After three lovely days near Periyar we headed off in a taxi to the 2500 year old city of Madurai, dropping down very quickly from the cool 1200m-above-sea-level zone to the tropical plains of Tamil Nadu. Three hours later and we arrived in Madurai, mad, busy, noisy Madurai. It’s not like Madurai is any different from other cities but after spending the last four days in serene countryside the noise was deafening.
Straight off to the railway station to check our rucksacks ahead of our overnight train several hours later and then it’s time for some food at the rated Kumar Mess and shopping at Chennai Silks, which is massive.
After lunch and shopping we head straight for the Meenakshi Temple which was potentially built in the 7th century, making it the oldest temple I’ve visited. It’s 1:30pm, it’s closed until 4pm, or is 2:30pm or is it 3pm. It’s so confusing, even the entrance guards don’t know when it opens. Either way we’ve got time to kill, it’s boiling hot, it looks like it’s going to rain and we’ve got nothing particular to do. Ok then, time for more shopping I’m informed.
Foreigners only have to pay Rs50 (65 pence) to visit the inner temple, the outer courtyard is free, but we are quite rightly restricted to the non-sacred parts. In the outer courtyard there’s a queue for the inner courtyard, it’s very long but instead of queueing we decide to go for a little walk around it. At the entrance it turns out you can queue for 1 minute and pay the Rs50 to get in, it turns out queueing gets you in for free…after about an hour.
What we can see of the temple complex is stunning, its painted ceilings, its ghats, the carved pillars, all of it. With only so much to see we didn’t spend long here and we left feeling happy to have visited such an historic pla
Afterwards we headed to the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop restaurant where it duly pissed it down, leaving us to eat at a table just under shelter, watching the rain and lightning over the Meenakshi Temple a few yards away. We had a great meal and Jane’s Kashmiri Naan, with its layers of fruit, nuts and raisins went down very well.
Here’s a little video of the template:
We loved the area of Kumily/Periyar/Thekkady* so much we altered our travel/hotel plans and managed to stay an extra night at the lovely Periyar Inn.
*Whilst researching it seemed strange that the three place names seem to be interchangeable but being on the ground it seems that Kumily is the town north of Thekkady, which seems to be the area which hosts Periyar and its lake and tiger reserve. Even more odd is that we stayed at the Periyar Inn which is neither in Periyar nor Thekkady.
The whole area sits at 1200m above sea level and delaying our travel to Madurai meant we could keep cool for a few more hours. When we did eventually get to Madurai yesterday with its blistering heat we realised what a great change of plans that was.
Anyway, back to Periyar.
Periyar Tiger Reserve is formed around a large lake, surrounded by forest and a few hills, it’s a beautiful area. The lake itself is a very irregular shape, with lots of inlets going off in many directions and definitely adding to the beauty of the reserve.
Away from the lake there was about 7 vertical metres before the tree line starts, and some years during August the bottoms of the trees are submerged. Clearly the monsoon hasn’t been so favourable this year.
A double-decker boat trip
The 90 minute boat trip on the lake is done by multiple double decker sightseeing boats which have noisy diesel motors. We’d been warned that the locals talk so much that they scare away the animals but I was surprised how quiet they were, in comparison to the engines that is.
NOTE: booking tickets for this is very confusing, so if you’re thinking of going please the the bit at the bottom of this article.
Birds, dogs and turtles
As the boats motored away we saw quite a few birds perched on the tops of the dead trees half sunken in the lake with its monsoon raised levels. The less-interesting cormorants gave way to a Common Kingfisher, then some different herons. A few turtles were spotted surprisingly at the top of the dead trees.
Two wild dogs appeared on our left, ran along the shore past the deer they had killed and stripped bare the day before, then jumped in the lake and started swimming. It looked like they were heading for the boat just in front of us but were very fast swimmers and before we knew it they swam in front of the boat and reached the far shore.
Sadly, that’s about as exiting as it got.
We didn’t really get to se much wildlife in this “reserve”, in fact I was shocked how little we saw. The contract is stark when compared to Ranthambhore where you hope-but-not-expect to see tigers but come away realising that animals and birds were everywhere.
Apparently the park has tigers: when you ask how many you’re told it’s difficult to count them exactly, then you’re told four tigers exist; when you ask when the rangers last saw one they quickly change the subject. I kind of knew this already as during a google images search of ‘Periyar Tiger’ you don’t get much back. TripAdvisor is the same.
So, Tiger Reserve? Hmmm.
I think I only spotted 6 species of birds, two dogs, 3 turtles and a water snake, just.
There’s meant to be elephants too but we weren’t lucky enough to see any of those.
I’d really expect more from a reserve. Sariska and Ranthambhore showed us some animal or bird every minute, be it deer, crocodiles, boar monkeys, birds, mongooses and of course a tiger.
Would I go again?
Well, yes, I would.
In its defence we went on a busy boat trip with noisy diesel engines and crying children. The boats left at 9:30am.
All of the above is not conducive to animal spotting.
Yes, I’d go again but I would definitely make sure I did the 7:45am trip.
Alternatively though I’d do the bamboo raft trip, where you’re punted along on long bamboo rafts which have a couple/few rows of chairs. These trips go at 7:30am and 9:30 and last for a few hours, and they’re clearly done in an area away from the boat trips. With a silent 7:30am trip you’re much more likely to see some wildlife.
Or maybe I’d splash out and spend one night at the KTDC Lake Palace, right in the center of the reserve. It has disadvantages in you not being able to go anyway after 6pm – when the park shuts – but its advantage is that the animals can be seen at sunrise and sunset and just by walking outside your hotel.
Booking tickets for the Periyar Tiger Reserve Boat Trip
NOTE: this is not exactly we did, we cocked it up and didn’t buy a boat ticket at first. There may also be other methods, like using agents.
First, go to the booking office on the south-west edge of Kumily town.
Queue up – very likely unless you go really early. We had failed to get tickets the night before we actually went.
Buy your tickets (Rs550 for both, Â£6.50). You’ll get two tickets for your money.
One ticket is for the right to enter the reserve.
One ticket is for your return bus journey.
Join the queue for the bus journey to the reserve, get the bus and get dropped in the reserve.
Join the queue to purchase your boat trip tickets, Rs225 (Â£2.50) each for foreigners.
Find the boat trip holding area with its seats and as soon as you see people start queueing at the gate (for the boat trip), join them.
All the time you’re in this holding area make sure you are aware of the pickpocketing monkeys.
Finally, show your tickets to the officer and walk to the boats.
Our problem was that we were told that our Rs550 tickets included the entrance, the bus and the boat. So we just queued up for the boats straight away, waiting 45 minutes with the jostling locals. Then the guard told us our tickets weren’t valid and we had to rush to persuade an admin clerk to let us buy tickets without queueing, which he did after patronising me quite a bit suggesting that I didn’t want to queue as I didn’t think I was equal to the locals. *grrrrr* The reason of course was that I was told I didn’t need to.
We arrived at Elephant Junction excited for our 2 hour elephant experiance in Periyar. We were a bit apprehensive of the treatment of the elephants but were really pleased to see a friendly, safe and litter-free environment where both the staff and animals were extremely happy. After mounting our elephant, Ramba (who was 35 years old and 4 and half tonnes), Kev climbed on board his elephant who was ten years younger than ours.
Jane sat comfortably behind Amy who was thrilled to be just behind Ramba’s ears and we felt positively royal swaying slowly above the ground. All five of the elephants were rescued females from circuses or working in the forest – which is probably why Ramba had a hole in her ear 🙁 .
The skilled mahout steered Ramba through the forest, yet she seemed to know exactly where she was going anyway. Kev’s elephant needed a little more encouragement than our own as it continued to stop randomly along the journey. All too soon our hour ride was over.
Next we were shown Meera, formally a forest working elephant, and her mahoot who gave instructions to her using just his feet behind her ears so she moved the huge logs of timber. Jane jumped at the chance when she was offered pumpkin to feed Meera as a reward, and was shocked at the softness of the elephant’s tongue.
We were then ushered to the bathing area where Lakshmi, the teenage elephant, was lying on her side loving the cool water. Her mahout was throwing buckets of water over her stiff hairy body. We were promptly given scrubbing brushes and told to scrub hard as an elephant’s skin is 2cm thick. So we got stuck in, apart from Kev who was cameraman extraordinaire (or was it just an excuse not to get wet me thinks!). I can honestly say it was a privilege to be given this opportunity to get so close to one of the most beautiful, majestic creatures on this Earth.
The final part of our experience we shall never forget. In turn, Jane then Amy clambered onto Lakshmi’s back, once she had lowered her body into the pool. She proceeded to suck up clean water with her trunk and give us a shower, several times.
One of the best days in India so far.
NOTE: For the animal welfare concerned people: this was in an elephant santuary and rescue centre, where elephants are cared for very well. In fact, theyâ€™d all be dead if the sanctuary had not rescued them as not many are willing to take on the Â£50 a day feeding/caring cost of elephant who is not allowed to work. All walks are conducted in the forest, the elephants are fed and bathed well, and the mahouts treat them very well indeed
Six years ago in Hampi I had a full body massage, which was fabulous, so I was keen to repeat the experience. I knew that in Kerala they offered Ayurvedic massages, which I thought were supposed to help with various ailments, but I had no idea what I was letting myself in for!
Having arranged a full body massage for 1200 rupees (about £15 pounds) I popped next door. So far so good. I had checked that the masseuse would be a woman and when I got to the room I understood why the owner was so insistent that massages were “female by female and male by male”: I was asked to hang all my clothes (yes everything) on the back of the door was then presented with a very thin piece of gauze which hang down between my legs and was tucked into a tied waistband at the back. Needless to say I felt a touch awkward but thanks to the naked calendar I did with my family to raise money for a Diabetes camp in 2011, I just got on with it.
First I sat on a stool while the lady massaged my head so vigorously that I thought it might come off at one point. With copious amounts of oil, she massaged my shoulders and back with a sweeping motion that was heavenly. Then on to the bed where I did indeed get a full body massage. The overall experience was amazing although at points it felt too up close and personal! My advice is definitely go for it if you get the chance, but only if you’re confident getting naked in front of a complete stranger.
On TripAdvisor at the time of booking it was 12th out of 113 B&Bs in the area, receiving 5 stars from its modest 40 reviews.
It’s Saturday, we’re meant to stay here for our second/last night but…
We love it so much here that rather take a taxi to Madurai tomorrow we are going to stay here another night and go to Madurai early in the morning the day after. We’ll use the cloakroom at Madurai’s station to store out rucksacks whilst we do some sightseeing.
We’ve been nearby the coast for every day of this trip but yesterday headed inland up into the Western Ghats, a long ridge of hills which runs North to South for much of Kerala. Starting in Kochi with temperatures of 30c and high humidity, our driver drove up, up and up to a hill station named Munnar and our hotel the Green Magic Home which sits above 2000m above sea level.
This place is literally a breath of fresh air, and cold fresh air at that.
From Kochi the road ascended a few percent all the way and after half an hour the big city was way behind us and we drove past plantations for pineapples, rubber and much more. At 9:30 after two hours on the road we had breakfast and headed to our first stop, the 13 steps waterfall, which was at its most stunning given the monsoon rains. Waterfalls big and small dotted the landscape around us before they gave way to spice plantations.
The 30 minute spice plantation tour was really interesting although I had to do a fair bit of eye rolling when the guide showed us the Insulin Plant, which we were told would not cure Amy but if she took it every day she would not need her insulin. *eye roll again* Normally I’d do a little education here but the language barrier was a bit of a problem. Needless to say we didn’t buy any of their Insulin Plant “medicine”.
On to the small hill station of Munnar which is pretty much the centre for tea production in Kerala, and is surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of tea.
It was lunch time and Jane and I both ordered Onion Pakoras – yes, Onion Bhajis do exist in India albeit with a different name – for Â£1, expecting 3 or 4 for that money. A plate turned up with 8, not so bad we thought, followed by another plate! It seemed somewhat ironic that in the centre of so much tea it was not possible to get a cup of tea with our lunch, apparently it’s not a lunch time drink so no restaurant in Munnar serves it. What?!
The HDCP Tea Plantation tour was mildly interesting, seeing how tea is produced, and hearing that green tea is really tea, and differs only from (black) tea by its production method. I’ll never mock green tea again, then again I won’t drink it either.
After a full day of sightseeing and travelling we headed to our hotel, the Green Magic Home, perched high up on the side of one of Munnar’s hills.
The roads are pretty thin round here, dotted with potholes, with sheer drops to our right. There’s no real passing places either as we found out when a vehicle came towards us. The other driver went cheekily to his right – in India they (are meant to) drive on the left – forcing us to take the sheer-drop side. I got out to help guide our driver who literally had only six inches on either side of his car, and I wasn’t wholly confident the outer six inches was stable either. Shaji, our driver, was clearly concerned and he drives these roads every day.
Finally arriving at the Green Magic Home and we’re totally in the clouds, can’t see a thing of the wonderful view I know is there. Robin, the guest house manager/cook, greeted us with a warm smile and warm pint tankards of tea, now that’s something I could get used to. An hour later and the cloud movement gives a tantalising glimpse of a tremendous view, then it was gone again, repeating this for the next few hours. This morning as I write this with a view of total cloud I kind of wish it would bugger off for a minute.
Robin prepared us an excellent meal from scratch last night, which we shared with the other guests, 3 french people who don’t speak and a lovely young English couple, Alex and Rhiannon, with whom we spent hours playing games and cards. During the afternoon Robin had allowed us to watch him prepare all the dishes and Amy and Rhiannon had a go at rolling out chapatis, shortly before Robin decided round ones are better, and took back control. Dinner was by candlelight which was not only lovely but a real necessity as the power had gone off for a while.
Sadly we’re leaving today as I’d really like to stay more nights in Munnar, it’s a beautiful place.
On TripAdvisor at the time of booking it was 7th out of 188 B&Bs in the area, receiving 4.5 stars from its comprehesive 467 reviews.
The Kerala Backwaters trip we did from Kochi a few days ago was lovely, relaxing and generally very quiet*
Here’s a little video:
*apart from the really annoying Australian who was clearly a parody of a posh twat on a Gap Yaar, very much like Ben from Inbetweeners 2