Our first thought as we drove through the State: We are in God’s Own Country for Pete’s sake, so we should have expected it!
Kerala, located at the southernmost tip of India, is considered a land that has been blessed by the Lord himself (or herself)… Known for its virgin and pristine natural beauty, Kerala is a tropical paradise and perhaps one of the few States in India where verdure does not mean carefully cultivated patches of greenery, but sweeps of grassy lands, fields of rice, canopies of trees and swaying coconut trees that greet you as you inch your way into the heartland of this magnificently endowed State. The green/verdure/greenery, call it what you will, is spread in an astounding palette of every imaginable shade of green. Seeing it one can be certain that the Lord must have exhausted his green shade card with this creation!
Yes. We admit that we are gushing! But that’s what Kerala is – a land that lives up to its epithet – God’s Own Country.
Our sojourn into Kerala began with our two-night trip planned to experience its new treasure – a tiger sanctuary – The Periyar Tiger Reserve – nestled deep in the Ranni Forest Division.
Despite the rather backbreaking drive from our city of origin (Kochi), when we got off our vehicle in the heart of the reserve, we were completely taken by surprise. The forest was dense, very wet and very green (although that’s something you get used to while in Kerala…trying not to gush again!)
We immediately checked in at the Green Mansion (the building that houses the Reception of the resort run by the Kerala Forest Development Corporation) and wished to embark upon our first trek, which was, much to our sadness turned into a ‘drive’ through the forest as it rained almost incessantly.
Not ones to lose heart we signed up for the early morning jungle safari followed by breakfast and a 2-hour trek through the forest, followed by lunch and a boat ride on the placid waters of the reservoir where we were able to glimpse a couple of birds. Our prayers were indeed answered and the following morning, the weather was as perfect as could be.
The trek began on a trail right behind the rooms of the Green Mansion and after walking through grassland for about 45 minutes we came to the mouth of the forest.
Into the forest
It looked formidable and our guide Selvaraj warned us against stopping anywhere for too long lest the leeches latched on to us.
Yes. You got that right. The leeches.
Right after the monsoon all the way to December the entire area is infested with leeches. Even though we were required to wear leech socks (a bag of thick canvas stitched to resemble a sock), and our legs were ensconced in the jeans-sock-sneakers package, the leeches found us, and how!
Leeches clinging to shoes
They clung to our sneakers as we walked over the wet Earth, some managed the climb upwards and some almost jumped up at us as we swept aside branches to forge ahead. Some mercenaries even managed to wriggle through the gaps near the ankles and got into our shoes! By the end of our trek, there were leeches on every part of our lower torso that were deftly removed by Selvaraj.
He on the other hand, wore hawai chappals and had rolled his trousers up to his knees, stopping for exactly 40 seconds every 15 minutes to peel the leeches off his foot and ankles. Not an endearing sight, that! But his dexterousness and knowledge about the forest and its inmates were helpful in giving us a deep insight into the area.
We understood that he, as many others who worked in the reserve, were in some way connected with the forest. Many were tribals who were born inside the forest (before the forest department declared it a reserve) and had lived off it for generations. To preserve its natural beauty and to prevent degradation of its immaculate ecology, they were now employed within the reserve as housekeeping staff, drivers, cooks, guides etc. The forest department also cultivated cardamom and other crops and the natives of these parts were involved in those activities as well.
The trek through the forest led us to the Pullumedu Peak from where we could sight the historic Sabarimala temple and its surroundings. The reserve was expansive – as far as your eyes could go, all you saw were dense forests interspersed with greenest grasslands – soundless, quiet and serene. We fancied ourselves lying on a mat on the grass under the bluest sky, reading a book, or simply gazing at the patterns the clouds made. However we were carrying neither and took photographs aplenty to make up for the lost opportunity.
View from Pullumedu Peak
The Periyar Tiger Reserve located at Gavi was suggested to us by a friend in response to our lament that there was nothing new to experience in Kerala once you’d done all the ‘touristy’ things like explored its beaches, its hill stations (beautifully nestled amongst tea and coffee estates) and its history & culture (churches, temples, dance forms, Ayurveda etc). We are glad we sought to explore the untouched beauty of this forest.
Some Basic Information
The Periyar Tiger Reserve is spread over an area of 925 Sq .kms. It is one of the 27 tiger reserves in India.
All the information you would possibly need on the reserve is available on its well maintained website.
How to get there
Gavi is located almost 185 kms from Kochi. The drive was spectacular – it took us through the beautiful rubber estates of the lower regions and tea gardens as we drove upwards. But the rather curvaceous and winding road turned our travel time to an endless 5 hours, with one halt for lunch.
Vagamon – on route to Gavi
For detailed directions we relied heavily on Google Maps. The directions were fairly accurate.
The road was good in parts, especially when travelling on the highways but the interior roads are narrow and caution is advised when driving. Do remember that many of the smaller towns in Kerala do not have a bypass and chances are you would have to cross an entire town with its one-ways and traffic diversions. Do not hesitate to ask for directions.
Barring the route from Kochi to Moolamattom, which is quite crowded with vehicles the rest of the journey, didn’t see heavy traffic along the way.
Do stop to soak in the staggering beauty of Elappara. The tea gardens of Elappara are the best we saw along the route.
Day Trips to Gavi
At Gavi we saw jeeps of tourists arriving from Thekkady for day trips that included a jungle safari, trek and boat ride. From breakfast to lunch these guests could partake in the activities of the forest reserve.
Visitors to Gavi especially from Europe have seen an increase recently especially after ‘Alistair International’ the world acclaimed tourism major listed it among the leading eco-tourism centres and one of the must-see places in India. According to the Kerala Tourism website a large section of the tourists who visit Gavi are nature lovers and adventure tourists.
However, we would highly recommend a minimum one-night stay in the tent accommodation. The reserve is open to day visitors from 6am to 6pm and the real excitement of the forest begins after dark!
Accommodation at Gavi Eco-Tourism Project
The rooms are very basic with facilities such as toilet paper, towels and hot water. What we didn’t like however were the blood marks on walls where evidently our predecessor roommates had crushed leeches to death!
Located opposite the lake, we found the tents to be exceedingly comfortable, in fact, far better than the rooms. They are larger (even the bathrooms are), uncluttered and clean (no walls to wipe that nasty blood off!). The make-your-own tea/coffee kettle is available with rationed tea bags and coffee sachets (no dairy creamer though).
Tent as seen from the Lake
The tents are also secluded, giving you the feel of a forest. Imagine if you will sitting on the veranda, facing the lake, (perhaps your favourite beverage in hand), watching the shadows the thick forest has cast on its placid waters as the Sun disappears and the night calls of animals begins. The pitch darkness of the night, lit only by the intermittent appearance of the fireflies…perfect for relaxation, long talks, reminisces, poetry, songs and togetherness!
Gavi at night
For the faint hearted it would help to know that high voltage electrical wires keep animals at bay from the tented areas. The night watchman turns on the perimeter protection after you’ve retired for the night.
Most of all, the walk from the tents to the dining area especially after sunset is magical. The silence is broken only by the sounds of insects and the wind rustling in the leaves…
Towards the dining hall…
Food might turn out to be a bit of a problem for those unaccustomed to eating local cuisine. The fare consists of Kerala food, nearly all vegetarian. Non-veg is served to residents (for dinner only), with eggs thrown in for breakfast. We did see a European tourist eating only poppadoms for lunch from a layout that included masala rice, chapatis, avail, cabbage curry, curd, sambhar and dessert.
The food is restricted to local cuisine because the cooks are tribals from the region who have been gainfully employed to avoid living off the forest.
Teatime will consist of a cup of your chosen beverage (tea or coffee) with a pair of cookies. Snacks are not available for sale within the Green Mansion.
Our suggestion? Carry cup-o-noodles for two meals and a few munchies thrown in for those moments when you MUST snack.
You could also walk down from the Green Mansion towards the forest and 20 minutes later you will cross a little bridge and arrive upon a clearing where you will find the forest reserve’s Post Office and a Chai Kadaa (tea stall) that even sells soap. The tea is delicious, and they sell packaged chips, peanuts, the famous Madras mixture etc.
Log into the Gavi Eco-Tourism website on http://gavi.kfdcecotourism.com/ or call them on +91 4869 223 270 or +91 9947 92399. The numbers belong to the booking office located at Holiday home building, Kulathupalam, Kumali, Idukki, Kerala.
The forest is under the control of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) and entering the sanctuary needs permissions from the department. The permissions can be taken at the entrance of the sanctuary where you would also be required to pay the entrance fees.
The Forest Department has imposed restrictions on tourists visiting Gavi since May 2012. This action was taken by them to conserve the environment of the area that in its short history of visitors (since 2010) has begun feeling the pressure of our (tourists’) utter disregard for our ecology. It is hoped that with these restrictions, the onslaught of plastic bags, wrappers, bottles and other non-biodegradable debris wreaked upon this primeval environment will be curbed.
Keeping this in mind, do make reservations well in advance. If you’re making a day trip from Thekkady your tour operator will help take the necessary permissions. Green Mansion takes all requisite permissions for guests who stay with them.
We leave you, as always, with a slideshow of some photos we took at Gavi… Do Write to Us if you liked this post and need suggestions/recommendations. We are always happy to help out!