The main attraction at Kumily is the Thekkady Wild safari. A unique one in the entire country, here the safari is organized on boats contrary to the usual bus and jeep safaris. The Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the prime tiger habitats of India and a major abode of many other wild animals including the Indian Elephant and Bisons. Periyar is the longest river in Kerala that flows through these forests and on the construction of Mullaperiyar dam, the backwaters with the river formed a scenic lake around the forest. The water of Periyar fed the animals round the year and the animals that come out to quench their thirst became the USP of Thekkady Safari. There are about 5-6 safaris everyday consisting of three boats that can carry 150-200 people in each. Tickets are made available to public 2hrs before the safari time with the day opening at 6Am for the 7.30AM safari. Each ride lasts for 1.5hrs and the boats meander through the waters that form a lake around the forest patches. The wild animals that come out in herds to drink water from these lakes are the sight that sells here. Periyar Tiger Reserve boasts of rich flora & fauna. Bio diverse and endangered species that is unique to this place is also a highlight.
We vacated our room as early as 6AM and reached the first gate where the ticket for vehicle needs to be brought. It is a 2-3km drive through a dense forest patch after this gate. They had just let the vehicles go and we were one of the first ones to enter the reserve for the day. We had to reach the boarding point near the lake and then buy the tickets for the boat safari. As we were driving through the forest, suddenly a huge buffalo jumped across the road at about 50mtrs ahead of our car. We slowed down and looked to where it came from. There was a big herd about to cross the road and only after the close look in that dim light did we realize that it was a herd of Wild Bisons and not buffalo. What followed were few minutes of wild life show. The herd of about 7-8 very huge Bisons walked across the road displaying all its might. One of them even stood at the centre of the road for a moment and gave a stare before walking past.
We got the tickets and boarded the boat at 7.30AM. The boat sailed through the lake between the forest patches and all eyes were constantly looking around for animals. There was another group of Bisons that were grazing and there were wild pigs on the far away bank. Plenty of Kingfishers and the common water birds nested on the tree stumps that protruded from the water. To our disappointment, nothing exciting happened after this and we alighted from the boat at 9AM.
We were back on road by 10AM and this time driving further into Kerala. Traversing Vandiperiyar and Elappara we drove towards Wagamon. This was one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire drive. The roads meandering through tea plantations made a great sight. All that was seen around was green tea plantations, on the slopes, on the hills, on the curves, everywhere. As we approached Wagamon, we stopped over at the Wagamon Meadows.
The rolling lawn stretched into the horizon was an amazing view. It also had a paragliding centre and considering the wind that was blowing there it was an apt place for such activities.
After a tea stop at Wagamon, we proceeded towards Thodupuzha. We had to drive down another amazing ghat on this stretch. This was one of the steepest ghats I have seen. It seemed as if an average vehicle would take minimum 2hrs to climb up this 15km stretch! Luckily, we were climbing down. Also, the roads were not in a great condition and were narrow too. After reaching Thodupuzha, roads got better and we were in the plains now. We cruised through the highway crossing the towns of Muvattupuzha, Perumbavoor and Angamaly. The sign board somewhere in between said that we were just about 50kms from Cochin, the buzzing coastal town and business capital of Kerala. We were almost at the coastline from the hills in just over a day! Contrasting climates and more contrasting landscape. Now the roads had canals and coconut trees on either side rather than the tea plantations. The sun shone more brighter in these parts. It was about 4.30PM when we reached the check post of Athirappilly reserve forest area. While we were entering the vehicle details in the register kept at the check post which is mandatory, the guard asked us, are u heading to Athirappilly Falls? We nodded. What came next was a shocker! Apparently, the visiting time at the falls is only until 5PM and we now had less than thirty minutes to cover a final stretch of 15kms, worse was that the roads were in the non-existent condition and the guard discarded any chances of us making it to the falls before closing time.
We still gave a try. Drove the i10 to its limits. Jumped over gutters and humps, splashed dirt and water, zoomed through rubber plantations and bushes, at far there was again sight of hills, we sped up again. But even after all these stunts, all that we could achieve was breakneck speed of 35-40kms! The roads were that worse and the chances of making it the falls became bleak.
As we approach the falls area, there are plenty of tourists and at a particular place on the road from where a partial view could be seen had many more of them. We got near the counter only to find it closed at 5.07PM! We sat there disheartened and disappointed. Our plan was to finish Athirappilly and drive overnight to Ooty. But we were not going to see the falls today and that means the plan had to be changed, again!
After few rounds of discussions, we decided to stay back at Athirappilly for that night and then start to B’lore next morning by skipping Ooty. Yea, the decision was hard but then we had no option. Ooty was just 6hrs from Bangalore but Athirappilly was not everyday stuff. Moreover the Cauvery protest that was going on along the Mysore road made our selections lower. Talking to few localites and shop keepers, we finalized on Maria Cottages, Athirappilly to be our abode for that night. A very decent home stay that provided us the best dinner on our trip and a good night’s sleep.