Nomad inside me moaned for an escape from the crushing daily grind and complete domestication. An urge to set it free grew stronger and on one fine morning(or was it still night!? ) I woke up and headed south.. to the lush green woods of Thekkady, far away from dreadful city life…with a backpack, return airticket and a hotel booking confirmation.
An impromptu five day long trip began.. out of nowhere.
How we reached Thekkady?
From over the coconut canopy, our flight made a smooth descent on to Kochi airport. Cleared Security checks.
As usual, Vodafone 3G network had went absconding as soon as we left Mumbai. Our best friend Google wasn’t there to tell us how to reach Thekkady?
“Now what?” me. “Let’s check out options at KSRTC bus depot.” Ameya.
At the airport gate, there were Auto rickshaws waiting in the line. Costly ride. Just few block ahead there was a bus stop. Buses to fort Kochi and other city areas plied from there.
We saw a bus approaching. It was an AC bus destined for Fort Kochi. We hopped in.
After long rounds of inquiry at KSRTC depot and other local sources, we finally found our way –
So Thekkady is around 156km from Cochin and there are two ways to reach –
Route 1 : Vytilla –> Kottayam –>Mundakkayam –> Kumily via less hilly terrain crossing many villages
Route 2: Ernakulam –> Thodpuzha –>Idduki –> Kumily a scenic route full of hilly terrain offering splendid views of tea plantation and Idduki Dam.
One can either take a direct bus/car to Kumily on any of these routes or go for a break journey.
Now transport options :
There are private cars/taxis that costs around 3500-4000 rupees and takes ~ 5-6 hrs to reach Kumily, Thekkady.
There are KSRTC buses available from KSRTC bus depot which on the other hand are fairly comfortable, 10 times low on fares and takes around 6-7hrs to reach the destination.
Apart from KSRTC buses dozens of private bus operators operate from inside KSRTC bus depots. They are eaually reliable, efficient and low on fares.
How flexible a journey can be, huh? We picked bus ride! For two reasons –
2.To get the local taste.
Oops! did I just gave three? 😉
Celebratory kadak udipi chai refreshed minds!
We chose break journey in a commerical bus via route 1 to avoid mountain endorsed nausea. Bus halted at wisely picked commercially viable stops. It was nice atmosphere overall. Men dressed in white lungi, got in and out. Women clad in neatly pleated saris, came and gone, flaunting their thick long hairs and gajaras while children carried on with their window-seat antics while I watched all that from a corner seat.
First break at Kottayam. For yummy Kerala-style lunch.
On the way to Mundakayam, we had a company – Mr. Anthony! an elderly man, retired principle of the school. Chatty and vivacious. He chatted animatedly almost on every subject 😛 .. Thekkady, Kerala, life in general, our life, his life, his kids in gulf and so on. With that scintillating exchange ongoing we reached Mundakkayam quicker than we thought.
Mundakayam to Kumily is an uphill climb, breezy and spectacular. We reached Kumily around 5 in the evening and had delicious onion masala dosa and masala tea to conclude this joyful ride and precisely day 1.
What we did in Thekkady?
Next morning Periyar lake!
Forest gate opens at 6am but one has to reach there at earliest. Ideally, by 5.30am. Ticket counter gets queued up real fast. First boat ride starts at 7am which is best time for an animal sighting, as animals come to lake for drinking water. You can not call it best but fairly good time from the available boating time-slots. So If you are genuinely interested in close quarters with the wild then lake ride isn’t the best of the options. You must go for specially designed wild-life activities(More details here).
We managed to reach the ferry point around 6.30ish. Periyar was still asleep clinging to its thick misty duvet.. Gentle breeze brought along refreshing smell of forest and tranquil lake water filled our senses with peace and happiness.
“Jaltarangini” our boat, arrived, wafting on the water that’s ultramarine. Rustic. Averagely maintained. We hopped in. Its rusty railings and safety doors obstructed the views and its noisy engine disturbed the serene decorum.. but the priceless glimpse of the forest, it offered, compensated all.
Sun shined brightly.. mist lilting on the lake.. slowly lifting up.. gave it a surreal look. At the far end of the lake, deer came for water and soon vanished into the thick of the forest. Some wild boars and herd of bison gorged on the green pastures nearby. While tigers.. elephants..chose to remain far from sight.
Kumily unlike other small towns of its stature, highly regard its art and culture.
From antique shops to painting exhibitions by local painters to the shop selling creative artifacts made from coconut scraps, to the local shops selling print versions of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, to the live performances.. all of them showed great passion and taste for art… also courage and confidence, to make it a profession.
I decided to sample every possible bit of it.
Evening 1: Kathakali performance. Mini-theater. Stage not too far from the audience. Audience : majorly foreigners. Performance was a good mix of practical demonstration of basic dance acts and the dance performance. Performers gave it hilarious touch by mischievously involving the audience in the show.
Evening 2 : Kalaripayattu Show. Traditional Kerala martial arts : Death defying stunts performed with great valiance and precision.
Evening : Tribal dance : dance formations using bamboo sticks. Raw. Wild. Exotic.
Three evenings – well-spent!
Gavi forest Safari and elephant ride were other two activities worth one day but they were closed down because of two fatal incidents that happened back to back. Sadly, that rendered us with no big plans post Periyar lake. That drew our attention to other things, Kerala is famous for : a good body message and spice plantation.
Spice plantation tour was an okayish experience. It felt nice to smell the spices. Spices shopping was worthwhile.
Our hotel was at pleasant 1.5km walk alongside bamboo grove from the market place and we walked back and forth every day. Walking there soon became our favorite thing.
One day, we headed to the jungle, early in the morning. From our hotel – Forest Gate Checkpost – Periyar lake. 6km one way.
It was still foggy. Pin-drop silence. No one speaking or honking. Only birds tweeting in the trees.. hurried, leisurely, high-pitched, soft.. flute-like trills.. all distinctive, tuneful mnemonics.. Few blades of sunlight peered through the top of the huge teak trees.
Fresh air expelled the negativity out of the system as I breathed in. As we walked, a long walk down the narrow lanes of thoughts, began to find this place that’s outside, inside. A place that is happy and peaceful.
It was a walk to remember..
A big surprise slipped from below the hotel room door… waited silently for our return.
A call for an instant evacuation! A notice from hotel staff about “BJP hartaal” announcement in Kerala state the next day.. very same day we had a return flight to Mumbai from Kochi.
We needed to go back to Kochi before 6AM next day and stay there for entire day. And then travel to airport..
Suddenly there were chaos everywhere..
We got into a last overnight bus to Ernakulam – the one via hilly terrain route(remember!) All the way long, at every gut-wrenching turn the bus made, I threw up till the last smidgen of food in my stomach.
We arrived in Kochi, took a taxi which charged us double the fare but landed us in shelter sharp at 6, before the strike began. Our shelter -small, clean and tidy dormitory in Fort Kochi which we booked on the go. I slept a peaceful sleep, till I got up hungry in the afternoon.
We set out on foot in a search of an open restaurant. Fortunately we found one, at a short distance. Ate our fill.
We still had 4 hours to kill. So we wandered away exploring centuries old impressive Portuguese Church Santa Cruz Basilica and old-fashioned Chinese fishing nets which still embellish Kochi’s sea-shore.
Sharp at 6PM, strike lifted. We headed to the airport, happy and content, ending it like a true nomad!