Thekkady got a major face-lift in 2012 when a modernized information centre was opened at boating-landing-site. A state-of-the-art building with new ticket counters, information displays, and a modern eco-shop were opened at the time. A newly designed self-guided nature trail (pugmark trail), and an office complex were also inaugurated in October 2012. The forest department offers several trekking programs but pugmark trail is unique in that it is self-guided, although much shorter compared to their escorted treks. Most of the trekking programs start at different locations around the boat launching site although a few including the pugmark trail starts elsewhere.
Pugmark trail is a nice ~3KM stroll. The starting point is in front of the “Office of the Deputy Director, Periyar Foundation” building. To get there, when coming from Kumili, take the first left after park entrance and drive up to the building - there is a direction marker indicating the building location but it does not say anything about the trail. Once you get there, there is a sign-in sheet as well as a waiver sheet that needs to be filled up. Parking is outside the gate. Pugmark Trail is not a loop and so you basically walk back the same way once you reach the end of the route - there is a marker identifying the End but it is also obvious as the trail ends on the road that runs through the park - saw black monkeys, mountain squirrels, and a bunch of birds - also several endemic trees on either side of the trail are marked.
Nature Walk start-point is near the boat launching site. For all treks, they check whether your park entrance tickets are valid for the day. If not, you will need to get it renewed - thankfully, renewals can be done at the Forest Department counter in the boat-launch area at the ticket centre. A guide goes with you for the 3-hour trek and each group is limited to a guest-size of four. We hiked in our own group along with the guide. The start of the trek involves crossing a small marshy area - the place was overflowing with bi-colored frogs (a small endemic species - they go down to the water during the night and go back to the forest as daylight falls - some get stamped and/or gets eaten by boars and such) . As the trek progressed, we were lucky to see wild boar, goar, rat snake (right on the hiking trail), plenty of birds, elephant herd (other side of the river bank), etc. The guide was very experienced and guided us through a different route in order to avoid us getting caught on the path of the elephant herd. They are quite flexible and adjust to your needs - with another group, they stuck to the preset trail, as the group did not mind the risk of potentially having to wait indefinitely until the coast is clear.
The reporting point for Green Walk is Bamboo Grove - to reach there, from Forest Department Office (EcoTourism centre - the place were you get the trekking tickets), going back to Kumily, take the next Left (there is a stone wall on the opposite side of the forest department building, and one can follow that as well). After the left, there is a small bridge to cross and follow the same road till you reach the Nature Camp site - the start point is in the Forest Department office opposite that. The trek is similar to Nature Walk in some regards although the terrain appeared flatter and there was a lot more tribal presence in the area. Saw antelopes, sambar deer, bison, and an elephant herd with baby elephants (nearer this time). Also saw several birds including the Emerald Dove. Park entrance closes at 5PM and so if you are staying inside the park, you will need to hurry back.
Full-day Bamboo Rafting & Trekking:
The full-day bamboo rafting & trekking has a reporting time at boat-landing of 7:40AM and they provide both a breakfast and lunch pack - it comes in a shoulder bag with a liter of water as well - so, no need to take any shoulder bags with you. We were taken in a group of ten and there were six guides and a gunman from the Forest Department escorting us. The program consists of a 4KM hike through the forest to the bamboo rafting area (this is the location of their Jungle Camp tents), a 3KM bamboo rafting trip, a 2KM loop around the area, a 3KM bamboo rafting trip back to the Jungle Camp site, and a 4KM hike back to the boat landing site. Overall, we had a very good time - got to see a herd of elephants and a bunch of other animals and birds as well. The breakfast and lunch packs were OK size-wise but it was a combination of carbs and sugar mostly - somewhat disappointing. We left around 8:45AM and was back by 4:30PM. For the bamboo rafting, two of the guides sit in the back and up to four guests are accommodated in the seats to the front. There were three rafts and so a group can have up to 12 people. You are offered oars but using it is not mandatory - the guides will do the work for you, if required.
There are several tree trunks that stick out in the lake and many are under the water. This can be a hazard for the rafts as it can get stuck in one of them. The way to get out of that jam was interesting. Basically, you use another raft to bump into the jammed one in the opposite direction and that jerks it off…
2016 Update: The original review above is based on our 2014 summer trip but has been updated based on a repeat experience in 2016. Trekking programs have changed somewhat compared to 2014. Below is a summary:
- Nature & Green Walk treks had guide and a trainee escorting a group of up to four last time. This time, it was only the guide. Pricing remained steady at Rs 300pp,
- As the water level was higher this time around, the trek included crossing over a small stream in the Nature Walk program - they used a bamboo raft to get us across. Last time, that area was just marshy and so we walked across. The total experience was very worthwhile and we will probably visit again, as time allows - among all our trips within Kerala, we still rate the Thekkady experience at Number 1 overall.
The repeat was especially worthwhile as we got to see the elusive vezhambal (hornbill) in flight - a truly majestic experience - the bird makes a "hom...hom..." sound and that along with the fact that it was being "escorted" (chased really) by a flock of irate crows made the sight all the more memorable. Red-tailed foxes chasing their prey, otters making their way downhill for a swim, and the mouse deer were the other new sightings for us this time around - the former two during the boat safari and the latter during the bamboo rafting trek.
Overall, the Forest Department's trekking programs are very good. However, the visitor experience can be vastly improved easily. Basically, the visitors who come for these programs choose to stay within the park at one of the three KTDC properties or at a nearby resort/hotel. Getting in and out of the park is a hassle in either case as the Forest Department requires daily renewals for the visitor and the vehicle. They could easily alter the system to take it all in one shot thereby avoiding daily delays at the entrance.
- Thekkady Boat Safari - Review.
- Thekkady Trekking - Pugmark Trail, Nature Walk & Green Walk - Review.
Last Updated: 07/2016.