The best part about any city in India is that it is different every time you visit it. Especially in different seasons of the year… I thought to myself as we drove on the wavering path towards Periyar. The actual name is ‘Thekkady’ and it comes in the Idukki district of Kerala. Due to the famous Periyar National Park, this place is often referred to as Periyar. This is one of the best tourist places in Kerala and also my favorite. The sounds were different, the air was different and so was the smell in the air.. Obviously it was because of different flowering season but it gave a whole new look and feel to the same Path. Along with us rode the humming of the insects which was as loud as a gushing river. Not for a minute or two but for miles..
We crossed hills and jungles for two hours, coming down from Munnar and were closing in to Periyar. The tourist places in Kerala are many and infact each has its own charm – be it the hill station of Munnar or the backwaters of Alleppey or even the Jungle town of Periyar! It seemed like the jungles would never end with tall trees on both sides of the road, when suddenly on a steep turn, something changed. The patch of jungle was over and out of nowhere we came in front of a beautiful church. It was time to straighten our legs a bit and we couldn’t help but stop to see the church. The architecture was pretty grand for a place like nowhere. We admired the surroundings and clicked some pictures before carrying on with our journey. As we got back to our vehicle, I noticed the broken queues of villagers in small groups, coming to visit the church. We started driving in their direction and the broken cue went on for couple of kilometres. Faith is a strange thing. It can surely make you walk toughest of miles with joy and hope..We crossed several small towns with tongue twister names like Thekkumkanam, Udumbanchola, and Nedumkandam.. Trying to remember these was quite a bit of fun. I had to actually write these down to recollect later! These are very small towns and not really the tourist places in Kerala that one would like to explore but they definitely are an interesting sight on your road journey to Thekkady.
As we approached Thekkady, we decided to check the current condition of a few hotels starting from Carmelia Haven at Vandanmedu which is approx. 25 kms before the National Park. Spread over a green expanse of tea and cardamom plantations, Carmelia Haven is a peaceful resort.
The staff at the reception was very warm. We were served a wonderful in-house preparation of a mint drink and welcomed with sandal tikas even though we mentioned that we were there to just take a look. We didn’t reveal our profession and organisation though. The manager immediately called an electric cart to show us around as the facility is quite big to be explored on foot.
They have different types of accommodation like standard rooms, Deluxe cottages, Jacuzzi Villas, my favourite treehouse and not so favourite Cave rooms.. I personally prefer open spaces with large windows in the room and the idea of staying in an all enclosed doesn’t really excite me. However, their cave room is much in demand as many people find the idea adventurous. Hence the resort caters to all tastes.
The property is well maintained and the staff seemed enthusiastic and hard-working. They have a Multi Cuisine restaurant, a swimming pool, a games room and an Ayurveda spa. Surrounded by plantations all around as we moved around the property in our electric cart, it seemed like a different world altogether; so serene and refreshing.. After a quick tour we thanked the staff and continued our drive towards the National Park. One of the common attribute i experienced in most of the tourist places in Kerala is the warmth of people. Trust me, it definitely makes your trip worthwhile!
We had started from Munnar at 10:30 am and reached the national park around 2pm. with a leisurely drive and our hotel inspection stopovers. We also visited the new property called ‘Tigers Roar’ which is nice for a budget traveller and is quite close to the National Park. It is located a few hundred metres before the park, on the right hand side of the road and so offers a view of the park as well. Also located on the same road, left hand side is the famous and oldest resort called ‘Spice Village’. It is one of the most expensive properties in Thekkady. We have been using this property for quite sometime now and it does live up to its expectations. Rooms were well maintained with a well manicured garden. The biggest advantage is its location which is hardly 1.5 km from the park and right in the middle of the town area. Many of our guests prefer staying in the market area and this turns out to be ideal for them.
After reaching the park, our car was parked outside the gate and we were asked to take a short walk inside for a few hundred metres. There was a long queue outside the ticket window as the counter was closed for lunch. We stood for half an hour in the queue and once the counter opened around 2:30 PM, we were handed over a small form to fill up. Some of the guests from different countries were requested to present their identification proof. Thankfully we always book the tickets online for all our guest so as to avoid their standing in the queue which can be in hundreds on a rush day/weekend. It does turn out to be double the price but we would anytime prefer to avoid the queue. We took our tickets for boating scheduled for 3:30 PM. Since we had some time we decided to try the restaurant located inside the park premises. There is a residential guest house inside the park with a small restaurant serving multi cuisine food.
The restaurant has big glass windows on all sides giving an open view of the forest outside. We didn’t have any expectations for the food and so it was fine considering the only option available inside the park. And being the only option available, their prices are also a bit on the higher side as compared to outside restaurants in the market area.
After a quick bite, we rushed back to the boarding point of the board as boarding had already started by 3:15pm. We were given life jackets to wear as it is a mandate. Looking at the condition of the life jackets, I just couldn’t put it on. I felt bad for our guests who would be made to wear that and decided to take this matter up with Kerala tourism, hoping better condition life jackets for boating can be offered else we shall be providing our own life jackets to our guests henceforth. The motor boat moved at a slow pace and we could see kingfishers sitting on the dried up trees inside the lake.
The water in the lake shimmered with the rays of the sun as if small diamonds were floating on the lake. We also saw a herd of deer and that’s it. Even though Periyar National Park is famous for Tiger, we knew that we would not be seeing one as tigers are rarely seen there. It is also known for elephants but rarely seen.
The boat went around the lake for around an hour and we were dropped back at the boarding point. We walked towards our car and actually saw some deer along the side of the road in the forest area. Not much of an adventure but we enjoyed the Stroll inside the park, on the road covered with tall trees on both sides. There was description of the various trees on small boards beneath each tree. There were eucalyptus trees and other flora found in the deciduous forest like bamboo, tamarind, teak etc.
We boarded our car waiting outside the park and proceeded to our hotel. As we drove down a bumpy road, for a few minutes, we thought that we have lost way as it seemed like the end of the world.. A narrow road with little houses on one side and dense plantations on the other continued for a km. or so. Luckily we found a man strolling and asked him about the resort. He guided us to continue on the same road so we were a bit relieved that we were on the right track. Our heartbeat grew louder with thoughts of a bad experience awaiting us in terms of a small place probably misrepresented online.. A steep turn and there was a gate with mini buses and cars parked inside giving signs that we were not the only ones to be checking-in! We entered the gate and to our amazement was this lovely bunch of cottages surrounded by tall trees. Few kms. away from the park, surrounded by the national forest reserves on 3 sides, tucked away amidst plantations is this heavenly resort that took away all our tiredness in its first glimpse itself! This was not at all like the other hotels in tourist places in Kerala, that we had been before!
We stepped down from the vehicle and were humbly welcomed with a garland and sandal teeka. We were taken to a charming small lobby designed with taste. As we relaxed on the comfortable sofas, we were served a wonderful welcome drink of mint and lime. Our host analyzed that we had made a long journey and escorted us immediately to our cottage, without asking us for any check-in formalities. As we stepped into the room, a fresh fragrance took away our remaining tiredness. I always recommend hotels to pay attention to fragrance as it has a great impact on everyone’s minds. Our host gave us a quick tour of our cottage and took leave. A bowl of fresh fruits was placed on our side table with compliments of the resort. I must say every fruit was fresh and tasted sweet. The room was very well maintained. Huge windows gave us the outside view of greenery and feel of staying in the middle of a forest. Mini bar was well stacked. Washroom was the size of a small room with an open shower area. Everything was simply great!
The climate was very pleasant and we decided to have a cup of hot tea and coffee sitting in the verandah of our cottage. There are only 6 cottages and all were full. These cottages are named after spices like Pepper, Cinnamon, Clove etc. After chatting for a while, we proceeded to their restaurant, a short comfortable stroll down from the cottages. We tried the local as well as continental cuisines and relished every single bite in all our meals. The staff couldn’t do enough to make our evening memorable. They put our table outside the restaurant in the verandah with a table lamp and small lamps lit on the floor surrounding our table. It was such a romantic setting and we just loved it!
When we returned to our room, it was neatly done up with a plate of chocolate nicely wrapped and covered and a cute towel turtle placed on our bed.
The next morning breakfast was delicious too and they had everything home made and fresh, right from their jams to pickles. Everything was just perfect and we felt so relaxed and wished we could have stayed for atleast a week or so. We explored the various activities like nature trail and ayurvedic spa and it was all so enriching and rejuvenating. We did decide though for a longer stay on our next visit and we will also be visiting their Kovalam property which w haven’t till now but are looking forward to it! We had a memorable time at Niraamaya and couldn’t thank the staff enough for making it worthwhile! They surely made us remember Periyar as one of the best tourist places in Kerala, for the rest of our lives!
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