Welcome to Thekkady
It is pleasant drive from Kottayam to Kumay. Eastb of Kottayam, you’ll come across plantation country, with rolling estates of tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom and pepper, interspersed with forests and game reserves. The Western Ghats, north of the Periyar, are known as the High ranges and below the river are the Cardamom Hills, not so high but thickly forested and developed i their southern most reaches. Kumily and Thekkady are situated in the Periyar Valley. Kumily, a platation town, closely assoiciated with Thelkkady and situated on the outskirts of the Periyar Sancuary, drops off steeply to the flat lamds of Tamil Nadu. An important centre for the spice trade, the main bus station and most of the medium range accomadation in the Periyar region are Kumily. As compared to languorous Thekkady, Kumily buzzes with activity.
The present-day town of Kumliy was once known as Kuzhumoor, which was the capital of the Thekkumkoor rajas, who were subjugated by Marthanda Varma of Travancore. The Travancore king granted the fief to their serf, the Thamburan (lord) of Poonjar, who controlled much of the region till the end of the 19th century, Subsequently, the British made a foray into the hills and went on a buying spree, some of them obtaining leasing rights from the feudal lords or from the princely State, to log vast stretches of forestland and set up plantations.
There were also local settlers. Around 1920, there was a mass arrival of Malayalis from other areas into this region. The story goes that when Travancore Maharaja Sree Moolam Thirunal and his entourage got lost in the jungles of Kumily during one of their hunting sprees. Ankur Rawthar, a shepherd, helped them find their way. Another version is that the Maharaja came to personally supervise the construction of the dam on Mullaperiyar River. Rawthar served him fresh sheep’s milk. As a token of his appreciation, the Maharaja gifted him extensive forestland that his descendants, over time, sold to others, settlers from the valleys and towns of Kerala. This was probably the beginning of formal title and land records in the Cardamom Hills area.
Tourism makes inroads
From a spice heartland, Kumily has metamorphosed to a busting tourist centre and the tourism industry now appears to be replacing the spice trade as the main source of income for the local population. Kumliy is well provided with good-value accommodation along the road leading to the sactuary. There are a number of high-end resorts, middling hotels and homestayes to suit every budget. Even tourists on tight budgets will find clean rooms with basic facilities. Some of the platation bungalows have also opened for tourism, with spice plantation tours being the biggest attraction in this area.
Stroll along the streets and you’ll find the air hereby with the scent of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Most of the shops on Thekkady road sell these fresh spices. One event worth experiencing is the weekly cardamom action centre. The reserve forest is also home to several tribes some of who still practice living Megalithism and build small dolmens as memorial stones for venerating the dead.
Despite all the bustle of tourism, Kumily is essentially a small town and a queit place. So after the wildlife viewing, plantation visit and sightseeing, from Kumliy you can head to neibouring places like Chellarkovil, Vandiperiyar, Vandanmedu, Pullmedu and Ramakkalmedu. You will discover an array of drivers, walks, views and adventure. This is a great area for picknicking. Pack a hamper and set off.
Views and Drives
Nestling between Chellarkovil and Tamil Nadu border is a place called Pandikuzhi, which is a five kilometer drive from Kumily. The abundance of flora and the gurgling streams make it a trekker’s delight and a photographer’s paradise.
Fifteen kilometers from Kumliy is Chellarkovil, a sleepy little hamlet, which offers a breathtaking view of the plains and cascading waterfalls. The village slopes down to the famous coconut groves of Kambam and the plains of the Theni in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. From this view point, you can get a glimps of Mangala Devi, the highest point in the Periyar tiger Reserve. Take a detour from here and you will reach Ramakalmedu, an enchanting retreat. This place gives you a bird’s eye view of the picturesque villages of Bodi and Kambam on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats.
If you are in an adventurous mood, head to Pullumedu, from where the famous Sree Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala and the makarajyothi illumination at the shrine are visible.
Kurusumala literally means the ‘mountain of the cross. It is a two kilometer drive from Kumily town and can be reached through two different routes. Both converge at Kollampattada, where you get a magnificent view of the valley. Trek to Kurisumala hills from this point and you’ll be rewarded with an enchanting view of the surrounding hills, a small stretch of the Periyar lake, the town of Kumliy, adjoining areas and vast portions of Tamil Nadu. Kurisumala has great religious significance for Christians.
Every year, on Good Friday, pilgrims climb up this mountain. You can trek up or take a short jeep drive, followed by a 15-minute hike to the top. This place is best visited early in the morning or late in the evening.
Spice plantation visit
On a guided spice plantation tour, you will not only be enticed by the aroma of cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, nutmeg, etc, but also get to know how they are grown, harvested and processed, before they reach the local supermarket.
Most of the hotels and travel agencies in Kumliy offer tours to different plantatuiont where you can see pepper vines with their dangling bunches of green peppercorns and tiny flowers of cardamom at the base of the plants. You also get an opportunity to watch the harvesting, peeling and drying of cinnamon and the tedious process of hand pollination of vanilla.
Periyar Tiger Reserve
The tiger reserve that is situated in the valley gets its name from the Periyar River, which originates from the forested tracts of the reserve. The center of this huge reserve is a vast artificial lake, created by a dam constructed by the British in 1895. It was the engineering skills of one Colonel J Pennycuick who diverted the Periyar’s flow towards the barren eastern plains that gave birth to this fertile valley, interestingly, though the lake is in Kerala, the adjoining State of Tamil Nadu owns the water.
Initially the hunting ground of the Travancore maharajas, the Edapalayam Lake Palace was built here to house their guests. After that, to preserve their favourite hunting grounds from the encroachments of tea plantations, in 1899, the area was declared a forest reserve. In 1934, based on the recommendations of SCH Robinson, the first game warden, the park was named a new identity as the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1978, the sanctuary became part of Project Tiger, a central government initiative to project the tiger.
Periyar is a combination of tropical evergreen,semi evergreen, moist deciduous forests and grasslands. The reserve supports 62 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, 45 pecies of reptiles, 27 species of amphibians, 38 species of fish and 160 butterfly species, besides 1,966 varieties of flowers. It is also the abode of several endangered species like the line tailed Macaque, small Travancore flying squirrel, Salim Ali’s fruit bat, and the rarely sighted Nilgiri marten. Of the 160 species of butterflies spotted here, 19 are endemic to the Western Ghats. The Travancore Evening Brown, one of the most rare butterflies in the world, was spotted here after a gap of several decades.
The Periyar Lake, in the centre of the sanctuary, forms the nucleus of the reserve; Travelling by boat in the reservoir is the only means of transport; in the process, it provides a most delightful way of spotting elephants and avifauna for which the park is known. You can board a boat at the tourist centre in Thekady, from where it will pass slowly from one channel another. Boat cruises are an exhilarating experience at sunrise and sunset when the chances of viewing wildlife are bright. You can see herds of elephants ambling up and down the hill slopes, frolicking in the water, coming down to the shore for a drink, and swimming across the lake. Herds of gaur, sambar and wild boar can often be spotted in the distance grazing in the grasslands.
If you are lucky, you might sight the pride of the sanctuary, the tiger. Tough tiger sightings are rare in Periyar, there are enough of these majestic animals around. Trackers routinely confirm seeing their pugmarks and droppings.
The lake too teems with life. The antics of the smooth Indian otter will keep you amused and the huge chunks of deadwood protruding from the lake provide a great perch for water birds like darters, grey herons, egrets and kingfishers.
The tourist zone is restricted to the lake but the park stretches much farther. Deciduous and evergreen forests spread over the lakeshores and the valleys, while higher up, the hillsides aare covered with grasslands. It is possible to explore the Shola forests in a few of the valleys in the company of wildlife guides. Some of India’s most fascinating rains forests are found here and there is an opportunity to observe not only rare birds like the paradise flycatcher, racket tailed drongo and pied hornbill but also other mammal species such as the sloth bear and the Nilgiri langur.
The Periyar Valley, a great place for animal lovers, bird watchers and trekkers, is also a holiday option for families.
It takes around 45 minutes to cover the 12 kilometers stretch upto the temple. The temple complex has four structures made of granite slabs, each housing an idol. Once in year, on Chithra Pournami day, scores of pilgrims visit the site to offer pooja to the deity Managaladevi, also known as Kannaki in Tamil legends, whose burning wrath is said to have reduced entire Madurai to ashes.
The pilgrimage route passes through dense forests and high altitude grasslands of Managaladevi, which support Nilgiri Tahrs and endemic orchid species. To minimize disturbance to the flora and fauna, the forest department keeps a strict vigil over this stretch that forms part of the core area of Periayar Tiger Reserve. For the rest of the year forest road is closed to the public.
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