After a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Kumily, we woke up with our alarms ringing at 4.30 am. For everyone visiting Thekkady for the first time, there is a reason to wake up at this unearthly hour. The day’s first boat ride at Thekkady Wildlife Sanctuary starts at 7.30 am. This is the only ride of the day which is of 2 hours duration, all the other rides being one hour(The final boat ride is for 90 minutes). The early morning boat ride takes tourists right upto the Mullaperiyar dam. So, naturally most of the tourists travelling to Thekkady or staying overnight at Kumily, (which is 4 kms from Thekkady and is the main town with all the lodges and restaurants) want to catch the first boat ride.
This leads to a huge rush for tickets. So, one has to queue at least 3 to 4 hours before the ride, ie from at least 4 am onwards, at the gates of the sanctuary to get the entrance tickets to the sanctuary for the vehicles and the passengers. The ticket counter at the entrance gates open at 6am. Your troubles don’t end once you get the entrance tickets. Because the tickets to the actual boat ride will be issued only at the counters near the lake boating area which is another 2 kms away. From the gates of the sanctuary we left our car and took an auto to reach the boat house(auto drivers queue up at 3 am to book their place at the head of the queue). For the 2 kms, autos charge(robbed would be the right term)200 bucks to the inner gate of the sanctuary. From there, it is a sprint for another 500 metres to the ticket counter. After all these troubles, I just about managed to get the tickets just in the nick of time. I heard from the authorities that to avoid these troubles one can stay at the KTDC Aranya Nivas, inside the sanctuary which provides access to the boat rides.
We were charged Rs.150 per head for the boat ride at the KTDC ticket counter. The fees for the camera(Rs.25) are collected at a separate counter. The authorities at the sanctuary have taken very good precautions, after the disaster that happened a few years back. The full details of every passenger are recorded diligently and proper life jackets are issued to everyone before the start of the ride. Seat numbers are allocated on each ticket and these are strictly followed. The boat allotted to us was JalaSundari. Since we were one of the last few to get tickets, our seats came in differing rows of the boat. But the attendants at the boat were kind enough to allot us seat right at the front edge of the boat and we were the only people in the boat to be rewarded with unhindered views. For all our troubles getting the tickets, this was a real bonanza ! I will not bore u anymore with the details.
After the boat ride, we came back to Kumily, had a belated breakfast at the veg restaurant of Hotel Lake Queen(a good budget hotel with a very good restaurant) and vacated our room. From Kumily, our plan was to visit to Parunthumpara, a beautiful spot 32 kms from Kumily on the National Highway to Kottayam(NH 220). From Pampanar on the highway, we took a left turn and after 5 kms reached Parunthumpara. This is a beautiful spot, with deep cliffs, lush green valleys flowing with little streams. This is not yet a well known spot but one with great natural beauty and immense tourism potential.
After enjoying the beauty of Parunthumpara, I was eagerly looking forward to our next destination, Vagamon, which is 32 kms from Parunthumpara. Since it was already past 1.30 pm we decided to have lunch mid-way. We stopped at Red Chillies restaurant at Kuttikanam Junction. Here too we couldn’t have our Chicken Biriyani (The hotel had Beef Biriyani, which we weren’t exactly fond of). But we got some decent Kerala Parottas, Chicken Gravy and very tasty Ayira meen Fry. Indulging yourself too much with tasty food brings its own share of troubles, we were to learn later much to our heart break. But more of that later. After a hearty lunch, we took the right turn from Kuttikanam junction and proceeded towards Vagamon. The route from Kuttikanam to Vagamon, especially after Elappara, passes through beautiful tea estates and winding ghat roads. We reached Vagamon in an hour and parked our car at the front of Summer Sand Hill resort, behind which lie the Pineforests of Vagamon, just 100 metres away.
Only, then we realised much to our shock and horror, that we had left our camera back at the restaurant where we had our lunch. The joy of visiting Vagamon turned into a nightmare. All the wonderful photos and videos we had taken at Idukki, Thekkady and other places for the past 2 days flashed before our eyes and we wondered whether we will ever have a look at them again. Though we still went to the Pineforest and the famous Vagamon Meadows, all our thoughts were on our camera and we rushed back . Thankfully, the waiter at the hotel who had served us lunch had noticed the camera and kept it safe. We thanked the people at the restaurant, and because of those honest souls, this travelogue has been possible. Looking back now, I can re-do this tour once more, just for Vagamon. It is such a beautiful spot. It was our great regret that we could not capture any photos of the place.
Relieved after getting back our camera, we started our drive to Kottayam, our halt for the night. On the way,we stopped at Valanjamkanam Waterfalls, a waterfall bang on NH 220, 5 kms from Kuttikanam, had some snacks and cool drinks. We reached Kottayam around 8 pm, booked our room at Hotel Anand, a strictly budget accomodation<pic 39>.
Next episode-Temples, Beaches and Backwaters of Alleppey and Kumarakom.