Sunday, 5 May 2013

Trip to Munnar and Thekkady

We decided to take a short break during the kids’ summer vacations. After considering Coorg, we settled on Munnar due to its lower summer temperatures. A little online research yielded the name of Aranyaka Resorts, which appeared to be a small independent resort in the midst of Pallivasal Tea Estate, with fairly good recommendations from Tripadvisor. We called up the resort to check availability, and booked for 3 nights from 24th to 26th of April. They have only 4 cottages with 2 rooms each, and a couple of rooms in their home stay option. We booked both rooms in Ganga cottage, which was supposed to have the best views due to its higher location within the resort.

A couple of days later, we added Thekkady to the itinerary, due to its relative proximity to Munnar. The key attraction here was the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and a well organised boat Safari was the easiest way of seeing the animals in their natural habitat. We found that Aranya Nivas of KTDC within the forest reserve was the best option for the boat safari as they promise to arrange tickets for the boat safari for all guests staying there. We booked online for 28th April, so that we could catch the 7.30 am boat trip, which is of 90 minutes duration, as compared to the later ones in the day, which are of 60 minutes duration.

Preparations for the trip included getting the car serviced in the previous week, so that it would be in good condition to handle the 1200 km journey, its longest one so far. We also informed the kids a couple of days before so that they could read up about these places, and get into the mood.

Route planning for the drive was using Google maps, with suggestions from fellow travellers on Team BHP. There were three attractions en-route to Munnar which we considered visiting - Chinar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajiv Gandhi Children’s Park, Marayoor, and Eravikulam National Park, Rajamalai. Chinar offers a variety of trekking options through the forest, which we did not opt for due to our young kids. Eravikulam National Park is famous for the Nilgiri Tahr, an endangered species of ibex, but involves transfer into the park’s buses for a part of the way up, and a further one km trek up the hill. We decided to visit only the Children’s park in Marayoor, which adjoined a sandalwood forest.

The onward plan was Bangalore – Hosur – Krishnagiri – Dharmapuri – Omalur (just on the outskirts of Salem) – Konganapuram – Sankagiri - Perundurai –Palladam- Udumalpet – Marayoor – Munnar. Frequent travellers on Team BHP recommended the Omalur diversion to avoid heavy traffic on the Salem route. We planned to stop for breakfast at Hotel Annalaxmi, on the highway just before Perundurai. On the day of the journey, 24th April, we started at 5 am from Koramangala, and reached Hotel Annalaxmi at 9 am, right on target. The drive was smooth and roads in good condition throughout. However, the diversion from Omalur to Sankagiri before getting back on NH 47 after Sankagiri, was not very fruitful since there was heavy truck traffic throughout on this narrow road (SH 86). It may have been better to stay on NH7 itself till Salem and take NH47 from Salem.

Windmills on NH47 near Perundurai 
Hotel Annalaxmi is a decent vegetarian restaurant right on the NH47, with simple food and hygienic facilities. We loved the Pongal they served us. We started again at 9.45 am, with a target to reach Marayoor at 12.30 pm, where we planned to see the Rajiv Gandhi Children’s Park. We took a wrong turn just outside Tiruppur, and instead of bypassing it, we had to drive through the entire town, which took almost an hour. We reached the original route from Palladam, crossed Udumalpet, and finally reached the Marayoor Park at 2 pm.

 The park was a disappointment. It had a large banyan tree, some slides and swings for children, a troop of monkeys and nothing else. We quickly finished our packed lunch, and moved on.

Rajiv Gandhi Childrens Park, Marayoor
 The most scenic part of the drive then commenced, with green tea estates, waterfalls, and beautiful landscapes.

Our 7 year old Verna on its longest trip to date
Sprawling Tea Estates
Picturesque points all along the drive to Munnar
Some more lovely views

We reached our destination Aranyaka Resorts at 4.30 pm, with the trip meter reading 485 km. The property was exactly as advertised, in the midst of a tea plantation, and absolutely calm with only the sounds of nature – wind blowing through the trees, birds chirping away, and the glorious hills right in front. The Attukadu waterfall is also visible clearly from the estate, as an added bonus!

Falls View from the balcony of Ganga cottage
The Pallivasal Plantations surrounding the resort 
Lovely landscape all around the resort
 On the next day morning, I walked down to the Attukadu falls, some 1.5 kilometres from the hotel, and spent some time clicking a few snaps. On the way back up, took some 4 shortcuts of stone steps cut into the hills through the tea plantations to end up at the hotel breathless (and with sore muscles for the rest of the trip!)

Steep Short cut to the falls
Attukadu Falls
 We had booked a driver to take us around the sights of Munnar. The driver recommended starting with Dreamland Spice Garden, which had an elephant ride option, display of spice trees, and a tree house. Tickets were Rs.150 per head for the Spice garden plus the tree house visit and Rs.400 extra per head  for the elephant ride. We went for the former package, and saw some pretty interesting spice trees – cardamoms, pepper, nutmeg, cocoa, asafoedita, betel nut, brahmi, cough potato.

Cocoa Tree

The famous Strobilanthes (Nilakurinji), which flowers once in 12 years

Betelnut Tree
We headed to Matupetty Dam for speed boating and a few thrills before having lunch at the “Sun Moon 100% vegetarian restaurant” at the boating point. Food was average.

Matupetty Reservoir

A panoramic view of the reservoir from the restaurant
We finished the day with a visit to the tea museum, where we were informed that this was a partially functional tea factory meant only for demonstration to visitors. For such a noble cause, the factory visit was not very well organised – you see visitors wandering around between the introductory film to the display to the factory premises and the tea shop, without a guide or map or suggested route to take them from entry to exit. With the excellent facilities available, they could organise the visit much better.

Tea Museum- Roller for green tea

Tea Museum- Drying the leaves

Oxidation process
Day 3 had a relaxed itinerary – only a visit to the local Munnar market, and lunch at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, which was simple and tasty. We watched a Kathakali dance performance by The Punarjani Group that evening, a one hour show that was well laid out, with an English voice-over.

Kathakali Dance -Punarjani group

Kathakali Dance -Punarjani group
On the next day, we checked out of the hotel and headed towards Thekkady. The route planned was Munnar – Popara – Kumily – Thekkady, but we were informed by the tourism office that the Popara route was closed and we were advised to turn back and take the Rajakkad – Nedumkandam – Kumily route. This was a long winding route, not very scenic but very green and passing through a lot of villages. Roads are narrow, and we needed to constantly watch out for buses and trucks coming the opposite way, as there was very little space for passing each other. We reached Thekkady at 2 pm, covering a distance of 100km and checked into the hotel.
Some beautiful churches on the way to Thekkady

Entry to Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady
The hotel is in the middle of the forest, very close to the boat safari start point. They offered us various forest trekking options, which we declined, and booked tickets for the next morning 7.30 am boat safari. We spent some time walking around the forest area and the boating facility that evening.

The boat safari was excellent. We saw sambar deer, bison, wild pigs, elephants, and a wide variety of birds – snake bird, kingfishers, cormorants during the 90 minutes trip.

Tourists boarding the Safari Boats 

The Periyar river meandering through the forest

Snake bird

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary - Sambar Deer

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary - Snake Bird


Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary - Cormorants

Visitors at the sanctuary watching an elephant herd

A baby elephant

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary - Elephant Herd

A tortoise sunning itself
We returned to the hotel, had breakfast, and departed for Bangalore. From Dindigul, we caught the AH43 (NH7), which was a pleasure to drive on, all the way to Bangalore. We stopped for lunch at a small vegetarian hotel near Karur, and after a further tea break at 5pm, reached Koramangala at 7.30 pm, using the excellent elevated toll road ending at Silk Board Junction.

 Trip & Mileage Statistics:
Bangalore – Munnar – 481km, 11 hours total, 9.5 hours driving time
Munnar Sightseeing – 100km
Munnar – Thekkady – 106km, 4 hours 10 min driving time
Thekkady – Bangalore – 508km, 8 hours 45 mins total time, 7 hrs 30 mins hours driving time
Total Distance covered – 1206 km
Total Petrol consumed – 94.16 l
Mileage – 13 kmpl
Vehicle: Verna XI Petrol 1.6L, 2007 model