Thekkady, home of Elephants and Tigers
South India's most popular wildlife sanctuary, Periyar encompasses 777 sq km and a 26-sq-km artificial lake created by the British in 1595. The vast region is home to bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, 900 to 1000 elephants and 35 to 40 tigers.
Firmly established on both the Indian and foreigner tourist trails, its mountain scenery and jungle walks make for an enjoyable visit. Bring warm and waterproof clothing.
Kumily, 4km from the sanctuary, is a growing strip of hotels, spice shops and Kashmiri emporiums. Thekkady is the sanctuary centre with the KTDC hotels and boat Jetty. Confusingly, when people refer to the sanctuary they tend to use Kumily, Thekkkady and Periyar interchangeably.
Sights and Activities
Various tours and trips enable you to visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Most hotels and agencies around town can arrange all- day 4WD Jungle Safaris which cover over 40km of trails in jungle bordering the park. Tours include meals as well as a paddleboat trip.
You can arrange elephant rides at most hotels and agents in town. If you want the extended elephant experience, you can go for a 2hour 30minutes ride that includes elephant feeding and cleaning. Cooking classes are offered by many local homestays.
Forest Department boats departures 730am, l0am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. These smaller, more decrepit boats offer a chance to get a bit closer to the animals than on KTDC trips, and are driven by sanctuary workers who nay offer commentary.
Entry to the park doesn't guarantee a place on the boat; get to the ticket office (6.30am-4pm) 1hour 30minutes before each trip to buy tickets. The first and last departures offer the best prospects for wildlife spotting. October to March is generally the best times to see animals.
KTDC boat trips departures 2hr tours 7.30am and 3.30pm, 1hr tours l0am, 7am, 11.30am and 1.30pm. One- or two-hour trips around the lake are the usual way of touring the sanctuary. They can be enjoyable, though often packed, rowdy and not ideal for wildlife-spotting.
Thekkady Rd; 9am-5pm. A number of more adventurous explorations of the park can be arranged by the Ecotourism Centre, run by the Forest Department. These include border hikes (8am to 5pm), three-hour elevated cloud walks, 4 to 5km nature walks, full-day bamboo rafting and 'jungle patrols', which cover 4 to 5km and are the best way to experience the park close up.
Visitors are accompanied by a trained tribal guide. Trips usually require a minimum of four or five people. There are also two-day 'tiger trail' treks, which are run by former poachers and cover 20 to 30km. On any of the tours, you can request special bird watching guides.
Spice Gardens and Plantations
Interesting spice tours by autorickshaw/taxi (two to three hours) and can be arranged by most hotels. If you want to see a tea factory in operation, do it from here - tea-factory visits are not permitted in Munnar.
If you'd rather do a spice tour independently, you can visit a few excellent gardens outside Kumily. The one-hectare Abrahams Spice Garden (Tel: 04869 222919; 7am-6.30pm) has been going for 56 years.
High range Spices (Tel: 04869 222117: 7am-6pm), 31km from Kumily, has 4 hectares where you can see ayurvedic herbs and vegetables growing. About 13km away from Kumily is a working tea plantation (8am-5pm) where you can wander around the grounds and see displays of the tea-making process for free.
An excellent and authentic place for the ayurvedic experience, offering top-notch massage, sirovasthi and long-term treatments lasting 7 to 14 days.
There are plenty of good cheap veg restaurants in the bazaar area.
Painted in kindergarten-bright colours and papered with zinging advertisements, this cheery diner serves up loads of North and South Indian dishes at sensible prices. Near the park entrance, it is perfect for an early breakfast or quick lunch between animal-spotting trips.
A perennially popular haunt. This airy 1st- floor cafe satisfies travellers with cakes and snacks, excellent coffee, and well-prepared Western faves like pizza and pasta.
This small, friendly 1st-floor joint serves up a tasty assortment of Indian and Western food with a smile and a background of traveller-friendly music.
A great local favourite, serving up spicy pure veg meals including several takes on thali.
This laid-back restaurant serves Just a few Indian and Western meals. The food is reasonable and the spice-garden setting is nice, but be warned, it can take a while to arrive: bring a book.
At the hotel of the same name, this popular place serves Ok North and South Indian dishes (more importantly, Kingfisher beer, in a smart, breezy indoor dining room.
Kerala Cultural Centre
For Kathakali performances, visit this centre, which comprises the Mudra Kathakali Centre, for shows at 4.30pm and 7pm (make-up starts 30 minutes before each show: visitors can attend and it is very photogenic), and the Kerala Kalari Centre, for hour-long Kalaripayattu demonstrations at 6pm daily.
DTPC office (Tel: 04869 2222620; 10am-5pm Mon-S at) Behind the bus stand, not as useful as the Ecotourism Centre.
Ecotourism Centre (Tel: 04869 224571; 9am-5pm) for park tours and walks
Kumily Internet (Tel: 04869 2222170; Thekkady Junction) 9am-9.30pm)
State Bank of Travancore (10am-3.30pm Mon-Fri, to 12.30pm Sat) Changes travellers cheques and currency: has an ATM accepting foreign cards.
Wildlife Information Centre (Tel: 04869 222028: 6am-6pm). Above the boat jetty in Thekkady.
Getting There and Away
Buses originating or terminating at Periyar start and finish at Aranya Nivas. But they also stop at the Kumily bus stand, at the eastern edge of town.
Eight buses daily operate between Ernakulam (Kochi) and Kumily (five hours). Buses leave every 30 minutes for Kottayam (four hours), with two direct buses to Trivandrum at 8.45am and 11am (eight hours) and one daily bus to Alleppey at 1.10pm (five hours thirty minutes).
Tamil Nadu buses leave every 30 minutes to Madurai (four hours) from the Tamil Nadu bus stand just over the border.
Kumily is about 4km from Periyar Lake, you can catch the bus (almost as rare as the tigers), take an autorickshaw or set off on foot it is a pleasant, shady walk into the park. Bicycle hire is available from many guest houses.