wise decision. As we were checking in we saw a larger than normal black Langur with a bushy tail, at the first glance I felt it was a statue made by the forest department, since the langur sat still. Later the Forest Guard at Periyar House explained that it was a Malabar Langur. That was indeed a great sighting. I was completely unaware of this species. It looked quite majestic. Unfortunately, I could not capture it in my camera, as I was at my wheels at that time.  After check-in, while Runa took rest to care for her aching muscles, I trekked off into the nearby surrounding forest to explore further.

Malabar Giant Sqirrel

Next day, we took the Forest boat ride in the morning, which was a good experience too. This time got some superb bird pictures amongst the picturesque setting of the Periyar lake. Overall it was a lovely experience.

Small Blue Kingfisher

Pied Wagtail

Colony of Swallow

Wooly necked Stork

Malabar Giant Squirrel - quite intrigued by my presence

Colony of Camarons
This was a short trip for us, we had to get going to our next destination …. Munnar. After an early brunch we set off for Munnar.

27Oct 2016 Thekady – Munnar: 130 Kms

Start Time: 11.30hrs; 
Arrival Munnar (Sterling Terrace Greens): 14:51hrs

The drive to Thekady and from thereon to Munnar was magnificent and fascinating.

We arrived at Sterling Resort Munnar at 3PM in the afternoon. Munnar is a scenic town in the Western Ghat mountain range in India’s Kerala state. A hill station and former resort for the British Raj, with large number of Tea and other plantations dotting the hill side. Like other places of Kerala, Munnar too is extremely popular amongst tourists. Considering the onset of Diwali holidays the entire town was packed! 
Sterling Terrace Green Resort

Hill Myna - majestic singer

Malabar Whistling Thrush

Black-Lored yellow Tit

Grey Wagtail
We decided to take a complete break while at Munnar, simply immersed in its beauty with no excursions or explorations. The only activity was observing the birds within and around the resort. 

For two full days no driving no climbing, no trekking! In short …. an interlude sprinkled with siesta in a panoramic country side..
29Oct 2016 Munnar – Madurai – Rameswaram – Point Calimere : 604 Kms

Start time : 6:40 Hrs; 
Arrival time at Point Calimere: 17:55 Hrs

From Munnar we headed off to Madurai to pick up Anubhav (Deep – our son), who joined us during the Diwali break. We met with Deep, who arrived from Mumbai at Madurai International Airport, and thereafter we drove off to Rameshwaram, and from thereon to Point Calimere (Kodikkarai).  

This was post monsoon season, while most parts of Kerala has had very sparse rainfall during the south west monsoon this season. Since we had late onset of monsoon, most hill stations such as Thekady & Munnar had showers during late evenings every other day.

From Terrace Greens (Starling Resort) Munnar, we tried to take a short cut to get on to NH85, in the process made a navigational error which landed us in a pretty tough spot. About 200 meters ahead of the NH85 junction, the road suddenly became extremely horrific. I had to ask Runa to get off the car, not only the road was a steep incline (almost 400 climb) it had couple of extremely sharp bends and large sections of serious craters, where the mud was loose extending to the edge, due to overnight rain. I had to put the car in full throttle which made the wheels skid and I could smell burnt rubber, just to ensure I had enough thrust to man-oeuvre the car to the top of the hill where it meets the National Highway. There was no way to stop in the middle, the entire climb had to be completed at one go, else it could put the car in jeopardy. That was my only option with a 2 wheel drive. Reversing the car for a safer route was simply impossible since it was a narrow hilly stretch.

Getting on to the National Highway was a BIG relief! Got an earful, for the next 20 minutes, for a dare devil act. From there-on the drive to Madurai was smooth and relaxing.

Deep’s flight arrived on time. Madurai airport too was packed with Diwali holiday arrivals. The threesome headed off to Rameshwaram at 11.30 hours. With Deep around, it was a nice enjoyable drive, as he took on the role of navigator.

We arrived into Rameshwaram around 14.15 Hrs. It is located on Pamban Island separated from mainland India by the Pamban channel and is about 50 kilometres from the tip of  Sri Lanka. 
Pamban Bridge

Rameshwaram is situated in the Gulf of Mannar, at the very tip of the Indian peninsula. It has a very significant place in the Hindu mythology. The Ramanathaswamy Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is located at the centre of the town. Unfortunately, the temple was closed since it was lunch hour. We briefly stopped at the temple, relished the beauty of the architecture from the outside, and decided to move on.

Rameshwaram temple

The drive from Rameshwaram to Point Calimere, 261 Km, is along the coast. The roads were mostly deserted and empty that day since it was Diwali. Our aim was to reach Point Calimere well before sunset. Thus it was a race against time to cover 260 kms in approximately 3 hours. We took 3.5 hours to make it, and checked into VMT Hotel (the only hotel at Point Calimere) thus completing a 604 km drive from Munnar which started at 6.30 hrs in the morning. We had more challenges at hand, since it was Diwali, every shop and every eatery was closed at Point Calimere. Being a small fishing village it bore a deserted look after sunset. Getting something to eat for dinner posed a major challenge. Finally a Hotel security staff came forward and volunteered to cooked Idli and Dosa as dinner for us at his home, and served it for us. 

Most of my friends and acquaintance, other than those living in Tamil Nadu, are not aware of ‘Point Calimere’ (also known as ‘Kodikkarai’). However if you closely observe the map of India, Point Calimere like Rameshwaram sticks out and almost extends into Sri Lanka across Palk Strait. The Sri Lankan coast from the tip of Point Calimere is about 26 Nautical Miles (50 Km). Its geographical position on the map and further reading about the sanctuary made us choose Point Calimere as our halt instead of Rameshwaram, (which was teaming with tourist at this time of the year).

Point Calimere Beach 

Point Calimere Beach

Flock of  Sea Gulls and Terns at Point Calimere beach 

Point Calimere was considered a strategic navigational location, and the Portuguese traders made the place popular, as they built an active commercial community at Nagapattinam. It seems Claudius Ptolemy (AD 100 – 170), Greek historian, also makes reference to Point Calimere. In the 8th century a brick and mortar lighthouse at Calimere Point was said to have been built during the regime of Raja Chola I. In 1962 Dr. Salim Ali first identified The Point Calimere region as an area of high significance for the conservation of birds. In 1967 the sanctuary was created and put under control of the Thanjavar Forest Division. In 1988, the sanctuary renamed the Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, with a total area of 377 sq km. In 2002 Point Calimere was designated as a Ramsar site (Site 1210). Point Calimere is home to the endangered endemic Indian blackbuck and is one of the few known wintering locations of the spoon-billed sandpiper. 

Blue Tailed Bee eater

Brahmy Kite

Indian Blackbuck

Indian Blackbuck

Grey Shirke

Paddyfield Pipit

Painted Stork

Spotted Redshank

Common Tern


Pied Avocet

Painted Stork

Flamingo Pair

Some 257 species of birds have been recorded, 119 of them waterbirds, including the vulnerable species Spoonbill Sandpiper (Euryhorhynchus pygmaeus) and Grey Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) and Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The documentary film Point Calimere – Little Kingdom by the Coast by Shekar Dattatri is a treat to watch [https://youtu.be/Y3ECr_EZyuA].

We spend an day at Point Calimere enjoying the serene beauty and the wildlife, before moving on to Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry).