Elephant tracking in the Western Ghats

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Rainbow Cottage Kumily
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Thursday, January 27, 2011

After disembarking from our backwater houseboat we grabbed a rickshaw to Alleppey’s bus station and jumped on a bus to Kottayam where we changed onto another bus bound for Kumily, a small town located in the Western Ghats mountain range. The rickety old bus climbed up into the mountains and the air became noticeably cooler, a nice relief after the stifling temperatures near the coast. The Western Ghats stretch down much of the western side of the Indian sub continent and hold much of India’s remaining forest as well as many tea and spice plantations. Our reason for coming to Kumily is that it is located next to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, a 777 sq km protected area that is home to elephants, tigers, leopards, sloth bears, bison, sambar deer, langurs and many rare birds.

On arrival, we checked into Rainbow Cottage, a psychedelically decorated and very clean guesthouse on the edge of town. Kumily is a small but busy little place where being run over by a rickshaw seems a likely possibility! As in the other towns we have been to so far, there are quite a few Christian churches and Muslim mosques dotted about. There is a mosque right next to Rainbow Cottage which wakes us up at 5ish every morning with the call to prayer!

The next day we decided to visit one of the many spice gardens in the local area. We went to Highrange Spice Gardens and spent a fascinating hour being shown around by the owner George who was a walking encyclopaedia on all things botanical. He showed us many different spices, medicinal Ayurvedic herbs and vegetables all growing in his lush gardens. Then we took a brief walk through the plantations where we saw cardamom and coffee growing under the shade of tall trees. We learnt so much in a short space of time like the fact that cinnamon and bay leaf come from the same plant.

In the evening, we went to watch a Kathakali performance, a traditional Keralan art form, which uses dance and miming to tell a story, usually based on one of the Hindu epics. Actors/dancers dressed in elaborate costumes do not speak but instead convey the story through a series of bizarre facial expressions, which involves much eye rolling and eyebrow wiggling, and hand gestures. It was completely unique and interesting to watch although we wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on had not the story been explained to us beforehand by a presenter on stage.

The following day we got up early to get to the Periyar entrance gates when they opened at 6.30am so that we could go on the early morning boat trip around Periyar Lake. Periyar is south India’a most popular park and this was apparent when we arrived to find a long line of cars and buses waiting outside the gate. We paid our entrance fee and took a rickshaw into the park. When the rickshaw could go no further we jumped out and had to run to try to overtake the crowds of Indian tourists all rushing to buy boat tickets! Why you are not able to pre-book boat tickets the day before or when you pay for your park entrance ticket at the gate seems crazy. If you’re not quick enough then you might literally miss the boat even though you have already paid the entrance fee!

Anyhow, we did manage to catch the first boat and enjoyed a 2 hour trip around the lake. We spotted some bison and wild boar in the distance and got close to a couple of Sambar deer with a young fawn. After the boat trip we wanted to go trekking so our rickshaw driver took us to yet another office where you can buy a trekking ticket (why is there not one main office where you can buy all tickets?!). With tickets in hand we walked to the trek starting point along with a young German student called Zuna. We met our guide and the four of us started off into the forest. The forest here is mixed evergreen and deciduous and in some parts looks a bit like woodland back home, the difference being the height of some of the trees such as teak and silk cotton. We came across some piles of elephant dung which our guide told us was quite fresh. We then walked around following a seemingly random route that felt like we were going in circles until we realised that our guide was actually tracking the elephants. Some of the signs like broken branches were obvious but other times it was clear that our guide was following clues that we were unaware of. After some time our guide told us to stay put while he would go and look ahead. When he came back he said the elephants were there but it was very difficult to see them as they were hidden behind vegetation. He suggested trying a different route so we descended a steep slope and walked across some marshy ground and then suddenly they were there in front of us about 30 metres away!

The guide told us to keep low to the ground but be ready to move quickly if we had to run! They were a small group of females and a calf. We watched them quietly eating and drinking for a good twenty minutes. Then they must have got our scent as they started making deep grumbling and then loud trumpeting noises. Our guide motioned that it was time to leave so we walked briskly away from the area. It was an absolutely amazing experience and we were all grinning for ages afterwards! Our guide told us that he had never managed to get so close to elephants in the six years that he has worked in the park so we were incredibly lucky.

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Susan on

How does cinnamon come from a Bay tree??

mother on

It doesn´t. Cinammon does come from the bark of a tree. Not that one. Í´ll have to look it up. Keep the info coming . Really enjoying your travel blog. Lucky things.

Maria on

You are so lucky I have always wanted to go there fantastic seeing the Elephants are you going on a rice boat up the river,food is mant to be delicious in kerala.

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