In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles

Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 1/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 2/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Veranda outside the Lakeside Villa @ Vembanad Lake
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 3/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 4/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Thekkady / Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 5/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 6/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 7/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 8/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 9/10 by Shriranjani Rao
Photo of In the Lap of Nature - Kerala Chronicles 10/10 by Shriranjani Rao

Kerala conjures up memories of a singular colour- green. Literally! This lush greenery rejuvenates both body and soul, lingering energy even after the holiday. Experience this wonder and magic of Kerala.

Kumarakom and Thekkady

While I had been to the Northern and Southern parts of ‘Gods own country’, this was my first to the central region. We wanted to explore the wildlife in Kerala mainly this time – our wildlife trip earlier to the Dubbare Elephant Camp was a huge huge hit with the kids. We zeroed in on Thekaddy mainly due to time and distance considerations from Chennai. I looked forward to this holiday and some quality outdoor family time.

Kumarakom- here we come!

One day was all the time we had at Vembanad. As the train chugged into Ernakulam station, we were hoping the cab pre booked with VLV would arrive on time. There he was- Mr Philip with a placard in a spotless white uniform already waiting at the station. Full points for punctuality. He then manoeuvred the sedan gently towards Kottayam.

It was 4.00 a.m. when Mr Thomas, our host at VLV, greeted us at his ‘Tharavadu’- ancestral home and showed us the lake facing villa. After some brief exploration of the resort and the villa, all hit the bed for a quick nap. We had many plans for the day but called it off after seeing the surrounding scenic splendour.

North Kumarakom / Vaikom

VLV can be conjured for picturesque tranquillity. The 6 acre resort like spacious homestay overlooks the Vembanad Lake. We chose the lake facing villas considered to be best rooms on the resort. Taken in by the scenic views, we decided to spend most time at VLV.

After a sumptuous homely breakfast cooked by Mrs Rashmi, our host, we ventured out only briefly during the day for a peek of rural life backwaters and watched coir-making, bamboo basket making. The trip was organised by Mr Thomas. Rest of the afternoon and evening, we explored the vast expanse of greenery and contours of VLV. Perched on hammocks between stringed between coconut trees, we continued to admire the vast expanse not only over us but also around. Sparse boats rowed in the lake and we caught glimpses of a rare fisherman winding up his nets as the sun bade farewell. It was as if the sun was allowing us an exclusive screening of his recede into the horizon accompanied to the tunes of chirping homeward bound birds! Watching the sun descend the majestic Vembanad and recede into the horizon is a memory to behold. Speechless with stupendous serenity!

A homely dinner later and friendly chats with Mr Thomas at their table, I asked him about the high number of Bengali speaking workers disembarking at Ernakulam earlier in the morning. He shared how with most Keralites migrating to the ‘Gulf’, they faced acute labour problems, hence drawing labour from faraway places.

An idyllic getaway and one of Kerala’s better homestays, I would recommend VLV to travellers seeking unadulterated space and time. Capturing fond memories of Kumarakom, we headed towards the second leg of our trip- Thekkady. Stopping for a Darshan at the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, I was thrilled by the play of lighting- a thousand lamps radiating resplendence inside the ‘Gaabharam’.

Next, to matters of the stomach, we stocked fresh yellow ‘Nendranga’ – raw banana chips for the 3 hour journey. Breakfast was light as it was a winding ride up and down the hills. As the sedan traversed nooks and bends, we observed rubber plantations and homes in the middle of green land. Surprisingly, there was not one hutment along the 120 odd km stretch.

Getting there-

By Air– VLV is 60 km from Kochi Airport.

By Rail– Ernakulam at 35 km is the nearest station. Alleppey (40 km), Kottayam (40 km)

Now, this is what we were waiting for. With much expectation about Thekkady and its Tuskers, we thumped into Elephant land on a Sunday morning.

Reservations were in place at Club Mahindra. We were shown our suite in about 20 minutes. The suite showed signs of ageing and neglect, paint had peeled off the walls as a couple of broken pelmets dangled. This was not quite envisaged at a Club Mahindra resort. We called in room service for the food. The blues of the warm homestay were creeping in over us all. We wondered if we should have chosen a homestay in Thekkady as well. Activity rooms and evening games were the only saving grace at the resort. That evening, we participated in most family games and the husband even shook a leg with the kids. Dining in their restaurant, we retired to our rooms early for we had an action packed day ahead of us. All enthused about elephant encounters!

Vacationing on a Monday morning gives one a nice little high. Not that I disliked going to work but there is always a sweet zing in taking a Monday holiday. We had called in for a local tour cab from the Club Mahindra desk and it arrived at 10.00 a.m. Most houses in Thekkady have a spice garden and we saw many stores selling spices in the market area. Imagine having a spice in your home and plucking them when you needed it! Wow.

We were on our way to the day’s first destination – The Elephant farm. The excitement in the tots was electrifying. The Elephant farm was a non-descript little place. With a spice garden in the front, we were shown around by our driver who had doubled up as the guide. The garden was home to cinnamon, cardamom and pepper.

We stood by for our turn to don the younger looking pachyderm. Asked if we would like to feed pineapples to the tusker (for a cost), the kids responded in unison. Gobble gobble, disappeared the pineapple laden basket in 2 seconds flat. Some appetite that! Up next, was to climb the machan and plonk oneself on the tusker. The mahout wound through the garden and checked if we wanted a short ride or a long one (for a cost). We chose the latter and he strayed away towards the road. Proficient is the word to describe his photography skills! He took a leaf, held it between the camera and us and clicked (for a cost) – special effects it seems! The husband and I exchanged glances and couldn’t snub a smile at his antics.

Everything in this place came at a cost – right from pineapple feeding, photo sessions, ride length, hair plucking from the elephant’s tail for warding off evil eye (by the mahout). The commercialisation was appalling; however, the look on the little angels’ faces quashed all grumbles. To be fair, the experience at an elephant farm is worth the commercialisation. It’s a must do if you are visiting Thekkady.

An hour at the farm and we proceeded towards Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS). The sanctuary is notable as an elephant reserve and a tiger reserve. The parking lot is at a good distance from the ticketing area. Greeting us were families and families of monkeys. Especially heart-warming was a new born clinging to its mom with a stunned look on its face. As we were admiring the benign gentler ones, out sprang a little ‘vanar’ that dashed away with a Soft drink bottle from an unsuspecting human towards the trees. Our encounters with the animal kingdom was just beginning.

PWS is dotted with deciduous trees of the eucalyptus kind that I could identify, grasslands and a huge manmade lake. We were told that these forests contain rosewoods, teak and sandalwoods; and surrounded by plantations of tea, cardamom, and coffee. The chill fresh air with scents of eucalyptus stirs up your spirits (pun unintended). We purchased tickets for the 1.00 p.m. boat ride. As these woods cleared, we sighted the Periyar Lake. It is rare to spot animals in the blazing afternoon heat. The morning ride is most sought after- but with two tiny tots, we had decided on this leisurely afternoon ride. The waiting area at PWS was best of its kind- clean and comfortable, audio video displays, professionally designed merchandise on sale, binoculars for hire (working). It was impressive to see a Govt. run body spic and span and in sync with the times!

We climbed down a huge flight of stairs to reach the boat. The upper deck that we had preferred was crammed, making it uncomfortable for the children. Accommodated on the lower deck by boat attendants, we were happy to have some breathing space. The unfortunate 2009 Periyar Boat tragedy ensured that life jackets were donned by all aboard.

As the boat sailed, so did our hopes- of sighting animals in its natural habitat. A bird here, a squirrel there, but we were looking for more. The trained eyes of our guide spotted a lone elephant calf. Now that’s what we were waiting for. Sooner, we caught glimpses of sambhars, nilgiri langurs and Indian giant squirrels that had come to the wetland to quench their afternoon thirst. The icing on the cake was reserved for later. A playful mother baby duo at the edge of this lake. Their trunks cuddled against each other, they were oblivious of the prying human eyes. What a sight! Aww! It is awesome when you watch wildlife in its original setting.

Lucky and contented, we headed back to the resort by around 5 p.m. A day well spent! Inspired by the elephant encounters, our calves also sketched it on paper at the activity room, where we hung around for rest of the day.

Tuesday was reserved for a relaxed day by the pool. We also peppered it with walks around Thekkady. Like Satyajit Ray said in ‘Kanchenjunga’, mountains do have a mystique way of calming you. You realise how inconsequent you are in the whole array of the universe. Our train back to Chennai was from Madurai this time. We took the Mullaiperiyar-> Theni-> Madurai route. We even caught some beautiful rainbows on the way. The Kottayam->Thekkady route was more scenic vs. the Thekkady->Madurai one. If Kerala were an accelerator to dreamy musings, Tamil Nadu- quite the antithesis and a speed breaker. Thud! Helped us land back to reality though!!

Captivating Kumarakom and Thrilling Thekkady made one memorable trip for us.Endof the day, a glow of satisfaction shone on everyone’s face. Isn’t that what holidays are for? Experience Nirvana.

Kerala Facts-

Thekkady is 120 km from Kumarakom by road, by rail- nearest railway station is Kottayam 114 km, nearest airports are Madurai (Tamilnadu) 140 km; Kochi 190 km

tunictraveller’s tips-

  • Homestays in Kerala is worth experiencing. Make the right choice though. There are many houses that advertise as homestays. We preferred the stay at VLV vis-à-vis the Club Mahindra Thekkady resort. The reasons being ‘homely’ and ‘warm’. Also, you can custom food, which is an important factor if you are travelling with kids. Less oily, zero preservative, rather fresh food. Points that score with young kids in tow. We also relished some orchard fresh fruits- jack fruit, a star shaped fruit at the homestay.
  • Kumarkom->Thekkady is hilly terrain and a winding ride. Advisable for kids to travel on a light stomach. There are not many bends and the terrain rather flat if you do Madurai->Thekkady. If want to get to Thekkady without too many ‘round and around the hill’, you can choose the latter route.
  • Vembanad Lake Villas- -Mr Thomas/ Mr Simon +91 91425 42377 / 93886 08232
  • Club Mahindra Thekkady-

This post was originally published on the blog The Tunic Traveller.

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