Thekkady Boat Safari - Review



Thekkady (Idukki district, Kerala, India) is located around 170KM from the Greater Kochi area. Periyar National Park is in Thekkady and the nearest town is Kumily. The direct route is via Muvattupha-Kothamangalam but it is less scenic than the route via Muvattupuzha-Thodupuzha-Vagamon-Vandiperiyar. If you have not visited the Vagamon area before, taking the latter route is the better option.  There is another route via Pala (the default one on Google Maps) but that has several stretches with rough roads. Park Entrance is about 3KM from Kumily Town. Services are very limited in Thekkady (no ATM) and so for most things you will need to get back to Kumily. The park is open from 6AM to 5PM - there is a forest department check-post and by the side of that is the ticket counter: tickets are for the day and they collect Rs 33pp (foreign nationals pay Rs 350) and Rs 75 for cars.

There are three Kerala Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) run lodges inside the park - a budget place called Periyar House, a premium property called Aranya Nivas, and a luxury option with a stunning location in an island in the Periyar river called Lake Palace. The one disadvantage with choosing one of these options is that there is nothing to do after 5PM - the park entry gate/check-post is closed and so you cannot go out either. Periyar House, the budget property comes first as you enter the park and is to the right. Further up the same road, there is another forest check-post to the boat-launching-site. Immediately after that to the Right is the entry to Aranya Nivas, the premium property. It has the best location as you can literally walk down to the boat launching site (it is also the start point for most of the trekking trips). Lake Palace hotel has the least access but they arrange a boat to get to the island, if you have a reservation. Facilities-wise, Periyar House is practical but bare-bones, Aranya Nivas has a swimming pool, lounge bar, premium restaurant, etc. while with Lake Palace it is pure luxury in a stunningly beautiful setting. The boat tickets can be arranged directly from the reception. The Lake Palace hotel area is not accessible to the general public as the only way to reach the place is via a KTDC boat and they provide that only if you have a reservation - an option to experience the island and the Lake Palace hotel is to avail the Rs 1500pp Lake Palace lunch ticket: it includes the 11AM boat-safari, lunch at Lake Palace hotel, and 3PM boat-safari back.

We had reservations at Aranya Nivas and were asked whether tickets needed to be arranged for the boat-trip: check-in before 3PM to ensure that you can get a same-day boat-safari ticket (the facility is open from 6AM to 6PM with the last boat leaving at 3:30PM - tickets are Rs 225pp). We reported at the reception at 3PM and were given tickets - our tickets were for seats in the open deck on the larger KTDC boat. The 3:30-5:00PM boat-trip was really nice and well organized - the security pointed out the animals and also effectively disciplined people in the boat - you are to stay on your own seat through-out the trip (they are very strict about this as there was a disastrous accident that killed many people several years ago - basically people in the boat moved en masse to one side and that caused the boat to tilt precariously to that side and sink). Saw wild boars, bisons, goars, antelopes, elephants, deers, and many birds - colonies of cormorant with babies was a very special treat! We were very lucky as it is not uncommon for a boat-safari to conclude without seeing a single animal. The timing (first and last boat-safaris have the best chance), the season (peak of summer is good as animals tend to come down to the river for water), the climate and water level in the river all play a role. 






2016 Update: The review above is based largely on our 2014 summer trip (pricing and other logistical info has been updated to the current level). We did a repeat this summer and the experience was equally good - there were fewer animal and bird sightings this time around probably because the water level was higher. The highlight was a couple of rare sightings: wild dogs and otters - the former was a group of around ten in the process of setting up to attack a bunch of deers and the latter also in a group going into the water. Changes compared to last time included: a) the ticketing area appeared less chaotic and the basic ticket pricing has increased from Rs 150 to Rs 225, b) for Aranya Nivas residents, it is a very smooth process now - collect the tickets at the hotel reception and walk down to the waiting room - earlier, there was some paper work and hotel staff had to escort us, and c) the guides and support staff on the KTDC boat appeared less strict - we saw several people without  life jackets and also saw children precariously hanging on the railings on the side of the boat - an accident waiting to happen.

The one area that would vastly improve the experience for visitors is to streamline the process at the park entry - basically, every person and vehicle needs a ticket and so for buses and such it is a very time consuming process - there is usually a long line of vehicles waiting to purchase the tickets to enter the park. Also, for re-entry, the same wait applies. This can be easily avoided by having a parking area for visitors and by setting up proper entry-ticket counters.

Related Posts:
  1. Thekkady Boat Safari - Review
  2. Thekkady Trekking - Pugmark Trail, Nature Walk & Green Walk - Review

Last Updated: 04/2016. 
 

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