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Thekkady Periyar lake trees water Kerala India

Kerala: Thekkady, Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary

Date: August 31st, 2009

This is in continuation of a travel series that began in Kumarakom. To recap, we had gone to Kottayam for a friend’s wedding and after another friend, Ramesh, joined us in the afternoon, we took a bus from Kottayam’s main bus depot to reach the town of Kumily.

The nearly 3 hour long journey was quite an experience by itself. Once we passed the low lying towns, we sensed we were going uphill, but it’s not like we could see anything. It was pitch dark outside, and we could only assume the bus was taking hair-pin bends when the three of us slid from side to side on our seats. We had a blast, quite a roller coaster ride it was!

We reached Kumily town past 7pm, if I remember correctly. We didn’t have a reservation anywhere but we got a room easily for less than Rs. 1000 a night. I don’t remember the name of the hotel, sorry, it’s been nearly 3 years ago and I don’t remember where I wrote down all the details.

We had our drinks from a bar near by and then ate hot dosas and fried eggs from the street stalls that appear in the market centre at night.

The next day, we woke up early and took an autorickshaw to the Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. We wanted to get there as soon as it opened at 6am as we were keen on taking the very first boat ride on Periyar Lake, for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of guides said it was the best time to see animals and the other being, the morning calm in the air. Plus, if we got the very first boat ride itself, we could have left for Ernakulum today itself.

We bouight our tickets (Rs. 150 for the upper deck) and got on our boat.

Thekkady Periyar lake National Park Kerala IndiaThekkady Periyar lake morning kerala India

Periyar lake tree branches in water Thekkady
The reason you see tree branches sticking out of the water is because Periyar Lake is an artificially created lake, flooded when they built the Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895
Thekkady Periyar lake reflection in water Kerala India
The morning calm surely made for awesome reflections in the water

Thekkady Periyar lake trees water Kerala India

Periyar lake trees branches reflection in water Thekkady Kerala
The boat ride is extremely smooth... and very relaxing

Periyar national park Thekkady hills Kerala

Thekkady Periyar lake park cloud sky Kerala
The skies looked good too

Thekkady lake Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary Kerala India

Periyar lake ripples water Thekkady Kerala India
We may have woken up real early for this, but the morning ride was well worth it
Periyar lake morning calm Thekkady Kerala
You could make up for lost sleep here if you wanted to. It's a perfectly quiet environment.
Private island resort Thekkady Periyar National park
This island looked like it belong to a private hotel or resort

Birds on tree trunk Thekkady lake Periyar sanctuary KeralaPeriyar lake wildlife sanctuary Thekkady Idukki district Periyar lake tree reflection wildlife park Kerala India

Periyar wildlife sanctuary trees lake Kerala India
Drifting peacefully on this lake, I did wonder what this forest must have looked like before it was flooded
Cow buffalo grazing grass periyar wildlife sanctuary
This being a wildlife sanctuary, there are supposed to be animals, even tigers. But all we saw were water buffaloes.
Water buffaloes Thekkady Periyar sanctuary Kerala India
Oh well, something better than nothing

Boat ripples in water Periyar lake KeralaLake shore Periyar wildlife sanctuary Kerala IndiaPeriyar lake wildlife sanctuary Thekkady Kumli Kerala

Thekkady boat ride Periyar lake Kerala India
Our boat was full of tourists from all over India and abroad

Morning sky Thekkady Periyar lake Kerala cloudsPeriyar lake wildlife sanctuary clouds Thekkady Kerala

Water birds flying Periyar lake Thekkady Kerala
Saw a lot of these birds
Bird swimming in water Thekkady Periyar lake Kerala
Large bird on tree Periyar lake wildlife sanctuary Kerala
We saw a large variety of birds. Too bad I didn't have a super-zoom lens back then.

Dead trees Periyar lake Thekkady Kumli Kerala

Elephants on hills Periyar Nature park Kerala
An hour into our journey , we spot a few elephants grazing high up on the hills
Small birds on trees Periyar lake Kerala
But the rest of the time it was bird watching

Birds on tree Thekkady Periyar wildlife sanctuary India

Here’s a video I took:

Thekkady lake Periyar National park Kumli Kerala India
After a pleasant journey, we returned back to the banks from where we began our ride

What was a pleasant journey for us ended up being a nightmare for other tourists a few weeks later. On September 30th, one of the tour boats operated by KTDC capsized and over 40 tourists died. It was a grim day for Thekkady’s tourism and one that woke up officials to address passenger safety. It wasn’t even until this incident that the boat operators insisted on life jackets for all passengers. Appalling, when you think about how they wait until some lives were lost to understand the value of certain basics.

Periyar wildlife sanctuary auto ride Kerala
We took an auto rickshaw back to our hotel
Corner road Periyar wildlife sanctuary Thekkady Kumli Kerala
The wildlife sanctuary is pretty big and you even have a tiger reserve nearby
Periyar wildlife sanctuary elephant park Thekkady Kerala
You have elephants rides here too
Elephant scrubbing against tree Thekkady Kerala India
This being Kerala, you're bound to see a lot of them

We checked out of our hotel, had lunch and got a KSRTC bus going to Ernakulam, Cochin from the town bus station.

KSRTC bus ride to Ernakulam from Kumli Kerala India
This would be a good opportunity to see the sights we missed last night
Idukki hills Kumli Kerala India
Man, did we miss some sights alright!

Idukki farming Kumli KeralaIdukki plantations Kerala India

Idukki hills through bus door Kerala
I took all these photos from inside the bus while it drove back down the narrow hill road

Clouds tower Idukki hills Kerala

Idukki hills farming Kerala India
Needless to say, the journey was beautiful

Idukki hill plantations Kerala western ghats IndiaIdukki green hills Kerala India

Idukki hill Western ghats cloudy sky Kerala India
The Western Ghats of India are really beautiful
Idukki hills waterfalls Kerala
There were quite a few small waterfalls I spotted
Idukki waterfalls Kerala
The bus even rode past a few
Idukki Kerala misty hills Western ghats India
It's no wonder Idukki district is such a popular tourist destination

Idukki hills western ghats Kerala India

Rubber plantations Idukki Kerala
We passed a lot of rubber plantations on the way

We reached Ernakulam (Cochin’s main city) just past sunset. After a tea break, we took an autorickshaw to Fort Kochi, where we would be staying the next two days. (Photos from Fort Kochi in the next post)

Previous post in this series:

Kerala 2009: Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom

Kerala 2009: Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom

Date: 28th August 2009

Though the main purpose of this trip was to attend a friend’s wedding, as always, being an out-of-town wedding, I’d use the opportunity to travel around. This time, it was a chance to explore a bit of south Kerala. Being from north Kerala and having only visited Trivandrum years back, I’ve longed to visit the parts of Kerala that are now most synonymous with tourism in Kerala.

We (me and a friend) left Bangalore city from K.R. Puram station in the evening and headed for Ernakulam, an overnight train ride that took nearly 12 hours. Upon arriving (really) early in the morning, we got off the train only to board the one next to it. An hour-long journey took us to our friend’s hometown in Kottayam. Given that we had a day before his wedding — and the fact that his place had little to offer in terms of “tourist sights,” we decided to head for the tourist village of Kumarakom.

When we heard Kumarakom wasn’t very far from Kottayam city, we thought of saving some time by taking an auto. Then the auto driver said it would come to around Rs. 160 (€2.50/$3). So instead, we just waited for the KSRTC bus — which cost us Rs. 6 (too low to convert!) per person. Clearly the better option.

30 minutes later, we were at the “jetty” stop, pretty much the starting point for the boat rides to the lake. There are other roads on either side of the stream that will lead you to the many resorts that surround Vembanad Lake, the biggest lake in Kerala.

We opted for the 1-hour boat ride from the KTDC which cost Rs. 350 (€5/$7). (We didn’t try bargaining because these rides were conducted by the tourism department and it was written on a board there. But you could try.)

Kumarakom Vembanad lake backwaters longboatKumarakom lake backwaters speed boatsKumarakom houseboat small boat

Kumarakom lake houseboats backwaters
These houseboats can cost anywhere from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 16,000 per day
Kumarakom lake houseboats kerala
The prices vary based on the amenities available on each boat

The backwaters leading up to the lake were lined up with houseboats and smaller boats parked on either side. It was an odd mix of luxury resorts among houses belonging to villagers, both living off a tourism economy.

Kumarakom houseboat village houseKumarakom fishermen boatThe backwaters eventually lead out to Vembanad Lake.

Kumarakom lake VembanadAnd even though the pictures may not give you the scale, trust me, it’s big!

Kumarakom Vembanad lakeKumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the east coast of the lake, which explained all the birds flying around and getting a better view of the lake.

Kumarakom lake birds formationKumarakom Vembanad lake birdsKumarakom Vembanad lake birds pole wingsKumarakom Vembanad lake birds poleThe boat ride is very relaxing and I would definitely recommend taking it at around sunset.

Mithun kumarakom lake boat ride
Me, about to fall asleep from the lazy ride

Kumarakom lake boat sunsetKumarakom Vembanad lake sunset

Kumarakom has dozens of resorts by the lake. From high-end properties from the Taj Group and the famous Kumarakom Lake resort to mid-range offerings farther away. If you can afford it, it really is a great option for a romantic sojourn.

Kumarakom lake resort VembanadKumarakom lake coupleBack on land, we paid up and took a bus back to Kottayam. The next morning was our friend’s wedding, the venue being the local church.

Kottayam church cross post boxChurch cross letter boxKottayam church stepsKottayam church Jesus sky

Joe wedding photographers
His big day

Kottayam church Jesus statueAfter the wedding, we headed back to our room and caught up with a third friend, who would join us for the rest of our journey.

Kumarakom was just the first stop. Next up was Thekkady and then Cochin.

Camera used: Nikon D90; post processing done in Photoshop CS3

P.S: Here’s a small video I took from Vembanad Lake:

Learn more about Kerala’s amazing backwaters:

Kerala tourism backwater
Click the image to visit

Weekend at Wayanad, Kerala

Two weekends ago, I went to the district of Wayanad in the state of Kerala. It was with mostly friends from work who are part of AOL India’s photography club Shutterbugs.

We left one Friday night from work and was joined by a colleague Yazid who would come with us until Wayanad and who would then, from there leave for Calicut, his home. I’ve always wanted to go on a photo expedition with Yazid since he’s one guy who was always open to teaching me more on photography.

Since he wasn’t going be with us for long, I used any opportunity to take advantage of his time. And we got some when we stopped for some time near the Karnataka-Kerala border.

Karnataka starry night
Starry night

Yazid taught me and another friend, Ramesh, how to use the Bulb mode in a camera. I had it as a mode in my Canon 7D but didn’t know exactly what it was for. Essentially, the Bulb mode was for giving the photographer full manual control over timed exposure. As in, you can hold the shutter open for as long as you can hold the button down.

Toyota Qualis taxi at night

Another cool example was shooting off the flash for a second and then holding on to the open shutter to create cool effects like this.

Experimenting with Bulb mode
Experimenting with Bulb mode; the "ghost" is my friend Ramesh

Ramesh stood in front of the jeep when the flash was shot off, then moved away while the shutter was still held and the result is what you see above.

We tried another shot using the same technique. Here’s a shot of Ramesh and Yazid with the shutter release lasting as long as the flash just goes off.

Yazid photo experiment without stars
Left: Ramesh; Right: Yazid

Now here’s the same pose but with the flash going off and then both moving away while the shutter is still held open by me for nearly 10 seconds.

Yazid photo experiment with stars
Cool huh?

The long exposure helps you get the stars as well.

We tried the same with shadows. Shot off the flash which obviously captures our shadows but then move away while still holding the button down so the open shutters captures as much of the background as possible.

Yazid photo experiment with shadows at night
Experimenting with shadows in the dark

We tried some more shots…

Yazid photo experiment truckYazid photo experiment truck

… before Ramesh and I felt we had learned enough.

We set off from there and by the time we reached Bandipur, the sun had slowly started to show up.

Bandipur forest resort
Dawn breaking on Bandipur

By 7am, we had reached Wayanad. The taxi had to stop at the check post for the standard paper work which gave us the opportunity to start our photography.

Wayanad checkpost
Nidhin setting up his tripod

I didn’t take many photos as I was feeling sleepy given I was up the whole night making sure our driver didn’t doze off like the passengers did. Breakfast was just hot tea.

Wayanad paddy field Kerala
The one photo I did take

It took our driver nearly an hour to get back from the customs police. And when he did, we realized we had a puncture too! More time was wasted as the driver slowly replaced it. Annoying as it were, we finally moved past the check post and stopped again soon after. Nidhin (the guy who organized this whole trip) told us the first thing on our itinerary was a safari ride through Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary. We paid up for five, our guide and got into our jeep.

Now, the thing with any safari is that, the chances of one actually ever seeing anything exciting are rare. Plus timing is important too. Early mornings are often said to be best as a lot of animals prefer to stay in the shade once the sun is out in full force. Plus, it helps if the vehicle you are in wouldn’t make such a racket giving a loud heads-up to every creature signaling tourists are on the way!

Muthanga forest safari jeep
From inside our noisy safari jeep

I was only carrying my wide-angle and 50mm lens, so there was little I could capture as far as exotic animals and birds are concerned. Nidhin had a 300mm lens so he managed to get some rather good close-ups of the creatures we came across.

So bear with me… here are some trees!

Muthanga forest tree

Muthanga forest tree

Muthanga forest safari trailMuthanga forest safari trail two-way

Muthanga forest safari trail
Nidhin in the distance; Mohan on the right

After driving through the forest, we hit the tarred road and the driver took us to a nearby “waterfall”.

Turned out to be nothing more than a river stream with a lot of sand dumped on its banks — which looked suspicious as it surely didn’t look like it belong there.

Wayanad forest streamMuthanga forest, Wayanad

Wayanad to Calicut

After nearly nearly 2 hours, we were back to where we started. Our safari ride was over. Was it worth it? I guess it varies. If we had spotted tigers, then I would have said ‘yes’. Otherwise, if deers and small wild animals aren’t your thing, it’s a waste of money.

It was nearing noon so we decided to head for our resort which was still a bit away. But once we hit Sultan Batheri (the big town in Wayanad) our taxi suffered another puncture! Since the spare tyre was also bust, we had no choice but to wait for it to get fixed.

So I decided to take in the local sights.

2022 movie poster Wayanad Kerala
So the world gets rebuilt after 2012 to be destroyed again?
Out of Range mobile store Wayanad Kerala
One, I didn't know lottery tickets could be sold wholesale. Two, 'Out of Range' for a mobile store won't help you dude.

After an hour, we were back on our way. And then… another puncture! That too the same tyre! We got fed up at this point,  so we told our driver to get it sorted and we took an autorickshaw to our resort.

I don’t remember the name of the resort and honestly, I wouldn’t even recommend it for the price (Rs. 1750 per night). Getting there is pain by itself and the amenities or for that matter, the views, really aren’t worth the price.

After finally brushing our teeth and having something to eat, we rested for a bit. It was already past 4pm at this point and we really didn’t want to waste daylight, so we set off for our next stop — Banasura Sagar dam.

We hired a jeep as by the time our taxi driver got the tyre fixed and reached our resort, we decided its best he eat and rest. Also mostly because we were scared of the tyre going bust again.

There is an entrance fee at Banasura Sagar dam, the largest earthen dam in India and apparently the second largest in Asia. Open to visitors, the place offers a children’s park and even boat rides.

Banasura Sagar damBanasura Sagar dam stepsBanasura Sagar dam public

It was very sunny when we arrived and I regretted not carrying my sunglasses.

Banasura Sagar dam
Banasura Sagar dam

Banasura Sagar dam public parkBanasura Sagar dam boat ride

The tickets for the boat rides are separate from the entrance fees and none of us were interested in going for it either. So after spending an hour there, we headed back.

After sunset, we just enjoyed drinks and food over a campfire… ‘cos there was little else to do. There is absolutely nothing around the resort besides trees and shrubs.

Wayanad campfire resort
Ramesh took this one
Wayanad campfire
The fire didn't last very long leaving us quite cold fairly soon after. (Photo taken by me)

Most of us called it an early night (especially me) since we barely slept properly in the past 24 hours. The plan was to wake up early the next day and set off by 5:30am.

But that never happened.

I got up a 5:30am and tried calling up the others — but in vain. And since it was freezing cold and misty outside, I went back to bed. We eventually did get up but by the time we left the resort, it was past 9am.

Wayanad dry field cow
Wayanad at 10am

Wayanad banana field

We drove through Kalpetta, picked up a local friend of Nidhin’s and made our way to Kuruva island.

Kuruva is not an “island” you’d imagine. It’s just a piece of forest land surrounded by a river stream (River Kabini) thus earning the title of “island”. We weren’t planning on getting on to the actual island itself so we went with our local guide through the side and the paddy fields you have to cross to get to the banks.

Kuruva islands farm land
Walking through the dry fields to get to Kuruva
Kuruva islands river stream
Cross the stream and you get to the island

There is an entrance fee to enter Kuruva island and if you pay, this is how you actually get to the island.

But we just sat by the bank for some photography.

Shutterbugs Kuruva islands
The AOL Shutterbugs... (including me behind the camera)

Wayanad river rockKuruva islands spiderweb

Kuruva island treeBy 1pm, we were bored and decided to head back to town. Nidhin’s friend showed us one last thing before heading back to town.

An old teak bungalow used by the British during colonial times.

Wayanad teak bungalowThe bungalow was on a secluded piece of land surrounded by trees making it one heck of a vacation home.

Wayanad teak bungalow
Or at least it was

Now all that’s left are markings by vandals professing their love for someone and other messages inscribed on the wood. The house is decades old but I was surprised how good the wood still was.

Wayanad teak bungalow inside

It was very sunny so we quickly headed back to our taxi, drove to town and cooled off during lunch. After that, it was back to Bangalore.

Fortunately, we didn’t suffer any further punctures and the only time we stopped (and probably the most exciting moment of this trip) was when we saw young elephants by the road side in Bandipur.

Bandipur forest elephants

We did end up stopping at Mysore for dinner. (Actually, we stopped at Mysore because Nidhin’s friend said there was this dosa and beef curry joint in town but trying to find it was a pain and Nidhin’s state didn’t help either so we just ate at a regular vegetarian joint.)

Mysore Palace at night
Mysore Palace at night

Just as the clocked neared 12am, I was back home. The trip really wasn’t one of my best given the expenses and the resulting photography.

Either that or I have been spoilt by all the beauty I saw in the ten days I spent in Thailand.

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