Thekkady serves as a base to explore the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Periyar is spread across a huge area in the Western Ghats. A huge part of the sanctuary is covered with tropical evergreen forests, grasslands, and deciduous forests. Its altitude from 900 m to 1800 m. Thekkady is a small town (also called Kumily), 1 km north of the main entrance of the park. The wooded hills around Thekkady are dotted with some of the finest hill retreats of Kerala. These retreats attract solitude seekers and nature lovers from across the country. This town has a huge market of spices because it is situated in the middle of the largest spice-producing region of India.
Note: There are two informative videos on Thekkady at the end of this article.
Places to Visit and Attractions in Thekkady:
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Periyar is one of the largest and the most popular sanctuaries of India. It is spread across 777 square km in the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats. At the heart of the sanctuary is a huge artificial lake called ‘Periyar Lake’. Unlike other sanctuaries, there are no jeep safaris in Periyar. You can either explore it on foot or by cruising over the waters of the lake. The most common sightings are of the herds of elephants. Often they are found quenching their thirst on the banks of the lake. Other residents of the sanctuary are tigers, sambar, gaur, wild boars, Malabar giant squirrels, and the endangered lion-tailed macaques. This sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve in 1978.
Periyar Lake is an artificial water body covering an area of 26 square km. For travellers it serves as a means to explore the Periyar Reserve. Forest department and KTDC operate vessels, which take visitors on a 2 hr cruise on the waters of the lake. There are good chances of spotting elephants from these boat cruises. But you have to be very lucky to spot other animals. Periyar lake is in fact a reservoir created by the construction of Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895. It was in 1935 that the Maharaja of Travancore declared 600 sq km of forest surrounding the lake a wildlife sanctuary. With time more area was added into the protected reserve. The bare trunks of trees that you see in the lake were submerged in the waters of the dam.
Note: Tickets for the boats run by the Forest Dept are available from the sales counter near the jetty. For KTDC vessels, you can contact Hotel Aranya Niwas.
Forest Treks and Tiger Trail
If you want to explore the forests of Periyar, you’ve got to rely on your foot. Boat rides can only give you a superficial view of the woods. But if you want to venture within the forest, you’ve got to trek for safaris aren’t an option here. Adventure enthusiasts and bird-spotters enjoy these trails. As the area is hilly, you need to be ready for moderate hikes. You can book your treks from the Forest Dept Wildlife Information Centre near the jetty. These treks are generally 3 hrs long. If you are after longer treks, you need to approach the private agencies. There are a few of them, which organize camping and hiking tour spread over 2-3 days. One such popular camping trail is called Tiger Trail.
Forest Department runs bamboo rafting trips on Periyar Lake. The paddled rafts can carry four or five people. Sailing gently on a bamboo raft is a unique experience. Besides, the chances of spotting animals are higher from the raft. Because rafts can approach the shore without making any noise. That’s the largest shortfall of motor-driven boats. These trips also include some hiking and trekking. So, the trip takes most of the day. You can book your tickets from eco-tourism centre at Ambadi Junction.
You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy these spice plantations. Spread over the lush green hills around Thekkady, these plantations charm the visitors with their beauty and fragrance. Walking in these plantations is as much enjoyable as it is informative. Cardamom grows so much here that the hills have been named as Cardamom Hills. Pepper, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon are also produced here. These plantations are owned by the private companies. They offer guided tours of their property, each of them spread over acres. And they also have sales counter where you can shop for the items you like. Murikkady, 5 km from Thekkady, has many spice and coffee plantations.
This is a very touristy attraction. Elephant Junction a park which houses elephants. Visitors can take elephant rides here. They can also bathe them and do some playful activities. But you also wonder that how these elephants would have landed here from the forest. One can also think that whether these pachyderms are meant for such activities.
The Mangaladevi Temple
This ancient temple is perched at a height of 4387 ft on a thickly wooded hill. It is located 15 km east of Thekkady. You can enjoy panoramic views of the forested hills of the Western Ghats from the temple.
Chellarkovil, 15 km from Kumily, is a peaceful hamlet. Situated near Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, Chellarkovil is home to several waterfalls. You can also get commanding views of the plains below from the village.
Mullaperiyar Dam, built on the Periyar River, dates back to 1895. The construction of this dam submerged large tracts of land and created Periyar Lake. It is situated at a height of 2890 ft in the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats. The construction techniques with which this dam was built are now obsolete. Also the structure handles huge volumes. So, lately government agencies have started keeping a close watch on this dam.
Gavi is a verdant area covered with forests and tea plantations. It takes a two hour drive from Kumily (Thekkady) to reach Gavi. The winding path meanders through the forest and plantation. Gavi is under the eco-tourism initiative of Kerala Forest Department. You can either opt for a day-time package or an overnight package. The only activity in Gavi is to enjoy the nature. The cardamom and tea plantations, lush green hills, dense woods, and cool breeze: all of these blend together to make the place enticing.
When to Visit?
Thekkady can be visited all year round. The most pleasant time though is winter, especially the months of December and January. But chances of animal sightings during boat safari are more during summer, as the animals would come to the lake to drink water. Periyar is one of the few sanctuaries of India which are open in monsoon.
How to Reach Thekkady?
Rail: The nearest railway station is at Kottayam (97 km). Ernakulam station is about 153 km northwest from Thekkady, and Madurai Station is 147 km east.
Air: Cochin International Airport is 153 km from Thekkady.
Road: Thekkady is 195 km north of Trivandrum and 145 km west of Madurai
Watch this 4-min video of Thekkady to admire its natural beauty and its fauna:
This 5-min video by Kerala Tourism has more information on Thekkady: