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
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|
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.
|Ready for the trek |
|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.
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|
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 - Thekady|
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.
|Periyar Lake |
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
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.
|Malabar Giant Sqirrel|
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.
29Oct 2016 Munnar – Madurai – Rameswaram – Point Calimere
: 604 Kms
Start time : 6:40 Hrs;
Arrival time at Point Calimere: 17:55
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.
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.
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.
We spend an day at Point Calimere enjoying the serene beauty
and the wildlife, before moving on to Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry).